First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Responsive Reading: Psalm 46
Second Lesson: Romans 3: 19-28
Gospel Lesson: John 8: 31-36
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Over six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, a well-known Greek poet made the following observation “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.”
Philosopher Isaiah Berlin later expanded on the poet’s explanation in a famous essay called The Hedgehog and the Fox. Berlin’s thesis was the following: that all people either see the world as hedgehogs or foxes.
Foxes tend to shape their view of the world through all sorts of different life experiences. One of the most famous fox thinkers of all time is William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was known for having no clearly defining view of the world as he when he wrote plays he took from the best of contradictory Roman and Egyptian theater influences. Shakespeare wasn’t tied down by any stern convictions when it came to religion or personal morals. Shakespeare merely wanted to put on the best play that he could conceive, however he would put it together.
Let’s compare William Shakespeare to a famous hedgehog in George Washington as described by historian Joseph J. Ellis. George Washington shapes his presidency by one, huge idea that America’s future lay to the west. Washington wanted to construct a system of canals based on the Dutch model to reach the Ohio River Valley. Washington’s vision would prove correct nearly a quarter-century after his death with the completion of the Erie Canal helping to bring about America’s birth as an economic superpower.
So Washington and Shakespeare’s example prove that you can find successful people that are both foxes and hedgehogs. There are advantages in both types of people. For example, foxes probably make more interesting dinner companions being able to converse on a wide variety of subjects. If you’re going in for heart surgery, you would probably rather see a book-worm hedgehog that has read every book and consulted every authority on heart surgery imaginable. A heart surgeon’s cooking skills aren’t relevant to saving your life.
So know that you have learned a little bit about fox and hedgehog thinkers. Let’s look at our major event for today in Reformation Sunday. Now there are a couple of different ways to interpret the Lutheran Reformation. A fox might look at the political circumstances in Germany in the 16th Century, The Indulgence Controversy which caused Luther to post the 95 Theses, Luther’s views on the authority of the Pope or the authority of Scripture. You would probably want to talk to a fox about Luther’s Reformation if you wanted to become a scholar on the subject.
What I want to do today is simplify Luther’s life and the whole Lutheran Reformation to one big hedgehog question of “What is the Gospel?”
Today, we celebrate the 499th Anniversary of what is considered by many people to be the defining event of Luther’s life in the posting of the 95 Theses to the Castle Door at Wittenberg. What I want to do this morning is challenge what you think about the life of Martin Luther. The key event in Martin Luther’s life was not composing the 95 Theses; the key event in Luther’s life was his “Tower Experience.”
Luther himself expressed the belief about “The Tower Experience” as the day that he saw the light. It was the day of Luther’s conversion from an anxiety-ridden monk to a bold champion for the Gospel. You understand “The Tower Experience” then you understand Luther’s life and the birth of the Lutheran Church like any good hedgehog should.
The event took place something after Luther became a monk then joined the Augustinian Monastery in Wittenberg in 1508. Luther quickly stood out at the monastery among his brothers and not in a good way. Historian John Cochlaues describes Luther as once suffering a near “emotional breakdown during mass.” Luther seemed to be the monastery’s gray duck. Luther’s superiors then sought out a way to redirect his energies. Luther uses his academic gifts by becoming a Bible professor at the University of Wittenberg. Martin Luther’s academic specialty was the Psalms and the Old Testament.
Luther had amassed considerable book smarts in the preceding years, but could not still shake the despair on account of his sin that he held for his soul. Luther keeps studying the scriptures seeking answers. Luther seemingly could not read the scriptures without hearing words of judgment seemingly directed at him on every page. One night in a tower at the monastery, Luther is studying the Book of Romans. Luther comes across Romans 1:17.
“For in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Luther began meditating on this verse. Luther began to see God not as a God of anger and wrath but rather as a God of love, mercy, and grace. Luther’s whole outlook on the world would forever be guided by this defining “hedgehog event”: The 95 Theses, Luther being expelled from one church and founding one that would eventually bear his name, even to the point of death.
A couple of weeks ago in Confirmation, we were asked to consider the following scenario. Imagine being asked to walk a “tightrope” only guided by a promise that there is an invisible empty net below. You might be able to say that you believe the net exists, but trusting in the net to catch you is an entirely different thing altogether. If you can’t say for certain that the net is there, then you try to latch onto every other safety net possible.
We live in a world where all around us are standards which judge us: youth, beauty, finances, and even morality. It’s real easy to look at faith like everything else. We demand proof! We try to think of every other scheme imaginable as a safety net beyond God’s promises. As Luther saw those words from Romans before him he became a witness to a resurrection within himself; he first-hand experienced the power of the Gospel to all who believe.
How should we interpret the Lutheran Reformation? The Lutheran Reformation was not about seeking division. The Reformation’s main statement of belief, The Augsburg Confession, was written in such a way that it highlighted all the things that believers had in common. Luther never wrote the 95 Theses with any intention of breaking from the Catholic Church. Luther only left the Catholic Church when he was told that he could no longer belong. Luther spent his whole life yearning for an eventual reunion. Luther saw a much greater cause than perpetual unity in one church body. Luther’s cause was letting people know about the freedom that he found in the tower. This freedom is not dependent upon the response of the listener.
Jim Collins is one of the world’s most famous management consultants. Collins made the following observation about foxes and hedgehogs that those who make the biggest impact on the world are hedgehogs. Some examples of famous hedgehogs include Sigmund Freud and his theory of the unconscious mind, Charles Darwin and natural selection, Karl Marx and his beliefs of class struggle, Albert Einstein and the theory of relativity, and Adam Smith with his division of labor. All these men took a complex world and sought to simplify it. Martin Luther simplified the world with his belief of “What the Gospel is?” Like any good hedgehog, he kept pressing on with his one belief regardless of what else was going on in the world around him.
One of Aesop’s fables tells the tale of a The Fox and the Cat. A fox and at cat were having a discussion of all the ways that they can reach safety from hunters and their dogs. The Fox was going on and on about all the ways that the Fox could escape. The Cat admitted that he only knew one way to reach “safety.” Pretty soon, the Fox and Cat’s methods would put their methods to the test. Hunters were approaching on the horizon. The Fox freezes as he considers all his options. The Cat decides to use his “one way of escape” by climbing a tree as fast as he can. The Fox keeps thinking about his many things until he is caught by the hunters and the dogs.
It comes down to the cat or the hedgehog’s one big thing.
“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”-John 8:34
Martin Luther’s tower experience was his day of personal independence. It was the day that he was set free from the previous bondage that nearly destroyed him. Luther’s one big thing was the Gospel. The Gospel is freedom from all sin and brokenness which afflicts us!
Luther heard in the pages of scripture on that dramatic night of his life that no matter what had happened before that “He was truly wanted by God.” So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
The Road to 500 Years of Reformation is coming to an end. This road began in Jerusalem involving a crucifixion and a resurrection; the road continued through Wittenberg involving a tower and 95 Theses, and this road runs now through Sychar where we gather on this day. The road will have bumps, it will have curves, and it will have darkness before morning but rest assured that no obstacle even sin or death can stop the Gospel from getting to a hedgehog. Amen
 The poet was Archilochus. I figured the reference was so obscure that I could simplify it.
 “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.07. Sept.2016. Web. Oct.24.2016.
 Frost, Bob. “Isaiah Berlin’s Hedgehogs and Foxes.” History Access. 2009. Web. Oct.24.2016
 The Hedgehog and the Fox.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.
 Hendrix, Scott. “Legends about Luther: Which are true? Which are not?” Christianity Today: Issue 34: Martin Luther: The Reformer’s Early Years.1992. Web. Oct.24.2016.
 King, Steven. The Apostles Creed: Sola Confirmation Series. Sola Publishing. Maple Lake, MN. Second Edition.2012. Print. P.14. Oct.24.2016.
 Madson, Meg. “What to Preach this Reformation season.” Cross Alone Lutherans. 12.Oct.2016. Web. Oct.24.2016.
 Tranvik, Mark. ““Commentary on John 8:31-36”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 27.Oct.2013. Web. Oct.24.2016.
 Frost, Bob. “Isaiah Berlin’s Hedgehogs and Foxes.” History Access. 2009. Web. Oct.24.2016
 Frost, Bob. “Isaiah Berlin’s Hedgehogs and Foxes.”.
 “The Fox and The Cat.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.24.May.2016. Web. Oct.24.2016.
 John 8:36.
 Lose, David. “Commentary on John 8:31-36”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 31.Oct.2010. Web. Oct. 24.2016.
First Lesson: Joel 2: 23-32
Responsive Reading: Psalm 65
Second Lesson: 2 timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18
Gospel Lesson: Luke 18: 9-14
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Former Minnesota Golden Gopher and Notre Dame Football coach once had a public speaking engagement where he made a keen observation about human nature. Holtz’s advice to the assembled audience was the following: “Don’t tell other people your problems because ninety percent don’t care and the other ten percent are glad you have them.”
If anything Holtz might have underestimated on his numbers about the number of people glad that you have your problems.
Today’s Gospel lesson drives Holtz’s words home. The lesson serves as a sermon unto itself. The lesson tells the tale of two characters both walking up to the temple.
The first character is a Pharisee. The Pharisee would seem to be the definition of the world’s greatest guy! He was up at 5:00 A.M., doing push-ups and then jogging. The Pharisee knew the scriptures well; he could pray the most beautiful prayers and was in church every Sabbath where he gave generously. The Pharisee didn’t smoke, didn’t drink; he never looked in the direction of a woman other than his wife. He never used foul or inappropriate language. If a daughter brought home this Pharisee to mom and dad, mom and dad would brag to everyone they knew about what a great catch that their daughter had found.
Now let’s look at the other character in this tale. The character was a Tax Collector. Here’s the thing that you need about Tax Collectors in Jesus’ day is that they were the absolute worst.
Brett Favre was the Green Bay Packers starting QB for sixteen seasons. Favre was arguably the greatest Packer ever. Favre was a Super Bowl champion; nine time Pro-Bowler and three times NFL MVP. Favre threw more touchdowns for the Packers than any player for one team in pro football history. The Packers most heated rival for many of those years was the Minnesota Vikings. Now imagine the reaction among Packer fans when Favre wants to play for the Vikings. The word “traitor” was thrown out with a vengeance by Packer fans.
Now as you think of Brett Favre, here’s the thing that made Tax Collectors so despised among the Jewish people. Tax collectors grew up good Jewish boys and now they were going to work for the hated, Roman government. Not only did these Tax Collectors work for the Romans, but it was also widely known that Tax Collectors were often corrupt and extorted extra money from people through the shadiest of means. Tax collectors were the worst because they were taking other people’s money and working for the hated rival at the same time.
So this is the backstory of the two men. Now here’s the incident described in our Gospel.
Both men walk into the Temple to pray. The Pharisee begins praying, his long flowing, beautiful prayer with his head held high and his chest puffed out. The Pharisee began his prayer sounding as smooth as any preacher. As the Pharisee said his prayer, bits and pieces came out that stood out.
“Thank you for not making me like robbers, evildoers, or adulterers.” “But thank you, Lord, for making me not like this awful Tax Collector standing near me.” “That guy is truly the absolute worst!”
Another way to think about the Pharisee’s prayer is to picture our recent Presidential debates. Picture how the candidates talk about each other. Now imagine someone praying like that!
Now the Tax Collector stands up to pray. Here’s what you should know about the Tax Collector. It would mortify the Tax Collector that others would listen to his prayer. The Tax Collector barely knew how to pray. He would hide under the table if asked to pray at a holiday meal. The Tax Collector as he stood in the Temple saw others looking upon him with nothing but shame and judgment. The Tax Collector’s confidence in his religious standing was such that he could not dare look his head heavenward.
The Tax Collector’s prayer was as simple and direct as any prayer could be. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”
The Gospel for today tells the tale of two very different men, two different moralities, and two different approaches before God. What can we take from this tale?
In our lesson for today, everything the Pharisee says about the Tax Collector and others is true. The Pharisee’s problem is that he could not understand that in many ways that he was just as broken as they were.
Samuel Colgate from that Colgate family told the story of something that happened at a church to which he once belonged. Colgate’s church was having an evangelistic meeting, where a prostitute responded to the altar call. The prostitute’s past sins had broken her; she begins crying as she approached the altar. She then expressed an interest in becoming a member of Colgate’s church. She knew some people would be uncomfortable with her presence so she vowed to attend and merely just sit in a back corner.
Well in this congregation, you had to be admitted by member vote. The pastor brings up this prostitute for a vote. Everyone just sits there in silence. No motion. No second. It was so quiet in the sanctuary that you could hear people’s breath. Finally, a member stands up to speak. He suggests that they table the motion for a later date, maybe until she can prove that she deserves to hang with the churchy crowd. Finally, Samuel Colgate rises to speak.
Colgate says “I guess we blundered when we prayed that the Lord would save sinners. We forgot to specify exactly what type of sinners. We pray for forgiveness of this oversight.”
As soon as Colgate’s congregation heard these words, every single person in the congregation was embarrassed. They realized they were no different than the Pharisee in our Gospel lesson for today. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” After Colgate’s remarks, they adopted the woman’s membership with a unanimous vote. Every church will admit gossipers, but very few will be bold enough to admit prostitutes.
We hear stories like this and it’s real easy to wonder whether it can be too easy.
Homer Simpson in a prank gone wrong got a bucket full of glue stuck on his head. When traditional removal means wouldn’t work, Homer decided to go along with his son Bart to visit a faith-healer named Brother Faith. Brother Faith notices something about Bart. Bart was nothing but a ten-year-old hell raiser armed with a slingshot.
Brother Faith admitted to Bart that he was previously that way too until he saw the light which caused him to change his wicked ways. Bart could be like Brother Faith.
Bart Simpson though, thought he had this whole Christianity thing figured out. As Bart said "I think I'll go for the life of sin, followed by a presto-change-o deathbed repentance.”
Brother Faith is speechless by this answer responding in kind “Wow, that's a good angle... But that's not God's angle.”
Bart Simpson sort-of was preaching the Gospel. Jesus did say to a common thief hanging alongside him on the cross “Today, you shall be with me in paradise.”
There are a couple of problems with the death-bed conversion angle.
Karl Weber gives the following anecdote.
“The 19th century Spanish general Ramon Narvaez was on his deathbed, and toward the end, was visited by a priest. Eventually, the discussion came around to the condition of the officer’s soul.
The priest asked him “Sir, have you forgiven your enemies?” “I have no need to forgive them” the officer weakly replied, “I’ve had them all shot.”
In many ways, death bed conversions are rare because as pointed out by Saint Augustine one’s life up till that moment ultimately defines them at those moments. If people’s hearts are hard for a generation, there is no guarantee that they will become soft. If you spend your life running from the Holy Spirit, there is no guarantee that you will find him in the darkest of rooms.
The second problem with the death bed conversion angle, we can see in the tale of the Tax Collector. The Tax Collector by hook or crook had hurt a lot of people on his way to the death bed. The Tax Collector had hurt himself. The issue isn’t whether God could forgive him? The issue is rather why to live in the poverty of our selfishness, rather than the riches of God’s ways.
Here’s the thing about the tale for today about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Their stories are messy. I was reading a book by Andy Stanley who is the pastor of one of the largest churches in the country. Stanley said the Church will always be in a continual balance between “grace” and “truth.” Finding the right balance will define the success of people’s ministry in life.
The Pharisees would have sought out a church that was all truth. Sitting around telling others how right they were and how wrong other people would be. The Pharisee would belong to the type of church that will excommunicate a member for the slightest deviation in belief. A church that is all truth though will never embrace tax collectors and prostitutes. To paraphrase Ed Markquart, such a church will never gather drug addicts, drunkards, divorcees, sexual deviants, jailbirds, and those who have never spent a day in the church.
When I was in seminary, as part of my education I had to spend a summer working as a hospital chaplain. One time, I visit a patient whose, daughter proceeds to interrupt as soon as I open my mouth. She begins to inform me that she’s Southern Baptist that she needs to know “What do I think about Abortion and Homosexuality?” As I left that encounter, I saw the problem with an all truth but no grace approach. The church ultimately becomes defined by what it’s against rather than what and who it's for. The church becomes more concerned with purity rather than proclamation.
“When any church adopts us vs. them mentality it’s already failed in its mission to bring forth the Gospel to all nations.”
While I love “Grace.” Churches can also overdo this message if they deny the fundamental realities of human brokenness leading people to long for resurrection. If people try to deny that, there is not real pain out there caused by sin; then they will never find the Gospel. If everyone’s o.k. all the time then the Gospel speaks to nothing.
As Stanley points out, Church should be messy. Church should be unfair. Such behavior as displayed in Today’s lesson where Jesus declares that terrible Tax Collector justified is the epitome of our Gospel. We often have a hard time grasping this reality as Christian people. We were taught when we were young children that fairness is important.
The Pharisee's resume was way, way better than the other guy’s resume. In the end, they would receive the same gift of eternal life. Here’s the thing about the Gospel though if God chooses to save people with different sins than ours, then why in the end should we care? Amen.
 Luke 18:9-14.
 Luke 18:11.
 Zingale, Tim. “Pride, Humility, and Forgiveness.” Sermon Central.com. October 2004. Web. 17.Oct.2016.
 Zingale, Tim. “Pride, Humility, and Forgiveness.”
 Zingale, Tim. “Pride, Humility, and Forgiveness.”
 “Faith Off”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 17.Oct.2016. Web. Oct.18.2016. “Faith Off” is episode 11 of season 11 of The Simpsons originally airing on January 16, 2000.
 The text from this episode is taken from “Bart Simpson vs Christianity.” Taken from Blogger’s Sky and Field published in July 2013 by Ian.
 Luke 23:43
 Weber, Karl. “Deathbed Conversions-How Common Are They?” The Brothers John the Steadfast. Sept.19.2013. Web. 18.Oct.2016. General Narvarez Illustration taken from the Ends of the Earth Weblog, Sermon, Inspirational, >>http://endsofearth.wordpress.com/category/sermons-inspirational/feed/ accessed by Pastor Weber on June 10,2011.
Weber, Karl. “Deathbed Conversions-How Common Are They?”
 Weber, Karl. “Deathbed Conversions-How Common Are They?”
 North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia outside Atlanta.
 Stanley, Andy. Deep &Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. Zondervan Publishing. Grand Rapids.MI. 2012, 2016. Print. P. 72-83.
 Markquart, Ed. “The Pharisee and The Tax Collector: Pentecost 22: Year C” . Sermons from Seattle. Web. 17.Oct.2016.
 Stanley, Andy. Deep &Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. P.78-83.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 27-34
Responsive Reading: Psalm 119: 97-104
Second Lesson: 2 Timothy 3:14 -4:5
Gospel Lesson: Luke 18: 1-8
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Now my Grandma has figured out that one of the great secrets of life is to be persistent. Ever since I was young; Grandma doesn’t take “no” for an answer. Grandma merely proceeds to ask again in five minutes. As my parents will point out, she’ll call out at 1 in the morning and if you say “no, it’s the middle of the night.” No problem, she’ll call you back at 1:05. You don’t want her to call you back at 1:10!
Let me give you another example of Grandma’s persistence. Grandma has a daughter who lives in California. My Aunt Carol tends not to answer the phone. When Grandma keeps calling every five minutes, Carol gets stubborn then and vows not to answer the phone. Grandma will keep calling and calling. One time, Grandma couldn’t get an answer. So she started calling the LAPD. Now picture Los Angeles home of the Watts Riot and Rodney King. My Grandma was so persistent with the LAPD that she got them to break into Carol’s apartment after not answering the phone for like 24 hours. Carol is still quite annoyed by this incident. Now I want you to picture Grandma this morning and now picture our Gospel lesson.
The Gospel for today tells the story of a widow. This widow was down on her luck. Robert Farrar Capon describes her as a “24-karat loser”. Widows could not inherit from their husband; they could merely be supported by the terms of his will. Many widows were totally and completely broke.
Now this widow was in a legal dilemma. Here’s what you need to know about “widows” in a court of law, they were like this year’s Minnesota Twins in that they never won. Women in Jesus’ day weren’t considered “credible witnesses” in any court case.
The Widow was not defeated, though she seemingly had the weight of the whole world against her.
Les Brown grew up in one of the poorest parts of Miami. Les was adopted by a Mamie Brown, a kitchen worker. When Les went to school, he was placed in Special Education classes because he was believed to have a learning disability. Les Brown’s first job out of high school was a sanitation worker. Les Brown had bigger dreams than this, though. Les Brown dreamed of becoming a radio D.J. He would practice every night using a hairbrush as his microphone. His mom and brother kept telling him such a dream was foolish. Les Brown finally works up the courage to go to a radio station and talk to a station manager. The manager turned Les down, thinking he would never see Les again. Les Brown had a higher purpose. Les didn’t want to be a disc jockey merely; he wanted to buy a new house for his single mother. So here’s what Les Brown did. He kept showing up at the station manager’s office every week. Les Brown kept getting shot down. The station manager after visit after visit finally relents. Brown gets hired as an errand boy. One day, though, Les Brown’s life would change forever. One of the station’s deejays wasn’t able to complete his program. Brown finally got his chance. Les Brown was an instant success as a deejay. It quickly became his full-time career. Brown talks about how the greatest nights in his life were nights spent sleeping on concrete floors because of how those nights molded him. Brown soon becomes a best-selling author. Today, Brown is considered to be one of the best motivational speakers in the country. Les Brown could have easily given up a bunch of times, but not unlike the widow within Today’s gospel, he had a higher purpose.
So our widow for today goes to a judge to plead on behalf of her case. The judge like Les Brown’s station manager initially dismisses her as a nuisance. If it were up to the judge, he would never see this woman again. The widow was like my Grandma.
Let me tell you another story in Seminary, one time I got a speeding ticket in Roseville. The speeding ticket was going to cost $150 or something. When you’re making $10 bucks an hour in the seminary mailroom, it’s worth your time to fight this ticket. So I was ordered to go to Ramsey County Courthouse to meet with an officer and settle the matter. The officer asked me if I was guilty. Now this is a simple question. I tried to make it a complex question. I said, “Depends on what your definition of speeding is.” I started citing legal statute numbers and complained that the law was vague. The officer finally gets annoyed and tells me just not to get another speeding in the next year and it stays off my record.
So picture the widow from our lesson, picture Grandma, picture Les Brown, now picture me before the traffic judge. What happened in every one of these cases is persistence no matter, how foolish eventually paid off.
The widow for our lesson for today wasn't going to take “no” for an answer. No at 1 AM would mean a call at 1:05 AM. The judge finally gives into the widow’s pleading.
So what’s the point of a story like this? Let’s look a bit deeper at the widow’s circumstances. The widow’s story would mirror main people’s stories in the Early Church in that she was facing a pivotal circumstance in her life. Jesus anticipated many of his followers after he left this earth behind would grow impatient with the circumstances of their life not changing at the speed they desired. So why does Jesus tell people to be like this widow? The parable has to do with the power of prayer.
We pray as a reminder of who runs the universe. We pray as a means of calling down God’s kingdom even when everything around us runs contrary to it. Prayer is ultimately about letting God be God. Prayer is about faith. For like this widow, we will all have circumstances in life that will cause us to either run to or away from faith.
“Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you”-Psalm 50:15.
Andy Stanley tells the following story: When Ted Turner was young, he wanted to be a missionary. One day though Turner receives the devastating news that his sister Mary Jane had been diagnosed with Leukemia. Turner’s family gathered day after day to pray. Turner kept hearing if he had enough faith that Mary Jane would survive. As Ted Turner saw Mary Jane die, his faith died too. Turner saw Mary Jane’s death as evidence that if there is a God out there that he doesn’t care.
Not everyone interprets their crises of faith like Ted Turner though. Let’s us consider the life of a well-known example of faith in the Apostle Paul this morning. Paul had been shipwrecked, whipped, beaten, stoned, and imprisoned. Paul’s life was under threat and duress every single morning that he woke up.
The difference between these two men was their perspective. Ted Turner only saw God in his present circumstances. Ted Turner seems not to be wrong when he interpreted God as not being present in his mess. The Apostle Paul saw something else, though. Paul saw God working through even the times of greatest human weakness.
Paul’s beliefs can be seen in his words to the church of Phillipi when he says.
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
The one thing that Paul had in common with the persistent widow is he did not let his circumstances to defeat him. He realized that God’s purposes were often much bigger than anything he could see on any given day.
So if this is the role of the widow, what role does the unjust judge play in this story. Often, these stories have a moral such as the judge learns the error of his way. Only no such point exists within our story. The lesson says that the judge feared neither God nor public opinion. The judge was just tired of the widow’s phone calls.
What can we take from the story of a judge who merely changed his mind to appease an obnoxious widow? The judge is no hero. The judge starts the story as a jerk and ends the story as a jerk. You might think there is no moral whatsoever to tell this tale. The unjust judge though serves as an example of contrast. Think of how generous this jerk of a judge was to the widow? Now compare him to your loving heavenly father. Imagine how generous your father will be towards you? The widow is used as an example to illustrate how God will come through for all kinds of people in the end. God will come through for people that others merely casually dismiss.
Greg House had every habit you wouldn’t want in a doctor. House didn’t like people. House was cynical. House only carried about himself. House was ill-tempered. House was stubborn. House was way too rational for some. We could “kindly” describe House’s methods as unorthodox. House would mock people’s weaknesses. House’s life motto is “Everybody lies.” House is a jerk. House because of his brilliant mind continually saves the day much to the chagrin of others. House though ultimately served God’s purposes in saving lives. Now picture House. Picture the unjust judge.
Flannery O’Connor tells the story of Ruby Terpin. Ruby on the outside seems to be the perfect southern housewife: pious, prim, proper, good-looking, and held in high esteem throughout her community. Mary Grace would be Ruby’s opposite in nearly every way. We hear of Mary being fat, ugly, a face scarred by acne. Everyone would describe Mary’s personality as surly. Fate would one day bring both of these women to a doctor’s waiting room. On this day, Ruby starts giving thanks to God for her position in life. Mary Grace didn’t care much for women in Ruby’s position speaking these words. Mary flung a book at Ruby as hard as she could, striking Ruby’s left eye. Ruby got so mad at Mary that “She told the warthog to go to hell.” Ruby gets mad at God for bringing such an awful young woman into her life. God eventually convicts Ruby though of Mary’s purpose in her life. Ruby needed to be shock up with a message of grace. Ruby needed to have her over inflated opinion broke down. Ruby as a person of faith needed to see God at work in the future rather than the present. Ruby needed an unjust judge in her life like Mary Grace to make this point. Mary Grace’s role in Ruby’s life mirrors the unjust judge’s role in the persistent widow’s life. They were unlikely agents of grace that God used to change them.
Here’s what the stories of Grandma and the Telephone, Les Brown, Myself and the Parking Ticket, Ted Turner, The Apostle Paul, Greg House, Ruby Terpin and Mary Grace tell us. There are going to be times in life when the outcome is going to seem determined. We’re going to encounter situations from which seemingly no good can come. If we are persistent in our faith day after day, even on those days when we want to abandon it, pretty soon grace will come into our life. This grace might come in unexpected ways through unexpected people, yet rest assured our God is there. Pretty soon, these tiny bits of grace will change even the most hopeless of situations around us. No different than that of a widow who boldly dares face an unjust judge. Amen
 Luke 18:1-8
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. P. 331
 User991. “A woman’s testimony was considered inadmissible in a court of law. Whose law?” Stack Exchange(Christianity).12.May. 2014. Web. Oct.3.2016.
 “Les Brown Facts.” Your Dictionary: Encyclopedia of World Biography. The Gale Group. 2010. Web. Oct.3.2016.
 “Les Brown Facts.” Your Dictionary: Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2010.
 “Why Pray?” Simple Answers from a Lutheran Perspective. Roundtable Publications. “W” Series Pamphlet#2.
 Stanley, Andy. Deep &Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. Zondervan Publishing. Grand Rapids.MI. 2012, 2016. Print. P.138.
 Maxwell, John. The Maxwell Daily Reader taken from Failing Forward. Thomas Nelson Publishing. Nashville. 2007. Print. Page 91.
 Philippians 3:13-14.
 Luke 18:4.
 “Gregory House.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 09.Oct.2016. Web. Oct.13.2016.
 Watchword37. “Flannery O’Connor: Questions and Answers from Beyond the Wood.” Agencies of Grace hosted by Blogger.com. 31.July.2006. Web. Oct.13.2016. This is taken from O’Connor’s short-story “Revelation”.
First Lesson: Lamentations 1: 1-6
Responsive Reading: Psalm 137
Second Lesson: 2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Gospel Lesson: Luke 17: 5-10
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith! “He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”- Luke 17:5-6
Many of us know the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Jack seemingly had nothing going for him in life. Jack was poor. Jack didn’t have a father around. All that kept Jack and his mother living was a cow that Jack foolishly sold for magic beans. Upon hearing this news, Jack’s mother was irate! Jack is sent off to his room without any dinner for the evening. How could Jack trust in silly little magic beans when his whole life was on the verge of collapsing? We will get back to Jack’s story in a little bit.
Now let me ask you all a question “What the most important determining factor for success in life is?” Some of you will say brains; others of you might say good looks, whereas others might say natural talent. This spring, I read a book by author Angela Duckworth entitled Grit. Duckworth’s thesis is the most successful people in this world are those that possess the ability to see the world regarding long-term action. People with “grit” say “What might be impossible today or even tomorrow might become reality someday.”
Let me give you an example of how grit works. 1666, Isaac Newton is walking outside his garden in Cambridge, England. He sees an apple fall from the tree. The Apple is seemingly tugged by an invisible force. This simple incident led to Newton devising his theories of gravity which explain everything from the falling Apple to the orbit of the Moon.
Here’s what is often not told about the story. Newton filled notebook after notebook with scribbles trying to sort out his theories. He spent weeks regarding exact movements on a pendulum. The time from when the famous apple fell from the tree until Newton published his theory was twenty-one years.
Isaac Newton didn’t see the world change merely because he was smart. Isaac Newton saw the world change because he kept persisting and believing in the face of obstacles. Newton didn’t see the world merely by what he saw outside his door today.
Now what I want you to do is picture the story of Jack and the Beanstalk and Sir Isaac Newton. Now, let’s look at our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 17.
The Disciples come up to Jesus with a request “Increase our faith.” Here’s what had been going on in the Disciples life, they had been following Jesus around for quite a while. The Disciples began inevitability trying to compare themselves to Jesus and ending up feeling not good enough. Plenty of people can relate to the Disciples’ emotions.
When I was in seminary, I knew a girl who grew up outside the Lutheran Faith. As she was growing up, she kept hearing that if she were a Christian, she would persevere in her faith. She would never doubt if she had “truly saving faith.” Then in the churches, she went to she heard people give testimonies. These people thought they were saved for 20 years (But apparently they weren’t) then God finally gave them some super dramatic experience that saved them. The young woman I knew had a hard time believing that her faith was enough. She was like the Disciples in Today’s Gospel lesson wondering whether their faith was enough? Are there really signs of “saving faith”?
Jesus in our lesson for today seeks to answer this question. Jesus uses the example of a mustard seed. Mustard seeds were one of the smallest of seeds, yet mustard seeds could produce plants that rose 8-10-12-or even 14 feet tall. Jesus’ point to the Disciples is that even the smallest amount of faith can produce the greatest of outcomes.
Let me tell a story as told by an unknown author. Once upon a time there was a small bird named Tasoo that lived in a vast jungle. Then one hot summer day, a terrible wildfire erupted within Tasso's jungle. Flames soon began to engulf many trees and animals living in the jungle. The other birds took this fire as a sign to get out and fly as high into the sky as they could and move as far away as possible. But Tasoo loved her home and couldn't stand to see it burn to the ground. So Tasoo began to fly, all day and all night, back and forth to the river, filling her beak with water so she could drop it onto the raging fires. Tasoo’s venture might have seemed pointless to some. But eventually, her determination led to her heavenly father shedding tears as her action moved him. For even though Tasoo was small, her faith in her homeland paid big dividends!
Tasoo’s story is how faith often works. In the words of Robert Farrar Capon: Faith can make the absurd reality. To illustrate this, Jesus speaks of how having faith as small as a mustard seed can cause mulberry trees to jump into the ocean.
Here’s a story of small one small bit of faith can make a huge impact on the world around us. In Sweden in the middle of the 1970’s lived a Holocaust survivor named Hilde Back. Hilde didn’t have much money at all living in Sweden as a refugee and working as a pre-school teacher. Hilde Back though decided she needed to try to change the world for the better. So one day, Hilde came across an ad for sponsoring a child in Africa. Many people had mocked these ads, thinking of them as a scam, they wondered if real children actually existed on the other end. Hilde though wanted to make a difference. So every month, Hilde would put a few dollars in an envelope and send it to a boy named Chris from one of the poorest villages in Kenya. Chris’ village didn’t even have any electricity, a village where people only spoke tribal languages that no outsider could understand. As Hilde kept sending her couple dollars, she had no idea what type of difference it was making in Chris’ life. Chris soon became a star student and moved on from his village and eventually graduated from Harvard Law School. Chris used his degree to get hired at the United Nations as a human rights advocate. Eventually, Chris and Hilde’s story comes to the attention of an American filmmaker named Jennifer Arnold. She films a documentary about them entitled A Small Act which ends up at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah half a world away. This story so moved audience members that they soon began to write out checks to give to Chris and Hilde. They collected over $90,000 over a ten day period. Then a mysterious benefactor pledges $250,000 to the cause of African education. Like the story of Tasoo the story of Chris and Hilde indicates how even the smallest act of faith can have life-changing results.
Here’s the point that Jesus is trying to make to the Disciples in our Gospel lesson for today. Faith doesn’t need to be revealed in spectacular signs in your life. Faith is rather revealed in simple means and simple acts. As Lutherans, our faith comes to us via ordinary means such as water, wine, wheat, and word. Jesus is telling the Disciples and Us on this day “We do not need greater faith because we do not own our faith.” Faith like salvation does not progress from cold to lukewarm to toasty to red hot. Faith is not merely what exists in our heads. Faith is rather what God gifts to us. Faith is the means by which God chooses to sustain not only his people but also his creation. What we need to take home this morning is how mustard seeds can ultimately change the world.
Greg Carey is a New Testament Professor who grew up in the Bible belt. Greg Carey though did not grow up in a church. When Greg Carey was twelve years old, he had to spend a week in the hospital with a hip injury. During this week, Greg received two visits. One visit was from his aunt and uncle’s part-time pastor and the other visit was from the local youth group. A few years later, when Greg Carey became a Christian, he could not shake how those visits were the mustard seeds of his eventual conversion.
A couple of years ago, I was talking to my colleague Pastor Brostrom at Faith Lutheran; I was lamenting how we’d have kids that would show up for Wednesday night confirmation, but you’d rarely see here on Sunday mornings. I like the Disciples was beginning to doubt whether my approach was wrong. Pastor Brostrom then gave me some very wise counsel when he said: “This might be these kids only exposure to faith growing up; you need not worry and let God plant his seeds.”
This advice probably can be related to plenty of our own relationships. We might have kids, grand kids, or neighbors for whom we might like to see them consider or re-consider their faith. We often assume that we need to be able to answer every question they might have or be perfect role models before we can even open our mouths. All we can merely do is plant seeds. These seeds might be an invitation; they might be a visit or a phone call; they might be a listening ear, or it might be sharing how your faith shapes your world. Miracles can occur when we plant the smallest of seeds in those around us.
We all struggle with the nature of God’s timing. We all the struggle with not seeing seeds grow faster. Like the Disciples in Today’s Gospel lesson, we all have times when our faith feels vulnerable and flawed. Eventually, something happens. The magic beans begin to grow! Jack on his beanstalk encounters his golden goose. Isaac Newton develops his theories of gravity. Tasoo the bird puts out a wildfire. Hilde Back begins to save a whole continent; Greg Carey becomes a Christian. These stories illustrate what Jesus means when he says Faith even as small as a mustard seed can change the whole world. Amen
 “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 23.Sept.2016. Web. Sept.26.2016.
 Lehrer, Jonah. “The Truth About Grit.” Boston Globe Online. 02.Aug.2009. Web. Sept.25.2016.
 Lehrer, Jonah. “The Truth About Grit.”
 Luke 17:5-10
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. P.321
 Luke 17:6.
 Casanas, Gabriella. “Film chronicles how 'A Small Act' changed lives.” CNN.com. 14.Jul.2010. Web. Sept.26.2016.
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. P.321.
 Carey, Greg. “Commentary on Luke 17:5-10”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 3. Sept.2010. Web. Sept.25.2016.