March 19, 2017 – “Prodigal”

Today’s text is from Luke 15.

Prodigal. That’s a word you don’t hear in every day speech. And yet it’s in the title of one of Jesus’ more famous parables: The Prodigal Son. So, what does prodigal mean? It could mean lost – I mean, the son is what we’d consider lost, right? Plus, lost would match up with the first two parables of lost sheep and coin.

Or perhaps it means confused, forsaken, worthless, sinner, or just all the above. But when we take a look at the dictionary we find something that is, I think, startling: As an adjective it means: “spending money or resources freely and recklessly, wastefully extravagant.” And as a noun, “a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.” That definitely sounds like the younger son in our reading.

But how about the shepherd who lost a sheep and the woman who lost a coin? Their reactions to finding what was once lost is pretty darn prodigal.

First of all, in the first pair of our triad of parables we hear Jesus repeat the same phrase about the shepherd’s and woman’s actions upon learning that something is lost:

“Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” and “Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?”

In the Greek they’re rhetorical questions with a meaning leaning heavily toward, “Since a sheep and coin are lost of course they will do whatever it takes to find them!”

But that’s ridiculous. In what world would a shepherd leave behind 99 sheep in order to find 1? In what world would someone search high and low for a single coin? But that’s the point. It doesn’t make sense. It’s uneconomical. It’s recklessly extravagant. It’s foolish. It’s irrational. It’s prodigal.

In no world do these actions make sense – except for God’s. That’s because we’re so used to counting on what makes sense. We’re used to valuing 99 lives more than one. We’re used to choosing the group over the individual. It’s economical. Results in the most lives saved. Is smart. Not reckless at all.

But we worship a prodigal God. We worship a God who can’t stand the thought of one sheep wandering off on their own. We worship a God who celebrates and rejoices by spending thousands of dollars with family and friends over the fact they found a penny. It’s insane. It’s reckless. It’s God.

So how about our recklessly extravagant younger son? How about our prodigal son? The title definitely fits. He asks for something he would only get once his father was dead and goes on to waste it away only to return home – defeated and for all intents and purposes, dead.

He went out and more than just crashed his father’s treasured hot rod or burned down the family’s kitchen or dropped out of school – he literally destroyed everything that possibly meant anything to his father.

Insert here the story of the father punishing the son, or kicking him out of the house, or demanding he repay what he owes, or prosecute him like the person-who-spent-money-in-a-recklessly-extravagant-way son he is.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

That doesn’t make sense. It’s uneconomical. It’s recklessly extravagant. It’s foolish. It’s irrational. It’s prodigal.

And then the son repents. Sort of. He begins to recite his prepared speech. But the father doesn’t even acknowledge it. He’s already too busy preparing the largest celebration this family has ever seen. Again, that doesn’t make sense. It’s uneconomical. It’s recklessly extravagant. It’s foolish. It’s irrational. It’s prodigal.

It’s God. And this is where the kick, the punch line, the turn of these parables hits us right in the gut: They go against every instinct, every rational thought, every particle of sense we have in our bones. Because at the very heart of these three stories is the reason Jesus had to tell them in the first place: Speck and log theology.

If you go all the way back to verse 1 we’ll see why Jesus tells these stories in the first place:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them.’…‘Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one.’…‘Jesus continued: ‘There was a man who had two sons.’”

This is a lot of parable telling over the fact that Jesus is caught welcoming and eating with sinners.  This is more than just a rebuke. It’s Jesus taking the world of the religious elite and self-righteous and turning it upside down.

It’s Jesus taking our world and turning it upside down and throwing it into chaos because we follow a God that acts in reckless and inexplicable ways. We have a God that gives us grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy, love upon love. Just when we think we received all the forgiveness and grace and mercy and love we thought we could receive from God, God turns around and calls family and friends over to throw the celebration for a lifetime.

Because we are lost and found. We’re both. We’re the younger son, the older brother, the father, the shepherd, the sheep, the coin, the woman, the Pharisees, the sinners eating with Jesus. Throughout our lives we change characters throughout these stories – but God does not change God’s response to us however lost or found we may think – or even not know – we are.

God is truly a prodigal God because how else do we explain God seeking out a single sheep over the 99 left behind? How else do we explain the irrational behavior of God as a woman seeking out a single coin? How else do we explain the reckless extravagant spending and celebration and joy at the finding of these things?

We don’t. And that’s the beauty of these stories. Does the sheep know they’re lost? Probably not. Does the coin know it’s lost? Probably not. It’s an inanimate object and the sheep isn’t capable of high-level thinking. They don’t show an ounce of repentance for being lost. But God doesn’t care. Jesus seeks and Jesus finds. Period.

And how about the younger son? He deserves nothing – at least from a normal, ordinary perceptive. But from God’s perspective? He deserves everything. And the older son? He is, perhaps, actually done everything right. He literally deserves everything. And he does get everything.

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

This is the Gospel message. That we are always with God and that everything Jesus has is ours. That Jesus seeks and Jesus finds and God rejoices. Righteous, sinner – doesn’t matter, beloved by God.

It doesn’t make sense. It’s irrational. It’s grace being given away recklessly. It’s mercy given to those who don’t deserve it. It’s love showered upon the most worthless, the most destitute, the most evil, the most prodigal person imaginable.

It doesn’t make sense. And yet that’s the God we worship. That’s the Savior that we follow to the cross. Because when God finds us, and God does find you, “he will say, ‘Hallelujah, you are home.’”

March 12, 2017 – “Manure”

Today’s text is from Luke 13:1-9, 31-35.

In our reading for today we see the word “fertilize”. That’s one way to translate the Greek word behind it, but another way is to use the word “manure”. That if only this fig tree that Jesus is talking about had some good manure placed around it, it would have a chance to grow.

Now, if you’ve ever had a chance to spend some time around manure you know it has a wonderful, pungent smell to it. The State Fair gives everyone a chance to have their senses hit by this earthy stench, but out in the farmlands and countryside of this state it’s almost a way of life.

Driving down narrow country roads full of gravel and sealcoat you’ll sometimes find tire tracks left behind from tractors. Now these tracks aren’t always made from dirt or dust or mown grass – sometimes these tracks are made from manure. And so you get the pleasure of driving across it.

And then you’ll look out your window across the beautiful countryside and see a tractor driving across an open field with a trailer in tow and what appears to be dirt flying out in every direction across the field. I can tell you now, that’s not dirt.

Manure is essential to fertilizing new life. And life, at times, can seem like it is just full of manure. Like we’ve had enough dumped around our roots – that the tractor spreading it across their field has spread a little too much – that the smell entering our nose has made us sick – sometimes all we can do is throw up our hands and admit our life is buried in manure.

This is apparently how Jesus feels about the fruits of his ministry so far – that its amounted to a bunch of fruitless fig trees that are in desperate need for more manure. In our reading from Luke today we see a remarkably human Jesus. We see a side of Jesus that is so unlike the divine, God-dwelling-in-human-flesh-Jesus that we’re so used to seeing.

Today we see a frustrated Jesus. We see a prophet, priest, and king that is annoyed of old and tired theologies and people who run so willingly to their own deaths.

We see Jesus quickly erase a theology around suffering that the people are so willingly clinging to: That some people suffer more than others because they deserve it. And lack of suffering, or number of blessings one has, means they’re a better person. In one sentence Jesus dismantles this sin equals suffering equation and simply says: Everyone dies! Sinner or righteous – you all die – unless, unless you repent.

A frustrated Jesus tells us, “No, you can’t equate other people’s suffering to their own sinfulness. No, God doesn’t dole out punishment like this. No, God doesn’t operate from a model of revenge and vindictive judgment, but instead is a mother hen wanting to protect her chicks from danger.”

An aggravated Jesus tells us, “Sometimes bad things happen to good people. If you’re a fig tree, you produce figs, and if you’re a hen you protect your chicks.” In the midst of the starkness of Jesus’ reply to people dying from a tower falling on them, to a fig tree that refuses to produce fruit, to a people who refuse to be saved, Jesus calls us to see what is truly important in this life.

Jesus calls us to follow him to the cross. Jesus calls us to be patient, to invest and grow from the gifts of manure spread around us, to protect those around us who cannot protect themselves. It’s not the savior that the people, or quite frankly we, had expected to see. We see a savior who isn’t hellbent on destroying sinners, but instead one who wishes to seek them out and protect them like a mother protecting her children.

We see a savior that points us to the love a mother has for her children as the model of relationship that we are called to follow. We see a savior that loves us so much that he sees death ahead of him and continues forward anyway. We see a savior that is warned of the political forces that wish to halt his message of salvation and love and we see Jesus not back down. Not even someone in power, who is deceitful like a fox, can stop his ministry.

This is the savior that we follow to the cross. So that in the midst of the tragedy and seemingly meaningless sorrow in life – in the midst of the manure that surrounds us – we are shown the patience and love of a savior who wishes to hold her children close in love and protection. We can know that in Jesus Christ we are surrounded by a savior who will go to any lengths to love us and save us.

Our challenge during this season of Lent is to recognize when we flee from this love and protection. Our calling is to understand that the earthly powers of this world will not bring about our salvation or refuge – that only in Jesus Christ do we find true shelter and salvation.

That we are each held in the loving arms of a mother – a mother who guards her children from the fox – a mother who seeks us out to spread her wings of protection and love. For in Jesus Christ you are loved with a love that will go to any length to protect and save you – even death on a cross.

March 5, 2017 – “Neighbors”

Today’s text is from Luke 10:25-37.

This is a familiar text in front of us today. Normally it’s simply known as the “Parable of the Good Samaritan”. This parable told in the context of a religious narrative has found its way into the vernacular of our society though – ask anyone outside these walls what “good Samaritan” means and you’ll probably be able to get some answer about being, “helpful or kind”.

And this is certainly the crux of the expert in the law’s answer to Jesus – that being merciful was in the end what proved the Samaritan to be the neighbor to the person left for dead.

And that’s what leads to the problematic naming of this parable: Good Samaritan. If you reread the text you’ll find that nowhere is the Samaritan called ‘good’. Jesus would make the argument that only God is good – plus if we label the Samaritan as ‘good’ then it makes you wonder what other Samaritans would be labeled – Bad? Evil? Unclean? Unworthy?

It’s unsettling when you transfer this title of “Good Samaritan” over to other ethnicities and peoples in today’s world. If this parable happened today and we called it, the “Good Immigrant” or “Good Canadian” or “Good Syrian” or “Good Muslim” or “Good American”, what does that say about the other people who also fall under those titles? Are they incapable of being ‘good’?

But that’s why I think this parable has less to do about who is good or not and more about what we do to try and skirt around the rules.

This parable starts off quite well for our expert in the law. He’s intrigued about what rules and regulations he must follow in order to inherit eternal life. The Christianity of today has a lot to say about the answer to this question: Believe in God, believe that Jesus is Lord, repent of your sins, forgive others, and a myriad of other expectations of belief and doctrine.

But we hear a different answer given by our expert in the law: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” He’s done his homework. He’s quoting straight from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. He knows what it takes to inherit eternal life. He knows exactly what he needs to do: Love God and love your neighbor. So why’s he asking the question in the first place?

Especially when after this perfectly textbook answer Jesus commends him and says, “If you love God and love your neighbor, like you say you do, you will live.” It seems like the story should end here. It seems like at this point the expert in the law should say to himself, “Thank you, Jesus! Looks like I should be good to go since I already do these things!”

But he doesn’t. Instead he asks a follow-up question: “And who is my neighbor?” It’s interesting that he’s not concerned about the loving God with all his “heart and soul and strength and mind” part of the equation. That sounds just as difficult as loving your neighbor. But instead our expert in the law wants to know who exactly qualifies as his neighbor. Because if the person 100 miles away isn’t included in the equation then there’s no need to worry about them.

This is why Jesus’ story of three people walking down a road past a half dead man is less about who these people are, but instead what these people do. Jesus isn’t really one for labels. It was never really a bother to Jesus what labels society had placed on people; whether it be sinner or righteous, Gentile or Jew, weak or powerful – for Jesus inheritance of eternal life wasn’t passive, but active.

For Jesus there is no getting out of taking care of your neighbor. For Jesus there was no, “Well, I could get hurt trying to help this person. Someone else will take care of them, but I’ve got other things to do.”

And for the person who was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road – we don’t know much more about them – but I wonder what they thought about someone taking the time to actually see them – not just a passing glance or look of disdain, but actually see them.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like to see a religious person who was commanded by God to love their neighbor just walk on by. And then to watch another follower of God simply pass on by. And then a Samaritan – a people considered unclean and unworthy by the people of Israel – this person finally sees the man.

And it’s a bombshell of an answer for the expert in the law. Jesus takes who we think of as other, as different, as so unlike us, and says, “This person is your neighbor.” And that’s not even the shocking part of the answer. Underlying the morality of the parable about not discriminating and being kind to others is this idea that everyone is included in Jesus’ promise of salvation. That it doesn’t matter who you are – that every single person on this planet has immeasurable value and worth.

It brings to light how strange the “Who is my neighbor?” question is in the first place. The expert in the law is wondering who he must take care of in this life. He’s wondering what parts of creation he can get away with not taking responsibility for. He’s wondering where he can draw the line, where he can safely quit caring about people if they’re no longer considered ‘neighbors’.

In the end, this Parable of the Good Samaritan really has nothing to do with the title ‘Samaritan’ or being ‘good’. In the end, Jesus answers the “Who is my neighbor question?” by asking us to see those in need – no matter who they are.

Because although, like the expert in the law, we as a society have done a really good job at labeling certain people as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad’ – because although, like the expert in the law, we as a society have done a really good job labeling people based on stereotypes; as followers of Jesus we are called to see – to truly see – that it is our brother or sister in Christ that is in need. That it is Christ himself who lays half dead in the ditch.

So, what are we to do? Show mercy. Show mercy. Because somedays we’re the person who is beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Somedays we’ll be the person in need. Somedays we’ll be desperate for someone to see us.

And it is on those days that we can be confident that we are seen. Seen by Jesus Christ as a beloved child of God – a person who is worth dying on a cross for. A person who is worth abundant and overflowing love that comes from Jesus. And this day, we are called, to “go and do likewise.”

March 1, 2017 – “Seen”

Today’s text is from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” We hear this phrase repeated three times in our short reading for today. From giving money, to prayer, to fasting – Jesus tells us that this acts will be seen by God. But do other people know about them? This is the pressing question. Do other people see our actions?

To be seen is a basic human need – this need for connection, community, social interaction, the need for others to see what we are doing with our lives. Often success in the world depends on how many people see the fruits of our actions – from TV ratings, to jobs created, to lives saved, to number of friends, to how much money we make – it’s easy to fall into the trap of having our actions validated for the sake of validation instead of for the reason behind the action.

We also hear the word ‘hypocrites’ a few times in our reading. Now, the word hypocrite effectively translates to “stage actor”. This is appropriate when you think about it because actors are putting on a mask, if you will, for their performances. They must step into character, they must act out attributes that are often not their own. The actions that we see on screen probably don’t reflect who they truly are as a person.

Now this word ‘hypocrite’ might seem a little frightening for the act that we’ll be taking part in tonight. Spreading the ashes of burned palm branches on our foreheads for the world to see seems to clash with Jesus’ call to act in secret.

And it certainly would if we walked around and told the world how great of a follower of Jesus we were since we attended church on Ash Wednesday and heard about how we’re going to turn back to dust one day.

Once again, we find Jesus more concerned about the heart of the matter. Jesus is more concerned about our intentions, our motivations, behind our actions. Do we give to the poor because charitable work is thought of highly? Do we give to the poor so we can write it off as a tax deduction? Or do we give to the poor because our heart aches for the least of our brothers and sisters?

Do we pray because we think we’re supposed to? Do we pray because our confirmation teacher told us we should? Or do we pray because we love to be in relationship with God?

Do we fast because of the latest diet trends? Do we celebrate Madri Gras yet forget the not so fun part of fasting afterward? Or do we truly wait for our daily bread to come from God out of trust and dependence?

There’s nothing wrong with being seen. As I said before, being seen is a basic human need. But how we are seen and why we are seen change the equation for Jesus. Jesus comes to us this day with a promise: That we are seen. That in a world that so often forgets the marginalized and neglects the poor, that Jesus sees the intentions of our hearts.

But this promise clashes with what we know to be true: That death is a reality for us and every single person on this planet: Whether rich or poor, powerful or weak; death is the ultimate equalizer.

100 years ago our physical bodies did not exist and in 100 years they will have ceased to exist. It’s a humbling reminder that what makes up our bodies, like the palm branches we waved in celebration on Palm Sunday last year, will one day be a pile of ashes.

That the seven octillion atoms that make up our bodies – 93% of our body weight coming from the atoms oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen – will one day exist in just those basic atoms and molecules once again. No more protein structures or fat cells or complex chains of molecules working in concert to be your physical body.

This Lenten season we are called to rely on God for our daily bread. We are challenged to trust in the promise given to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus: That death does not have the final word. That although we are dust and to dust we shall return – that out of the dust and dirt of this earth springs new life.

Out of the seemingly worthless and unimportant springs forth the Savior of the world to say to each and every one of us: “I see you. And I love you.” Out of the stark reality of death that we will each confront one day stands the promise given to us in Jesus Christ. A promise that invites us to put our trust and faith in God. A promise that invites us to see ourselves and our neighbors as Jesus sees us: As children of God.

February 19, 2017 – “Forgiven”

Today’s text is from Luke 7:36-50.

We’re less than two weeks away from Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Quickly approaching is Jesus’ journey to the cross and his eventual death. It makes you wonder why Jesus was killed. What did he possibly do during his ministry to warrant a death sentence?

We uncover some evidence of Jesus’ incendiary acts in today’s reading: He forgives sins. Now, at face value this doesn’t seem problematic. How could something like having your sins forgiven be so offensive? About 15 minutes ago we had our sins forgiven. It didn’t seem problematic.

But for the audience in our reading today it was – something extremely valuable, forgiveness, was given to someone considered unworthy of such a gift. She didn’t earn this gift according to the rules of society.

That’s because things that are valuable in life are worth something. Take, for example, something as mundane and boring as seating on an airplane. Southwest Airlines doesn’t assign seats, but instead simply assigns people by number and once on the plane you can pick whatever seat you want.

So if there’s 150 people on the plane each person is effectively assigned a number one through one-hundred and fifty and that’s the order you board the plane. So there’s extreme value in the first quarter of numbers and little value in the last quarter.

If you’re near the front of the line you can pick a seat toward the front of the plane so that way you can get off faster and make sure there’s enough room for your carry on luggage. If you find yourself boarding last you’ll be stuck sitting in whatever seat is left and there won’t be any room left for your carry ons.

But that’s why it costs so much to sit at the front and costs so little to sit at the back. So imagine a person sitting in row 3 is told they’ve been upgraded to sit in row 2. I can’t imagine they’d be overly excited. They were already at the front of the plane to begin with. It’s probably more of an inconvenience if anything to move up just one row.

But now imagine someone in the last row of the plane is told they’ve been upgraded to sit in row 2. That’d be pretty awesome. You’ve gone from waiting 10 minutes to get off the plane to 10 seconds and now your carry on luggage will actually fit.

Moving from row 3 to row 2 doesn’t elicit much gratitude – why would it, this person is already sitting at the front of the plane. But moving from the last row to row 2? Extreme gratitude.

But that’s dealing with what’s considered valuable in life. How about dealing with what’s welcomed in life? If you’ve ever been welcomed or invited to a wedding, birthday party, plane or train ride, gated community, foreign country – then you know that you fit in. Your name is on a ticket, place setting, passport – something says that you’re qualified enough to be welcomed in.

But if you aren’t invited to a wedding or birthday party then attending one would illicit strange looks. If you haven’t paid the price for a train or plane ticket then trying to get on one is not going to end well. If you haven’t qualified for a passport then traveling to a foreign country isn’t a good idea.

In order to be welcomed, invited, accepted into certain communities certain requirements must be met. In order to receive a valuable reward and gift you must pay the price. This is what society tells us. But it’s not what Jesus tells us.

And so Jesus’ dinner host, Simon, is shocked. The invited guests at the dinner are appalled. When Jesus gives away an extravagant gift to a person with no credentials, no value, no business entering the home of a religious leader, a woman no less – the people wonder who this Jesus guy thinks he is. They wonder how an uninvited party crasher, who is a sinner, can receive forgiveness.

Something so important, like forgiveness, cannot simply be given away to a sinner without payment. Forgiveness just can’t happen in an instant. Forgiveness to someone mired in sin can’t be possible.

But it happens. And like the party guests we stand in shock. And with our mouths hanging open in horror Jesus continues his affront to our sensibilities. He doesn’t level judgment against everyone at the party. He doesn’t tell Simon and the party guests that he’s withholding forgiveness from them – that’s not how God operates – forgiveness is for everyone. Instead, Jesus tells the righteous, invited guests that because they think they don’t need to be forgiven much they won’t love much.

Jesus tells them, “Don’t worry about the speck in your neighbor’s eye when there’s a log in your own.” But that’s impossibly difficult to do.

It’s impossibly difficult to do because we must first admit that there’s something wrong with us. We must admit that we are a person in need. We must admit that we have faults that are in need of correcting.

Simon sits at that table and thinks to himself, “First of all, I’m the least sinful person sitting at this table. And second of all, the least likely person to break God’s law here. But this woman – if only Jesus could only see who this woman truly is.”

We’re told that Simon speaks this to himself. Perhaps mutters it under his breath in disgust. Here he thought Jesus was actually a prophet, but apparently he’s going to need to reevaluate that idea since he can’t even tell this woman is not worthy. And so he simply mutters to himself.

He mutters a statement to himself in disgust, but Luke goes on to say that Jesus answers Simon’s muttered comment. Jesus answers what Simon’s heart is truly thinking.

Simon looks at this woman and sees a sinner. Simon looks at this woman and sees a person not in their rightful place. Simon looks at this woman and sees no value, worth, or shred of shared humanity. That’s what Simon sees.

And so Jesus asks Simon, and us, “Do you see this woman? Do you see this person? Do you see this fellow human being?” It’s kind of an odd question. Of course Simon can see this woman – he’s not blind!

And we see this woman all the time in our lives too. We see her when we think we’re superior to others, when we think we’re more worthy, when we think we’re more righteous, when we think our humanity is worth more than someone else’s. We, like Simon, see this woman all the time and respond to Jesus’ question about sight with confusion and anger. “Of course I see her! She doesn’t belong here! I can see that better than you, Jesus!”

But this is the moment where Jesus came to give sight to the blind and take it away from those who say they can see. This is the moment where Jesus says, “No, Simon, do you see this woman?

“Do you see this act of love right in front of your eyes? Can you see past your own arrogance and thoughts of lawful living, can you see past your own judgments of this woman, can you see her as God sees her – as a child of God?”

So, no, Simon can’t see the woman. He can’t because he’s too busy focused on the fact that he’s a better person than her. He can’t see this woman because he refuses to look past her sins while he gladly forgets his own.

This is why forgiveness is so dangerous. This is why freedom is so valuable. This is why Jesus dies. Because receiving Jesus’ love and salvation means that you’re free. Receiving these gifts of grace and mercy mean that you are welcomed into the very community where God dwells.

Do you see this woman? This is offensive to those, like Simon, who think they’re the least sinful person that’s ever lived. The truth that Jesus brings to bear is a double-edged sword: It frees and condemns. In order to be freed we must first admit we need to be freed. If we don’t then the truth Jesus brings to bear lets us know that we’ll be incapable of forgiving much and so in turn we’ll love little.

Do you see this woman? Forgiveness is freedom. Jesus dies because he gives it away. Not just to those who think they deserve it, but in shocking manner to those who have been deemed worthless. For when we let go, when we see that we are in need of the forgiveness that Jesus brings then we can be filled with Jesus’ love to see a world that is in need of the same forgiveness. A world that is in need of being seen. A world in need of a wondrous love like Jesus.



February 5, 2017 – “Creation”

Today’s text is from Mark 16:15 and Luke 12:22-34.

I want us first, today, to take a moment to process the text that we read together from Luke’s Gospel. Going a few verses before our reading for today Jesus begins by offering words of warning and words of encouragement – I’m still not exactly sure how those two things go together.

Jesus tells us not to worry about having our physical bodies killed – that there are worse things. He also lets us know that we’re more valuable than sparrows.

Jesus also says the Holy Spirit will be with us at all times.

Jesus tells us about a rich man who can’t believe how well his life is going so he stores up his earnings in a barn. And then he dies the next day.

But, Jesus also says the Holy Spirit will be with us at all times.

And then we get to our section of Luke. And Jesus tells us not to worry. A little easier said than done I think. It feels like it’s our human instinct to worry. That if we worry about something enough then it’ll somehow make a difference in the end. Because if we’re not worried about how we’re going to get by from day to day then suddenly we’re considered careless or lazy.

Worry seems to be this necessary evil – a strange motivator that keeps us on edge at all times for fear that the things around us – food, clothing, housing, money, friends, health, life itself – will one day just disappear.

And then our worry compounds itself by giving us stress and anxiety which hurt us emotionally and physically and then we worry about our worrying.

So when Jesus tells us today not to worry because flowers are beautiful and ravens are fed – well, he makes it seem so easy. Jesus makes it seem easy by asking us this question: Where is our treasure? Where is our heart truly invested?

We begin this, our first of four stewardship focus weekends, with a focus on the entirety of creation. Today we focus on the treasure that God has given us – treasure that is immeasurable and does not wear out or fail.

This is why it is so easy to worry about life, or what we eat, or wear, or what our home looks like, or what’s wrong with our job, or what’s going on with the world around us – they’re so easy to worry about because they can be measured.

There’s this imaginary scale that we can weigh and measure how good things are going in every facet of our lives and if something is out of balance we begin to worry. We worry about how we can fix that portion of our lives. And so we break out our spreadsheets and self-help books as we try and measure how our recovery is going. And if our measurements tell us we’re failing then our worry leads to despair.

And then we take our measurements and go from micro to macro scale. As stewards and temporary caretakers of God’s creation we do a really good job of divvying it up and counting every last speck of money, value, worth, hours, seconds, millimeters. We’re divided up by continents, then countries, then states, counties, cities, neighborhoods, sex, race, religion, language, income – the list of ways that we are separated from one another based on measureable and countable things is insane.

This need to separate, divide, and measure creates some problems in our calling to be stewards. We tend to steward God’s creation in very strange ways. Jesus tells us not to worry. And yet it seems that’s all we can do. Jesus tells us to sells our possessions and give to the poor. That’s about one thing no one seems to worry about doing. Jesus tells us to go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. And so we stay in our backyards.

I think if we’re honest we can only say we’re pretty bad stewards of God’s creation. We’ve taken what is temporary – food, clothing, money, power – and made them our treasure that we seek. We steward God’s creation based on the imaginary importance society and economies have placed on temporary stuff that will be here for centuries after we die – especially if it’s plastic.

Jesus tells us not to worry about what is temporary. I think this is why Jesus practically says in passing to not worry about what we think are daily essentials. Jesus tells us to proclaim the good news of freedom, release, and abundance.

Jesus promises us the kingdom of God. A kingdom where love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace are abundant and overflowing. A kingdom where these gifts are not counted or divvyed up, but instead endless and eternal. There’s no need to worry about losing these gifts due to scarcity, or others taking them, or us losing them.

The Gospel message that we are called to proclaim to the world is one that topples the rich, dethrones those in power, and frees those burdened by worry and fear by offering the never ending gifts of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace.

Jesus operates from a place of abundance. Jesus’ life was about showing the world that these gifts were not commodities to be traded, or horded, or rarities few could have. No, the Gospel message we are to proclaim is that what is there to fear when you are surrounded by God’s love? What is there to worry about when Jesus’ forgiveness and grace clothe you? What is there to fear when the Holy Spirit strengthens and encourages us?

The powerful tell us who to be afraid of. The powerful point toward the other and say, “Watch out for them! They will hurt you!” And so we worry. The powerful say that money is scarce so don’t share your wealth. The powerful say that your security is worth more than the rights of others.

It’s hard to preach the good news to all creation when our treasure is so often focused on the fact that we’re worried we don’t have enough. Society tells us to worry and so we do. It’s hard to preach the good news to all creation when as a country less than 1% of our yearly budget would feed the entire world for one year.

That 1% amounts to 30 billion dollars. 30 billion dollars seems like a lot of money. Yet it’s measureable and finite. It runs out at some point. And where we spend that 30 billion dollars says a lot about where our treasure is. Where we expend any of the gifts God has let us temporarily borrow, whether as a country or individuals, says a lot about where our treasure is.

There’s a reason Jesus dies. He tells those with nothing that they actually have everything. They have salvation in Jesus. They have love in God. They have everything in abundance through God. It is through this mindset that we are called to be stewards of God’s creation.

A creation that demands we toss aside what the powerful have deemed important and focus instead on a treasure that does not die. A treasure that we can proclaim to all creation. For as stewards of God’s creation – a creation that in its entirety, from a speck of sand at the bottom of the deepest ocean trench to the most powerful person on the planet, to the stars we haven’t even discovered yet – as stewards of this which is not ours Jesus calls us not to worry, but instead to proclaim.

Proclaim with joy the good news for all creation: That God’s goodness and mercy and salvation and love do not run out. They do not expire. They do not fade away. They never fail. They are infinite, overflowing, and abundant. And they are ours – whether rich or poor or powerful or oppressed.

As stewards of God’s creation we do not need to worry because the temporary things that surround us – money, food, clothing – although seemingly important, are not markers of God’s fingerprints on creation.

We can give thanks this day and proclaim the good news to all creation because in Jesus Christ we live into an abundance of grace and love. A treasure that never fails, where no thief comes near, and where no moth destroys.

January 29, 2017 – “Freedom”

Today’s text is from Luke 6:1-16.

Freedom. As Lutherans we have a unique way of talking about freedom. Often the call and mission interpreted from Jesus is one of release and freedom in order to save ourselves. But as Lutherans we view this calling from Jesus in a different light.

We see it as a freedom for. A freedom to serve our neighbor. A freedom to heal the sick. A freedom to find grace and mercy in the midst of pain and suffering.

But how often do we create this suffering? How often are we the reasons why pain isn’t healed? How often do we shy away from this freedom to serve and instead simply bask in our own freedom?

I suppose it’s technically not wrong to do nothing. Like the Pharisees in today’s reading it’s often easier to stand from a point of freedom and privilege and shine a light on those who seem to be violating freedom.

We’re told the disciples are hungry. But it’s the Sabbath. Now the Sabbath is meant to be a day of rest. A day of no work. A day of embracing the freedom and love of God.

And yet we find the disciples openly thwarting this command from God to rest. Jesus’ own disciples are breaking the law. But they’re hungry, so what are they to do? What is freedom and release for them?

The scene abruptly changes over to a man with a shriveled hand. But once again we’re told it’s the Sabbath. We’re also told that Jesus knows he’s being watched to see if he’ll openly resist and defy God’s Sabbath law.

But a man is in need of healing. Jesus has the power to help him. So what is he to do? What is freedom and release for this man?

Freedom and release have been topics of debate longer than just this weekend. Before Jesus stepped foot on this earth there were rules, there were regulations, there were social structures, there were laws to be followed.

But there have also been moments like these. Moments where freedom has been extended to people who seem undeserving. Moments where freedom has been granted in the form of food, healing, safety, love.

The Pharisees aren’t doing anything wrong – at least nothing wrong in the eyes of the law. But then Jesus comes along and points out something even greater than the law. Jesus comes along and creates chaos and confusion.

There’s a reason the keepers of the religious law are following Jesus around. There’s a reason why according to Luke’s gospel Jesus’ ministry only lasts one year. It’s because hungry people gathering food and sick people being healed on the Sabbath is against the law.

But as we’ve seen, and as we know, Jesus shows us a new way of living. It is a way of living that frightens those in power, creates massive disruptions to the rich, dethrones the self righteous, and upends a system that is hell bent on watching people starve and remain lame verses free to live into God’s abundance of new life and healing.

Jesus is beginning to become a thorn in the side of the established society because he shines the light of freedom and release to those deemed criminal and unworthy. Jesus becomes a threat to the power structure in place because he works outside the established bounds for who receives freedom and release.

Hungry? Sick? Traitors? Poor? People shunned and left to die because they’re different? They’re just the people Jesus comes to with freedom and release.

We too have received this freedom, this release. And we too, like Jesus, are called to share it with the world. A world that so often is afraid there’s a limited quantity of freedom and release to go around.

But through Jesus we are called and equipped to be the thorn in the side of a society that seeks to preserve the status quo.

Through Jesus we have the power to say, “You are a beloved child of God. I see you, I hear you, I love you. Therefore you are free indeed.”

January 22, 2017 – “Failure”

Today’s text is from Luke 5:1-11.

I’m not a fisherman. Never was, never will be. I can’t really swim, so I’m no good around water and I don’t like eating fish so I don’t find much point in catching, or even releasing, them. My idea of “fishing” is golfing.

Now, I’m not a great golfer either. With enough hacks I’ll eventually find myself on the green and with enough putts I’ll eventually get the ball in the cup. But when you grow up in a small town there’s nothing wrong with being a subpar golfer because the courses you golf on are basically carved out of farmland and are full of average Joes like yourself.

That’s why it’s particularly nerve wracking to golf at a golf course that has a PGA Pro on staff, a dress code that’s actually enforced, bunkers and narrow fairways as far as the eye can see, and of course people who are actually good at golf.

So when you go to tee off on that first hole with a clubhouse of people potentially watching your very first shot suddenly the fun of the game is lost and failure and defeat seem very real.

Failure and defeat can happen in any arena of life. Whether it’s hobbies like golf, careers with incomes on the line, relationships with family or friends, or in the case of the disciples, fishing – failure and defeat find us hopelessly on our knees wondering why we can’t be good enough.

Just when we needed to impress our boss a project falls through. Just when we needed to be accountable to our family or friends we fall short. Just when we needed to prove to ourselves that we were good enough to run with an idea or showcase a talent we fall on our face.

Just when these fishermen – literally men who fished for a living – where in the presence of a respected teacher – “Master” as Peter calls Jesus – they grimace their teeth and reluctantly say that although they’re fisherman by trade they couldn’t catch a single thing all night.

They seem to agree to go out again without hesitation, but Peter makes sure to preface this with a, “We do this for a living Jesus, but we still failed, so good luck.” And then the unthinkable happens.

Now, imagine that you want to assemble a sports team. Or a group of people for a project at work. Or you have the chance to pick a doctor for a major surgery. Or you’re looking for a new group of friends. Who or what would you pick? I know I would want to pick the best of the best. I would want the team players, those with great work ethic, those with experience, those who have a high success rate, those who have proven time after time that they do not fail.

If I walk up to these fishermen who have caught nothing all night and I’m trying to feed my family at home I’m not asking them to go out and try again – I’m going to move on and find someone who’s actually competent and capable of catching fish. I wouldn’t give Peter and the disciples a second chance.

This is where Jesus enters and does the unthinkable. Why would he pick these fishermen? Can we even call them fishermen? They’ve gotta be able to catch fish first I’d think before they have that title! But this is where Jesus does the opposite of what we’re thinking. He gets into that boat and says, “This is exactly what I’m looking for.” This is exactly what I’m looking for. Failures? Rejects? Oppressed? Poor? Bottom dwellers of society?

Also notice that Jesus tells these so-called ‘fishermen’ to cast their nets into deep water. I don’t fish, but I don’t think the best fish live near the bottom of the lake. Jesus has a strange idea of what being a ‘good’ fisherman means.

If we were on a golf course Jesus would prefer the golfer in a bunker behind a giant oak tree three-hundred yards away from the hole on their fourth shot verses the person in the middle of the fairway after shot one. If this were work Jesus would want the person who works multiple jobs for little money and still can’t afford to take care of their family verses the C-level manager. If this were a friendship Jesus would pick the person who has no friends nor deserves any verses the popular kid.

Imagine you had the chance to pick Jesus’ disciples. Who would you pick? The most religious people on the planet? Mother Theresa? The Pope? Visible and popular evangelical preachers? Conventional wisdom tells us Jesus deserves an A-team for his twelve disciples.

But Jesus does the unthinkable in our reading today. He picks people who can’t even do their job. He picks people who collect more taxes than necessary in order to make more money for themselves. He picks someone that eventually gets him killed. His very first pick turns out to be a guy who not only isn’t good at fishing, but also will deny him three times.

This is the group Jesus assembles. Failures. Rejects. Oppressed. Poor. Bottom dwellers of society. But none of these labels matter to Jesus. Notice that Peter and the others recognize that Jesus is someone to be admired and respected. They’ve heard of the miracles and healings he’s performed. They can sense God at work, but they aren’t the ones who invite Jesus into the boat – Jesus invites himself.

Jesus commits the classic faux pas of inviting yourself to an event. Jesus writes the invitation himself and signs the RSVP in the same moment. Jesus doesn’t hesitate to get on this boat with fishermen who clearly have nothing to show for their night’s work. Nothing – not failure, defeat, societal labels or standing – is going to scare Jesus away from getting on this boat.

Because Jesus takes nothing and makes it everything. Jesus takes our failures and makes them overflowing successes. Jesus goes right past the best and perfect and seeks out those in the deep, murky waters of society. And Jesus does not fail.

Jesus seeks and Jesus finds. Jesus does not hesitate to love the unlovable. Jesus is not afraid of the challenge of getting onto an empty boat that is full of shame, fear, and failure and making it sink with love and grace.

Jesus’ grace is abundant and overflowing. Jesus’ forgiveness is abundant and overflowing. Jesus’ love is abundant and overflowing. I know we hear these words a lot and perhaps they lose their meaning and weight, but I want to end on this idea of overflowing and abundance.

The disciples hadn’t caught a single fish all night. Nothing. Yet we’re told the moment they let down their nets with Jesus onboard they become so full of fish they begin to break. So the disciples call some friends over to help out with their catch. Both boats become so full of fish that they begin to sink. These fishermen, who couldn’t catch a thing before, catch so many fish that not one, but two boats begin to sink with the weight of overflowing and abundant fish.

This is who Jesus is. He provides grace upon grace. Mercy upon mercy. Forgiveness upon forgiveness. Love upon love. So much that to be quite honest we can’t handle it. It’s too much. And so we share it with the world around us – and it still turns out to be too much.

But this is who Jesus is. He gives those with nothing, everything. He provides love to those who have been rejected. He sends grace to those who didn’t earn it and mercy to those who don’t deserve it. Jesus, without hesitation, walks into our lives without an invitation and says, “You are good enough.”

Jesus does the unthinkable. He loves us with a love that is overflowing and abundant.

January 15, 2017 – “Rejected”

Today’s text is from Luke 4:14-30.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King, Jr. died nearly 50 years ago yet his legacy and spirit remain alive within the heart of this country.

King fought for equality; fought for the right for human beings to be treated like human beings. Over 50 years later we have the perspective now to judge history in a different fashion than the people of the time could have, but looking back to 1964 we see striking parallels to our text today.

We hear that the hometown boy has returned, full of the Spirit, and is preaching in the local synagogue to the praises of everyone. He reads from the book of Isaiah and proclaims that people will receive good news, sight, freedom, and a year of celebration.

So far, so good. What person wouldn’t want good news, sight, freedom, and a year of celebration? All seems good for Jesus and the hometown crowd. But then he keeps speaking. He breaks a boundary they weren’t expecting and suddenly things turn ugly.

It’s easy to look at that crowd in Nazareth and wonder, “What were they thinking?” Why would these people reject Jesus? Why would they try to kill Jesus – he’s hardly even done anything in his ministry yet.

But that same wondering can be applied to 1964 America. Over 50 years later it’s easy to wonder how a bill that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin could possibly be opposed. Over 50 years later it’s easy to wonder how a bill that said a person is a person is a person could be rejected by nearly 30% of both houses of Congress. 126 representatives and 27 senators said, “No, I don’t think discrimination should be outlawed.”

30% of Congress decided that good news, sight, freedom, and celebration didn’t need to be given away to certain groups of people. 30% of Congress decided that Civil Rights were, “unconstitutional, unnecessary, unwise, and extend beyond the realm of reason,” to quote Strom Thurmond.

This is the crowd’s reaction to Jesus when he corrects their initial mistake. The hometown crowd initially thought they were the only recipients of this good news, sight, freedom, and celebration. They were perfectly happy and content to accept this gift from Jesus when they thought it was only being given to them.

But then Jesus says something that ‘extended beyond the realm of reason’. He says that when the people of Israel needed food the most God sent a prophet to the region of Sidon instead to feed a widow. He says that when the people of Israel needed relief from leprosy God sent a prophet to the region of Syria instead. He says that the people are going to ask him to perform the same miracles in Nazareth that he performed in Capernaum.

He says that God’s good news, sight, freedom, and celebration weren’t only reserved for the Israelites – they were for all people. And, the cherry on top was that Jesus has little time to waste and so he’ll spend every waking moment with outsiders – the gifts that he has to give are for those who have never glimpsed what freedom looks like. The gifts that he has to give are for those who have never seen the light. The gifts that he has to give are for those who have never tasted joy and jubilee.

The good news that Jesus brings to bear is that there is going to be enough good news for everyone, but that at the moment injustices remain and he’s got to go out into the world to fix them.

2,000 years later it’s easy to scoff at the people of Nazareth for rejecting Jesus. It sounds like a reasonable request. But maybe not. 50 years later it’s easy to scoff at the 30% of Congress, and likely the nation, that rejected the Civil Rights Bill. It sounds like a reasonable request. But maybe not.

In the Gospel of Luke salvation is seen from a social scale and not an individual scale. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus comes to pronounce good news to those at the bottom of society and announce woes for those at the top.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus takes the socio-economic system and flips it on its head. Jesus will eventually go on to say that he would leave 99 sheep in order to find 1 lost in the wilderness. Now, all 100 sheep need a shepherd. All 100 sheep need protection. But 99 of the sheep are already good to go. 99 of the sheep are already safe and sound. But 1 sheep is without protection. 1 sheep is lost. And so Jesus tells the 99 that for the moment he needs to find this one sheep.

It’s not that this one sheep is more important, more special, more deserving of Jesus’ love. All the sheep receive the same gift. It’s just that in this moment this one sheep is in need of Jesus’ help. And so Jesus seeks and finds.

2,000 years ago Jesus told a crowd of people already well off and full of freedom, sight, and joy that they didn’t need any more at the moment – that Jesus was off to find those who were blind, oppressed, and mired in the muck of society in order to bring that same air of jubilee to the world.

50 years ago a Civil Rights Bill told a bunch of white people that were already well off and full of freedom, sight, and joy that they didn’t need any more at the moment – that this law was to protect those who were blind, oppressed, and mired in the muck of society in order to bring that same air of jubilee to the country.

In today’s day and age, at this moment in our country, who are in need of freedom and release? At this moment in our history who are those who still come up against discrimination? At this moment who are we afraid of?

The people of Nazareth were afraid of losing this gift of freedom, sight, and joy. They were afraid that Jesus didn’t have enough to go around and that if foreigners and those who didn’t deserve it or earn it received it then what would be left for them?

Everything. Everything would be left for them. This is the good news. Jesus came to this world for those who have nothing. Jesus came to this world for those who were blind, oppressed, rejected, called sinful, labeled as outsiders – often for reasons that extend beyond rational and reason.

But Jesus also was born for you. Jesus was born to show us that we have in fact received and live into this good news. But that some people still don’t. That even in a world of 100 people if 1 person is oppressed and lost that it is our calling to seek and to find.

For the good news is that God’s love does not run out. The good news is that Jesus’ forgiveness is infinite. The good news is that the Spirit’s presence fills every corner of creation.

For Jesus was born for every person; so that every person wouldn’t be judged on the labels given by society, but instead the title given by God: Child of God.

January 8, 2017 – “Baptism”

Today’s text is from Luke 3:1-22.

Before we get into who the “brood of vipers” are or if in Luke’s account John was in jail before Jesus was baptized or what “fruit of repentance” really is I want to focus our attention somewhere else first: The grocery store.

Now I’m not much of a fruits and vegetables eater myself, but there are a few healthy foods that I’ll bring myself to eat once in a while. And in any grocery store there’s nothing more frustrating, in my opinion (especially when I’m shopping by myself), than buying bananas.

Let’s think about it. You have to consider a wide array of variables: How many bananas am I going to be eating in the next week? How many bananas do I currently have? What if I don’t get back to the store soon and might need a big stockpile of bananas?

So do I go for a bunch that only has 3 bananas? How about a bunch that has 8? How green should they be? If I’m not going to eat them that fast then perhaps a few should still be a little green? Or maybe I want to eat them all today and tomorrow so they should already be nice and yellow? Or maybe I want to make banana bread today so they should already be well past the point of eating and be nice and brown?

As I’m standing in front of the table of bananas I’m quietly weighing these pros and cons until I finally just grab a bunch and hope for the best. But just when I’m feeling good about this decision and this bunch of bananas is feeling pretty good about being selected after such a grueling decision I get home and figure out that perhaps after all this time I wanted zucchini bread instead.

That perhaps no matter how green or brown or whether in a bunch of 3 or 8 or priced by weight or number that the bananas never stood a chance. They should’ve been zucchini the whole time.

That’s a loose interpretation of the beginning of Luke’s third chapter. Because in Luke the ‘brood of vipers’ comment isn’t leveled against the Pharisees and Sadducees as it is in Matthew’s account, but instead told directly to the crowds coming to be baptized.

People of every color, nationality, belief, and thought are wandering down to this man wandering throughout the region baptizing anyone who would listen and are wondering what they need to do.

But before they can wonder Luke sets up the prelude to the answer for us: They are to fill in the valleys, make low the mountains and hills, straighten the crooked roads, smooth out the rough ways. According to Isaiah, and Luke, this was the people’s calling. This was supposed to be what they were doing.

And so John lets them know. But we hear him use different words than Isaiah did. Instead of simply repeating the beautiful imagery and poetry from Isaiah, John begins his welcome to the crowds by shaming.

He calls out the societal norms and culture that are in place. He points out what the people already know: Something is wrong. John merely points it out, but when Jesus comes along he will actively work against the status quo. What John says with just words Jesus will expose with actions.

So, instead of Isaiah’s beautiful poetry John lets the people know what the problem is with more unrefined language: They’re bananas when they should be zucchini. Again, this is a loose paraphrase of this quote from John: “‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’” (Luke 3:7b-9)

None of that sounds good. And the people know it. John is basically saying that everything they’ve ever known, practiced, and believed isn’t good enough to gain favor in God’s eyes, but they better not flee in fear because that isn’t good either. John is basically telling the people they’ve quibbled for so long over right theology, proper beliefs, who’s in or out, that they’ve lost the purpose of having faith in the first place.

That instead of worrying about whether a prospective banana should be green, brown, priced by weight or number, in bunches of 3 or 8 – that perhaps none of these categories matter when you don’t even need bananas in the first place.

This is what stands before John. This is what stands before Jesus. This is what stands before us. We look at the world around us, the communities that we’re a part of, and often we’ll see categorical distinctions between us and our neighbor. We’ll see what makes us different from one another.

And instead of truly working to level mountains and raise valleys we’ll find it’s a lot easier to simply toss some dirt in a valley or lop off the top of a hill. We’ll find that it’s easier to blame. We’ll find that it’s easier to focus on ourselves. We’ll find it’s easier to simply believe instead of act.

This is what John, and Luke, are trying to prepare the people, and us, for today. They’re trying to tell us that what we had been doing wasn’t working. They’re trying to tell us that minor fixes aren’t going to be enough. John is trying to warn us that something so radical and different is coming that we won’t understand it.

John and Isaiah both point toward what will be required of us: Not that we believe all the right things, or that we have the right jobs, or that we’re labeled sinners by some – but instead that our calling is one of action. Our calling is to treat our neighbors, the world around us, with love and justice.

Our calling is to make sure the poor are fed by those with food. Our calling is to make sure the naked are clothed by those with plenty. Our calling is a challenge: To those for whom much has been given much will be expected. And for those with nothing much will be given.

So the next time you’re out looking for bananas remember that you might just need something else. For this is the amazing promise of the Messiah and the Gospel message: It’s not what we’re expecting and it’s surprising in ways that will reveal God’s heart and love to us and the world.