First Lesson: Hosea 11: 1-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 107: 1-9, 43
Second Lesson: Colossians 3: 1-11
Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 13-21
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“The best things in life are free
But you can keep 'em for the birds and bees.
Now give me money (that's what I want.”- The Beatles-
In 2014 The Oakland A’s Baseball team was at a crossroads. Oakland had made the playoffs in half of the first fourteen years of the 21st century. Oakland had not made the World Series during these years. 2014 seemed to be Oakland’s best chance to make a run for years. Oakland decided to put all their cards on the table. Oakland had a shortstop in the minor leagues named Addison Russell. Russell was considered to be one of the best prospects in the game of Baseball. The thought was Russell would soon develop into one of the baseball’s best players for the A’s. Every Baseball team would love to have Addison Russell. The A’s decided to do the unthinkable by trading Russell though to acquire a couple of pitchers to help them hopefully win a title in 2014. Oakland’s risk didn’t work out at all. Oakland lost in the first game of the playoffs to the Kansas City Royals and they seemingly gave away Addison Russell for nothing. There is something we can learn from Oakland’s risk.
What Oakland did was proclaim something important to everyone else in the world about the game of Baseball even if their risk in hindsight seems foolish. The reality is “Flags Fly Forever.” What the fans of the Oakland A’s and any baseball team for that matter what more than anything else is something permanent to which they hold.
Baseball fans at the end of their life don’t want to say “you almost won a championship.” People want something that defines their experience as a success or failure onto which they can latch.
For a sports fan, they dream of a championship above all else. For many of us, we dream of a big bank account. We see these measures of success or failure as being that which ultimately defines us not only before each other but also before God.
Today’s Gospel lesson seeks to answer this question further of “What defines us?”
Today’s Gospel lesson begins with a young man approaching Jesus with a problem. The young man’s father had just died. The inheritance system in Jesus’ day was patently unfair. The older brother by the virtue of being born first would get a double portion of the father’s estate. The younger brother asks for Jesus to intervene in this family dispute. Jesus decides this family squabble teaching over money would serve as a chance to illustrate a point about the Kingdom of God.
Jesus tells a story about a farmer. The Farmer is not a bad guy. He has not gained his wealth illegally or by taking advantage of others. The Farmer is smart; he decides after a bumper crop that he is going to set some aside to use in future years. The Farmer isn’t doing anything different then what Joseph advised Pharaoh to do after a really good Egyptian harvest. The Farmer, in fact, isn’t doing anything all that different than you do putting aside savings account in the bank. So you hear this story it makes you wonder why the story ends with The Farmer being called a “fool.”
David Lose points out the problem with The Farmer though; let me read a couple of the key verses emphasizing certain words. “And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
The reason The Farmer is called a fool is that of how he defines his life merely regarding the possessions that he accumulates. The Farmer is a fool because he only saw life regarding his “I.” “I” did this and “I” earned that. When the “I” is at the center of one’s universe, then faith is merely an accessory. The Farmer thought that merely living life in the here and now is what guarantees happiness.
Here’s the catch as pointed by Phillip McLarty. “Money is not the root of all evil. What the Bible exactly says “The Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil-”1 Timothy 6:10.
Money ultimately has limited value. Money cannot embrace you. Money can not guarantee safety from all risk. Money’s value is finite rather than infinite.
There was a woman that recently died in Lindstrom. She worked as a telephone operator. Her husband worked as a custodian. They never had any kids. They lived in simple houses over the years. They never spent extravagantly. After the woman had been widowed, she moved into a basic apartment. She ended up living till one-hundred and four. People who knew the woman wouldn’t have thought she died with more than two cents to her name. Her estate ended up containing $1.4 million dollars. Her will gave away every dollar and cent that she sat on for years and years. No one could ever question whether this woman saw money as “defining” her in life.
Let me compare this to another story. A couple of weeks ago, a guy from in-town stopped me on the street. The guy had a request for me to do a send-off for one of his friends. His friend had alienated his family. His friend had alienated nearly every one of his friends. The last years of his life were spent in a nursing home with nary a visitor. The request that I was given was that he didn’t want a funeral, and hardly anyone would have come if he did. So we gather at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon and go through the committal prayers before this man’s ashes could be dumped in anonymity. “To dust we are, and to dust, we shall return.” I don’t know what was in this man’s bank account, but what this encounter drove him to me is what Jesus is getting at in our Gospel lesson for today that a man’s life is not merely just defined by his possessions.
The foolish man is trying to make life certain through possessions rather than embracing faith.
Ed Markquart tells the following story from Fredrick Danker’s Book Jesus and the New Age:
“In 1923, a group of the world’s most successful men met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Assembled there were: the president of the largest steel corporation in America; the greatest wheat speculator; a man who was to be the president of the New York Stock Exchange; a member of the President’s cabinet; the canniest investor on Wall Street; a future director of the World Bank for International Settlements; and the head of the world’s largest monopoly. A few years later, this was their fate: Charles Schwab died in debt; Arthur Cutten died abroad in obscurity; Richard Whitney did time in Sing Sing prison and was blotted out of Who’s Who; Albert Fall was pardoned from prison in order that he could die at home; Jesse Livermore, Leon Fraser, and Ivar Kreuger, all committed suicide. .. All these people knew how to make money; none of them learned how to live. All the bulls became lambs, and Schwab’s bleating in 1930 was the most pitiful of all: “I’m afraid; every man is afraid. I don’t know, we don’t know, whether the values we have are going to be real next month or not.”
One of the major themes of Jesus’ parables is that of reversal of fortunes to paraphrase Ethan Richardson. The rich man dies only to end up in torment, whereas the poor beggar Lazarus ends up in comfort. The blind end up seeing and the lame end up walking. The Good Samaritan receives words of praise. The savvy farmer is called a fool. The Prodigal Son’s older brother hears that he is too responsible for his own good. Jesus invites to the party all the outcasts because the cool kids have better things to do with their time.
Here’s another key reversal from our parable for today: Wealth is fleeting, but hope it is eternal.
I went to Concordia with a guy named Vladimir. Vladimir grew up in the Soviet Union. What I will always remember about Vladimir is right after he started there, I was with him on a car tour of Fargo. We were driving down Fargo’s main drag called Broadway. As we were driving down Broadway Vladimir, keep seeing bigger buildings and kept marveling at how beautiful Fargo was.” Growing up around the Twin Cities having seen all kinds of big buildings, it took me a minute to realize the Vladimir was serious. Whereas others merely saw steel and concrete, Vladimir saw hope. Vladimir had been around hopelessness his whole life, so when he saw something that pointed to a bigger, better world being possible, Vladimir saw the hope. Perhaps Vladimir’s story has something to teach us.
Last weekend, I was driving around Duluth listening to the radio when I came across a preacher. The preacher made the following point: “When we look to define ourselves as a people of “faith”, one word shall come to the tip of people’s mouths and that word is “hope.” People may find our beliefs strange, people probably will disagree with us, but what if above all else Christians were known for bringing “hope” out into the world.
So this leads to the question if hope doesn’t come from possessions then where does hope come? Hope comes from faith. Hope comes from death. Hope comes from the promise of resurrection that guides us on days when everything in this life seems to be out of reach. In the words of Robert Farrar Capon: “He waits for us in our death. Quite literally, there s nothing that Christians need to do to inherit hope other than die”.
The Parable of the Rich Fool is about how a person responds when they are under duress. In duress, you can either be defined by all you can gather in this world or in duress you can embrace hope. Flags alone do not fly forever! Faith endures forever! Faith carries us into the darkness of the grave, only to see the light shining on the other side.
The question that Parable of the Rich Fool forces us to confront is what defines you on this day? Does wealth define you? Does pain define you? Or does the embrace of one's savior define you? Does this hope define you? Amen
 Luke 12:13-21.
 This plays itself out in the story of Esau and Jacob in Genesis 25 for example.
 Lose, David. “Commentary on Luke 12:13-21”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 01. Aug.2010. Web. Jul.27.2016.
 Luke 12:17-18.
 McLarty, Phillip. “The Parable of the Rich Fool.” Lectionary.org. 2004. Web. Jul.25.2016.
 Genesis 3:19.
 Markquart, Edward. “Bigger and Bigger Barns.: Pentecost 10: Year C” Sermons from Seattle. Web. Jul.25.2016.
 Richardson, Ethan. “The Gospel’s Steady Work of Reversal.” MBird(Mockingbird Ministries). 28. Apr.2016. Web. Jul.26.2016.
 Hornsby, Emily. “New Research on Wealth Confirms What Jesus Said 2,000 Years Ago.” MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries).05. Sept.2013. Web. Jul.26.2016.
First Lesson: Hosea 1: 2-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 85
Second Lesson: Colossians 2: 6-15, (16-19)
Gospel Lesson: Luke 11: 1-13
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story, when I was eight years old, we all gathered at my great-grandpa’s house for a family Christmas. Before we start Christmas dinner, we were all supposed to go around the table and pray for something. So I have to think about the most important thing in the world to pray for at that moment. Finally, it's my turn to pray. My prayer was that the Vikings beat the Washington Redskins to advance to playoffs all to the laughter of my family at one of my first times praying in public. The story ends in a predictable fashion perhaps so God could teach eight year old me a lesson, two days later the Vikings lost in overtime.
Now if my prayer for the Vikings to beat Washington is wrong? What can and should we pray? The following question Jesus begins to answers in our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 11.
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”- Luke 11:9
For what should we pray?
For some of us, this might seem like an easy and obvious question. We pray the safety prayers for the physical health of ourselves and those around us. We pray the connection prayers for either new or more meaningful relationships within our lives. We pray the well-being prayers. We pray that our dream job or dream vacation falls into our laps. We pray the think big prayers. We pray to win the lottery so that the church can buy that rocketship that I’ve always wanted. What all these prayers have in common is one thing that is an acknowledgment of the World’s brokenness at the present moment, along with a longing for its restoration.
Every day for many of us we struggle with the question of “Whether these prayers work?” When I was growing up, my best friend was named Josh. Josh was/is a pretty intense guy. Josh was an excellent cross-country runner and all-conference hockey player nicknamed “The Animal”. Josh was attending North Dakota State at the same time that I was attending Concordia. One day, we’re driving back to school after Easter break. Being Northwest Minnesota, the weather starts to turn. Some snow soon becomes heavy snow. There are hardly any cars once we approach Alexandria on the road. I was driving way too cautious in this weather for Josh’s liking. Josh offers to take the wheel. Josh starts driving down I-94 at over 70 miles an hour because there was no traffic to contend. Josh’s driving works well for about fifteen miles. The car finally hits a patch of ice and begins spinning out of control. Josh starts cussing then he starts praying. The car finally stops in the middle of a desolate road. The following result would seem to be evidence of Josh’s prayer working. What if the prayer worked the other way, what if we spun into the ditch, what if Josh, I, or my sister Anne got injured or even worse? How can we interpret all this?
One day, Homer Simpson grows jealous of his neighbor Ned Flanders’ success. Homer asks Ned “What’s his secret?” Ned replies “hard work, clean living and a little prayer.” Homer wasn’t very interested in “hard work” or “clean living” but prayer seemed easy enough. Homer can’t remote until his prayer causes him to discover it magically. Homer prays that the Lord would bring him a delicious, new snack only to witness an accident between a bacon truck and a fudge truck. Homer quickly starts praying for everything that he could think of whether appropriate or inappropriate. Why were Homer’s prayers working? There was anyone else in the town of Springfield that was a more faithful Christian than Homer Simpson. Why would God answer his prayers, but not those of the most faithful neighbors around him?
I was reading an article by a guy named Andrew Wilson, who made the point that we often get the direction of prayers backward when we pray to God as a means to put him to test. If God does this for us, only then will we believe? What we often fail to remember about Prayer is that when Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, he does so in a way where the focus is not on us but rather building God’s Kingdom. The direction of the Lord’s Prayer seeks to remind us that God is not our personal butler. God’s will is not necessarily going to be our will. What prayer is a rather a reminder of is that God has already acted in our lives, God will continue to act, and one day his kingdom shall come forth.
How does God’s will work versus our own? Such pondering raises some interesting realities.
Perhaps God answers prayers only not necessarily as we would want. In 1978, there was a famous Psychology study that measured happiness. The study compared two types of people: lottery winners and accident victims. The lottery winners all won money that in today’s terms would equate to over a million dollars, whereas accident victims all become paralyzed as a result of their accidents. They then measured everyone’s happiness around one year after the life-changing moments. What the psychologists found was surprising that the crash victims self-reported similar happiness levels to the lottery winners.
Similar happiness studies have found that over the past few decades as standards of living keep increasing that people are no happier than before. What science has discovered is that months into the future, what might you think makes you happy merely disappoints.
The reason that I cite this study is that no matter how many times I read its results, I can’t believe its outcome. Life seems like it would be so much better if lottery-winning prayers were always answered according to our whims. You dig deeper under the surface though perhaps God’s plans for us are different then we can imagine.
When I graduated from seminary, I didn’t have a call for a while. I would spend nights praying for my job situation; I finally need to work a different job as a substitute teacher. The money was good, but I had never actually worked with children before. My dad before my first day questioned whether trying to manage a roomful of students with no experience would be a good idea. My first day was going to be spent working with junior-highers talk about jumping off the deep end. To be certain there was a lot of learning that needed to take place for me. Days after days of substitute teaching though gave me meaning. I’m a much better minister because of these days, so this story is perhaps another example of how God doesn’t answer prayer merely according to our terms. Maybe we can think of a thing from within our life, where we wanted one answer but got another instead. What if prayer isn’t about giving us what we want, what if prayer is rather about giving us what we need.
Soren Kirkegaard: “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
So how should prayer work? In 2010, there was a major accident at a mine in Chile. Thirty-three miners were trapped deep in the earth with seemingly impossible odds of rescue. Prayer warriors got to work. A miracle then happened. The Chilean miners bring us back to the big rub with prayer. Why a miracle in this case? Why not a miracle when a daughter prays for her mom to be healed of cancer? How can all sorts of people pray for peace on Earth with it never becoming reality? How do we deal with failed prayers? How do we deal with prayers that we shout out from the bottom of our souls that receive nothing more than silence? We take comfort in the fact that God does indeed listen to our prayers.
Pastor Steve Molin recalls the following story: Some years ago, Dan Rather was interviewing Mother Theresa. Dan Rather asked Mother Theresa? “How do you pray?”. Mother Theresa’s reply was “I listen.” Rather was confused by this answer, so he asks “Well what does God say?” To which Mother Theresa merely says “He listens.”
As Molin points out “Sometimes prayer changes our circumstances, more importantly, though prayer changes us.”
Whenever we pray, we are guided by a promise that comes from prayer. “His kingdom will come.”
For as Luther says in the Catechism: “The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer; of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.”
Jesus says in our lesson for today: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the ones who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
What prayer ultimately is a confession of our inability to shape the world. Prayer within the scriptures is way more than just asking, prayer is praise, prayer is questioning, prayer is arguing, and prayer is grief. When you understand prayer as more than just asking, perhaps then prayer’s purpose makes more sense. Prayer should not be about praying to receive that which we think we need; prayer should do with expressing our longing for Resurrection and New Life. We don’t pray hoping to change God; we pray hoping that God will change us. We pray that we remain patient as we deal with the Monday through Sunday struggles that we may draw comfort from God’s promises to change the Earth forever will one day come true. Amen
 This episode of The Simpsons is entitled “Pray Anything” written by Sam O’Neal and Neal Boushell. The episode first aired on Feburary 9th, 2003.
 Wilson, Andrew. “Our Prayer Instincts Are Backwards.” Christianity Today. 31. Dec.2015. Web. Jul.19.2016.
 The study was conducted in a paper written by Phillip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff- Bulman published in the Journal of Personality and Social Physcology, Vol 36(8). Aug 1978, 917-927.
 Simenge. “Science Behind the Factoid: Lottery Winners Are No Happie than Quadriplegics.” Science Tumbled Blog. This is blog is part of the Tumblr nertwork. 7.Dec.2013. Web. Jul.19.2016.
 Steve Molin in his sermon “Knock and Open” found on Lectionary.org uses a similar example from his 2001 sermon.
 Galli, Mark. “Hopeless Prayers: What the rescue of the Chilean Miners didn’t teach me.” Christianity Today. 13.Oct.2010. Web.
 Molin, Steve. “Knock and Open”. Lectionary.org. 2001. Web. Jul.19.2016.
 Molin, Steve. “Knock and Open”.
 Luther, Martin. Small Cathecism. 1529.
 Luke 11:9-10
First Lesson: Amos 8: 1-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 52
Second Lesson: Colossians 1: 15-28
Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 38-42
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“I woke up this morning looking for someone to blame. Someone to hate. Someone who I could make the single target of my fear about the officers killed in Dallas and the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was such a desperate feeling to want to discharge the uncertainty and scarcity. Then it dawned on me that this is the exact drive that fueled what’s happening right now.
Instead of feeling hurt we act out our hurt. Rather than acknowledging our pain, we inflict it on others. Neither hate nor blame will lead to the justice and peace that we all want- it will only move us further apart. But we can’t forget that hate and blame are seductive. Anger is easier than grief. Blame is easier than real accountability. When we choose instant relief in the form of rage, we’re in many ways choosing permanent grief for the world.” -Brene Brown.
“But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”-Amos 5:24.
This morning, I want to tell you the story of a prophet who lived in uncertain times such as these. I want to tell you the story of the prophet Amos. Amos’ story begins with an unlikely path to the ministry. Amos began his life working as a migrant farm worker. Amos’ job was to puncture sycamore trees. Sycamore trees would require someone to puncture their fruit to make them edible. Sycamore trees produced the fruit of the poor. Amos hardly made any money in that job, so Amos then worked the second job of herding sheep. Amos had no formal religious education. Amos’ ministry was during the time of Israel’s division into two kingdoms of north and south. Amos was from the south, but he preached in the enemy territory of the north.
Telling people uncomfortable truths would mark Amos’ ministry. Much of Amos’ ministry would seek to address the exploitation of the poor by the rich. Amos’ greatest moment in courage was when he went to Bethel at a time when people were gathering to worship the Golden Calf rather than the God of Israel. Amos’ then made a prediction that such worship would soon bring about Israel’s collapse as a nation.
Amos ‘prediction would come true within a couple generations. The reaction to Amos’ words was such that he ends up being deported and seeing his career as Israel’s preacher come to an end.
Amos’ lived in a time where the standard of living for the people of Israel was like none they had ever known, yet society still kept decaying. People liked when Amos would preach against Israel’s enemies, but they would resist Amos when he would speak the truth about their people.
The central theme of Amos’ ministry was the shape of Justice in the world. Amos’ most famous words about “Justice rolling down like mighty waters” would be quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King in his “I Have a Dream” speech over 2500 years later.
As we consider the course of the life of Amos and the calls for Justice in the world, let us consider three points in regards to Justice.
Point One: Justice is never easy.
Let me tell a story, Last season- My Dad and I were at a Vikings game against the Seahawks. One of the drawbacks of being at TCF Stadium is we were sitting on metal bleachers. When the weather is seven degrees below zero, and everyone has several layers, the row is a tight squeeze. So on the left side of me were a couple of Seahawks fans, both much bigger than me. The man probably weighed twice what I weighed. He would stand up every time the Seahawks made a play and made noise. The reaction to these Seahawk fans cheering from our section of Vikings fans was predictable. On this day, being the smallest one in the row, the Seahawks fans kept squeezing me “tighter” and “tighter” until my Dad whispers into my ear. “Stand your ground!”
How does standing your ground in the world look? Standing my ground “physically” would only end up with me getting hurt trying to confront someone much bigger than me. Perhaps standing your ground means something different than we often think it to be.
The events of the past weeks brought me back to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. King had all sorts of things going against him from the history of slavery to Jim Crow laws to resentment to people throughout the land. When people were protesting during the Civil Rights Movement, they knew that anger would merely produce a backlash. People would speak their voice through the power of silent action dressed in their Sunday best clothes. When people marched, they were subject to all sorts of nasty names and threats, yet they did not lose resolve. The Civil Rights Movement sought out with a seemingly impossible dream of bringing people who saw the world in entirely different ways to be able to achieve common ground. For when “police officers” or minority groups are automatically assumed to be “guilty,” we can never reach common ground. Finding common ground is never going to be easy because it causes us to admit that our way of viewing the world might have blind spots. Confessing the imperfection or our knowledge or sin is “never easy.” Justice not being easy, leads us into point two.
Point Two: Justice can’t be about settling scores.
My Grandma has a brother named Frank. Frank has lived in Kansas City ever since he graduated from college in the late 1950’s. Frank got into the banking business down there. Frank played a role working with the Truman Sports Complex where both the Royals and Chiefs play. Frank eventually becomes the President of a bank and does quite well for himself. Now when you do well, people tend to ask you for money. The thing about Grandma is she’s not afraid to ask anyone for anything. So Grandma asks Frank for $20,000. In fairness, Grandma has asked nearly everyone she knows for $20,000 at some point in time. Grandma doesn’t think “small.” Frank’s patience with the constant requests for money on this day ran out.
Frank tells Grandma “no,” Grandma tells Frank a not so nice place where he can go. Grandma and Frank haven’t talked to each other in the five years because of both their stubbornness. Making amends is often thought to be an act of weakness. So people like Grandma and Frank go through life never wanting to be left holding onto the somewhat shorter ends of the stick.
Here’s why this is a problem. At the end of World War I, emotion was running high. These feelings led to one of the most unjust events in all of human history in the German Holocaust. After the Germans lose World War I, the sides begin to try to chart out a way forward. For Britain, France, and Russia the way out was easy blame Germany for everything. Put together the Treaty of Versailles with Germany not in the room. Make Germany admit they’re the only ones responsible for the war. Make Germany pay all the costs in reparations. Annex German land into neighboring countries, turning the citizenry into captives.
President Woodrow Wilson feared this would be a terrible idea for a lasting peace. The results were horrifying. Germany goes into financial ruin because of war-related inflation. In the Mid 1920’s a war hero named Adolf Hitler begins his rise to power as an outspoken critic of the Treaty of Versailles. For as awful as Hitler was, he never rises to power if not for the terms of Versailles. There shall be no Justice in this world if people maintain the belief that Justice must come according to your exact terms. There is potentially another way forward.
Point number three: Justice must be about hope.
A quote from Martin Luther: “The sin underneath all our sin is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.
One thing that I often notice about Christian people is that they fail to differentiate judgment from Justice.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”-Matthew 7:1
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment”- John 7:24.
Judgment unto itself is a not a bad thing. Judgment is what acknowledges the condition of the world in its brokenness. Judgment is a conduit for the proclamation of grace. Judgment without hope is what is a bad thing.
My sister Anne as many of you know just graduated law school. Anne worked during law school in the public defender’s office. I will talk to Anne about the legal system as it relates to its problems for today: one theme keeps coming up again and again is the problem of armchair lawyers. Armchair lawyers who claim to know all about a case from what they can pick up via media narrative. The problem with these armchair lawyers is they are quick to come to judgment and to condemn. Armchair lawyers often fail to view “justice” in relation to hope.
Armchair lawyering is part of a bigger problem in how we view crime as a nation. People keep demanding harsher and harsher sentences all the time. In the last 40 years, we’ve seen a fourfold increase in the number of Americans residing in prison. America has the highest rate of criminal incarceration rate in the world, yet this hasn’t brought about any more peace.
Let me propose something this morning as it relates justice to hope. What if there was another way forward. As Lutherans our entire faith is centered on the twin concepts of Law and Gospel. The Law tells us all the ways that the world ain’t quite right, whereas the Gospel tells us that there is indeed hope out there in the person of Jesus Christ.
In the words of Criminal Justice advocate Bryan Stevenson: “I’ve come to understand and believe that each of us is more than the worst thing that we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if someone tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them; they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer.”
Stevenson’s words hit upon the reason that we must center all talk about Justice upon hope. I came across a story of a prison in Norway. The prison’s philosophy is a bit different than we're used to. The prison does not run by revenge for crimes, but rather the hope of redemption. This Norwegian prison has inmates upon release re-offend at a rate unheard of within American prisons. What if we don’t change by people by the power and misery but rather grace and mercy?
While the harshest of criminals might only respond to the judgment, grace will ultimately be the means to bring about “true hope.”
“Jesus dropped the charges against us.” Jesus dropped them on the cross. Our God brings about Justice that Amos longed for by way of mercy. God brings about Justice by way of forgiveness. All we can merely do in this broken world is listen and hope to piece it all together once again. For today, might not be the day of justice. Tomorrow might not be the day of justice. But one day, people from all of God’s Kingdom shall gather together at the River to celebrate hope becoming real in the person of Jesus Christ.
 The following quote came from Brown’s Facebook and Instagram page on July 8, 2016.
 Amos 7:14.
 Doyle-Nelson, Theresa. “A Dresser of Sycamore Trees.” Bible Saints.Blogspot. 28.Oct.2011. Web. July.11.2016.
 Amos 7:14.
 Amos 5:5-7
 August 28,1963 at the March on Washington.
 This story is told in John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut’s Compelling People on pages 50-51.
 This quote was found on the Gnesio Facebook page on July 11th, 2016.
 Stevenson, Bryan. “We need to talk about an injustice.” Ted Talks (www.ted.com). 2012. Mar. Web. July.8.2016.
 Heijmen, R.J. “ You Don’t Change People by Power: Grace in a Norwegian Prison”. MBIRD (Mockingbird). 26. Feb.2013. Web. July.11.2016.
 This comes from a comment made by Bryan J. in the “You Don’t Change People by Power” article.
First Lesson: 2 Kings 5: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 30
Second Lesson: Galatians 6: (1-6), 7-16
Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Back when I was in college, I worked summers selling flooring at Menard’s in Maplewood. I remember a hot day at the end of July. It was one of those days around 100 degrees with high humidity that we dread during Minnesota summers. On this day, word had come over the radio that one of the Minnesota Vikings best players Korey Stringer collapsed after practice due to heat stroke and had to go to the hospital. I went to bed figuring it to be nothing, as guys like Korey Stringer weren’t supposed to die. Stringer had just been in the Pro-Bowl; he was truly in the prime of life. The next morning, I turn on the radio as soon as I get up to hear Denny Green, Cris Carter, and Randy Moss just sobbing, Korey Stringer had died! It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Great warriors like Stringer just don’t die to a nasty roll of dice. Stringer’s tale brings us to a story of another great warrior named Namaan.
Namaan was the greatest soldier of his day conquering the people of Israel. Namaan seemingly had it all. The scriptures describe Namaan as a “great man” with “power and authority”. Namaan was best friends with the King of Aram. One day though Naaman's life takes an unexpected turn. His skin began to swell. The swelling became a rash. The outbreak became discolored. The discoloring develops into scales. Naaman started going to the finest physicians searching for answers and received no useful answers. Namaan kept developing more and more scales. Naaman was a leper!
Now to understand this story, you need to understand the meaning of Leprosy within Namaan’s day. Leprosy in Jewish culture was considered to be a cause of someone’s failure or sin. Such questioning can be found in John 9 when the Disciples ask Jesus “Who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind!” Lepers weren’t outcasts because they were contagious. Lepers were rather outcasts because their scaley skin seemed to point to some source of shame existing in their life.
Your family was hoping that other people wouldn’t notice. Lepers were the type of company that good people didn’t keep especially religious people. So Naaman was going to seek out any solution he could find. I imagine that if Naaman lived in 2016 that he would be googling “leprosy cure” like mad. Naaman finally hears of a cure from his wife’s slave girl.
How the slave girl fits into Naaman's story is interesting?
In Naaman's day, when soldiers would win a battle they would claim all the valuables that they could from the land, even people. So the slave girl who is not named was a daughter of Israel now working as Namaan’s slave in the land of Aram. Now to picture the slave girl, I want you to contrast her with Namaan. I picture Namaan as one of the biggest, strongest guys around looking like a football player, whereas the slave girl was probably tiny and timid. Namaan had bullied the slave girl in her capture; now Namaan is so desperate that he turns to the bullied for advice. The slave girl tells Naaman about a prophet named Elisha from her land of Israel.
Elisha is another unlikely character in Naaman's story. Elisha was known for his bald head. Schoolchildren made fun of Elisha when they saw him. In fact, people throughout the nation of Israel saw Elisha as a joke. Elisha was the voice of God of a country that Namaan’s army crushed in battle. When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house, he appeared to be a recluse and a quack. Elisha wouldn’t even come out to face Namaan; he sent a messenger out instead. Naaman didn’t like his advice with Elisha telling him to ‘Go wash in the Jordan River.’
As you picture the Jordan River this morning, I want you to think of the bluest lakes that you’ve ever seen, for a lot of us in might be Lake Superior which signifies that we’re home in Silver Bay. Now what I want to you to picture is a swamp, a mud hole. When you think of the mud hole now imagine the Jordan River. The Jordan River was nothing special; it was merely the boundary between Namaan’s people and the land of Israel.
Namaan surely thought that if he was going to wash that a more picturesque river would do. Elisha's advice was the water didn’t matter, it didn’t matter the amount of water, or how far Namaan dunked himself into the water. What mattered was Elisha offering God’s promise with the water.
Naaman finally decided to give into Elisha’s request. Namaan was the guy that had purchased everything he saw on a Late Night TV infomercial no matter how dubious it appeared. Any possible solution to the Leprosy problem he would try. Namaan figured it certainly couldn’t hurt anything if he dipped himself into the Jordan River. Naaman finally did what Elisha told him to do, not expecting that water could change anything. Water would soon change everything!
Naaman's skin quickly became like it was born-again. Naaman's skin looked like that not of a hardened warrior with leprosy, but rather like a young boy. Elisha’s promise had come true! Namaan was now a believer in the God of his slave girl!
You see the story of Naaman and Elisha isn't’ a story about Baptism, but it's rather a story that points to Baptism.
Baptism for many is thought to be something to be embraced (once we’re ready for it).
The thing about Baptism though is you are never really ready. Namaan would have never entered the Jordan River if everything had to be right within his life for him to receive it. Instead, Baptism serves as the great equalizer of the Christian faith. Baptism brings one back to the place of their birth, the place of their beginning. The Gospel breaks down walls of success and failure, beauty and age, money and poverty. What the Gospel says is that the very youngest baby is equal to the most powerful military commander in the eyes of God. There is no purer expression of our Gospel than Baptism.
Let me tell you a story this morning based on a true story about two girls that we’ll call Miranda and Heather. Heather picked on Miranda all throughout elementary school and high school. Miranda had no idea what she had done to make Heather so mad, but she began hating Heather right back. Heather was vicious calling Miranda every nasty name, pulling every sort of nasty joke, turning everyone that she could against Miranda. Miranda was grateful to graduate high school and hopefully never see Heather again.
About a year after high school, Heather tries contacting Miranda on Facebook. Miranda is immediately suspicious of Heather’s motives. Miranda decides to respond and they quickly discover they have a lot in common. After a couple of months, Miranda and Heather meet for lunch. Miranda figures that if Heather was Heather that she could tell her off and leave. Heather begins to apologize for all the misery that she had put Miranda through over the years. Heather didn’t know why she acted so harsh towards Miranda. Heather started to cry and beg for forgiveness, even though Heather knew she didn’t deserve it. Miranda did forgive Heather and they became the best of friends afterward.
For those that might seem different from you on this day: those who are always demeaning others like Heather are probably coming from a place of pain and isolation. People are more broken on the inside then they care to admit regardless of the masks they give to the world around them. When you get down to it perhaps Namaan, his slave girl, and Elisha weren’t that different after all and the washing in the Jordan River was what brought them together.
Namaan was changed in the Jordan River on this day. Namaan transformed from spiritual despair to a place of peace. Namaan was permanently changed in these might river waters. Namaan was in the prime of life, struck down, and born again. The reason, Baptism is so important for us as Christian people because in the end “everybody dies”, all accomplishments go with us to the grave.
Final story for today, a former professor of mine described going to a string of funerals and always went home disappointed. Every different preacher would go on and on with all the reasons that the deceased person should have hope beyond the grave. Every person that died the pastor would describe as a mighty hero like Namaan. The problem with Namaan though is the prime of life is fading. Even heroes die. The prime of life always fading is why our hope as Christian people must come from something that we can grasp onto whatever stage of life we’re currently in. The professor then attends a funeral in Western North Dakota. The preacher on this day was a guy named Joe Burgess.
Someone, I know described going to Joe Burgess's house this way: “You open the oven all that’s in there are books,” “You open up the fridge all that’s in there are books.” Joe was part of the International Lutheran-Catholic dialogues and perhaps the brightest person that I’ve ever come across. Joe gets up for this funeral sermon, the professor wonders what Joe might say with his encyclopedia of knowledge. Joe proceeds to read the following scripture passage from Romans 6:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Joe then proceeds to sit down. These three verses from Romans was all Joe needed to say. The professor starts shaking his hand in the air as it was the best funeral sermon that he had heard in years.
Elisha said to Naaman: ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be made clean.’ It seemed too simple; Naaman couldn’t believe this was true. Naaman couldn’t figure out the catch. Baptism there has to be a catch. Namaan would soon find out though there is no catch to God’s promises, God’s promises will indeed soon come true! Amen
 2 Kings 5:1
 John 9:2.
 2 Kings 5:2.
 2 Kings 2:23-24.
 2 Kings 5:10-11.
 2 Kings 5:12
 A really good sermon that I came across this week on Text Week was Christy Lohr Sapp’s “Dip Into Faith” preached at Duke Divinity Chapel on July 7th, 2013. Lohr Sapp does an excellent job of making the connection between Namaan’s healing in the Jordan River and Baptism.
 The story is based on a Reddit comment by a deleted poster from a post entitled “Former bullies of Reddit, are you sorry? Would you like to apologize to your victims?” Ask Reddit (sub-reddit). 20 May 2014. Web. Jun.28.2016.
 Deleted Poster. “Former bullies of Reddit, are you sorry?”
 Deleted Poster. “Former bullies of Reddit, are you sorry?”
 Romans 6:3-5
 2 Kings 5:10