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.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 32: 1-3, 6-15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 91: 1-6, 14-16
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 6: 6-19
Gospel Lesson: Luke 16: 19-31
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today’s Gospel Lesson is an interesting one. Jesus tells the tale of two characters a rich man and Lazarus. The Rich Man and Lazarus are both residing in Hades. The Rich Man is suffering, whereas the poor beggar Lazarus is receiving comfort.
Jesus’ original intentions when telling this tale is to confront the Pharisees love of money. While proper stewardship is important, there is something much more interesting going on here. The Rich Man and Lazarus are both described as dead. They are living within eye sight of each other. Their mailing address is both Hades.
People continually debate whether this passage is a symbolic or literal description of the life that is to come. If this is literal, it means a few things. It means that this is the only preview within the entire Christian Scriptures of what happens between the time of Death and the Final Resurrection. It helps shed insight into the current state of all our loved ones that have gone before us.
Now I have a few reasons why I think we take this passage regarding Hades, Lazarus and the Rich Man literally.
One- the story gives a name in Lazarus. Giving an actual name in Lazarus would make the Gospel unique among all of Jesus’ parables. Parables always speak about unnamed characters (a good Samaritan, a prodigal son) to illustrate broader spiritual truths.
Two- parables seek to use earthly concepts (money, seeds, and personal conflict) to explain heavenly concepts. Parables never use spiritual concepts such as Hades as a way to communicate earthly truths such as how the Pharisees treat money.
Three- The wider Biblical narrative of Hades as being the “abode of the dead” with the Old Testament concept of “sheol” being the home of the dead both “faithful” and “unfaithful.” Hades would be the ground where believers would eagerly anticipate the Resurrection that is to come.
So if our Gospel lesson for this morning is literal then there are two questions to explore this morning.
Question one: "What happens when we die?"
Steve Molin tells the following story:
“When Muhammed Ali was at the height of his boxing career, he was on a commercial airline, and upon take-off, the flight attendant asked Ali to put on his seat belt, but Ali refused. "The plane will not take off until you put on your seat belt" the flight attendant warned. Ali stood up and said "I am Superman, and Superman don't need no seat belt!" And the attendant said "And Superman don't need no plane, neither!”
Here’s the greatest spiritual truth that we all face at some point in our life. We are not Superman. We will die. Now here’s the question. What exactly happens when we die.
A couple of years ago, Our LCMC/NALC Ministerial Association in Duluth hosted an event on the Afterlife. The event attended by Mary Bauman, Kathy Toland, Marie Kaiser and I ended up being a three-way debate between myself, the keynote presenter Steve King, and another minister. What made this discussion so fascinating is we all approached the Bible in a similar manner, yet we came to radically different conclusions.
For example, the keynote presenter Pastor King thought of death as merely a form of sleep or rest until the time of final resurrection. The scriptures more frequently use “sleep” than any other term when describing death. Luther himself in many of his writings comes very close to outright endorsing the position that the soul is unconsciousness until the time when it reunites with the body at the Final Resurrection.
So why do I disagree that the dead are merely “asleep” in the present age? I try to glean from what I can say for certain from the scriptures.
Exodus 4: The Lord declares unto Moses: “I Am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus would late quote from this passage in the Christian Gospels where he declares “‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”-Matt 22:32.
2 Kings 2: Elijah ascends to Heaven in a Whirlwind. Fast forward to the Transfiguration story during Jesus’ ministry: Elijah after having ascended into heaven 900 years prior and Moses having been dead 1300 years both appear alongside Jesus upon the Mount of Transfiguration.
Luke 23:43: Jesus answered The Thief upon the cross by saying “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Now Jesus in other places in the Christian Gospels points people like the Sadducees to the day of Resurrection which would be the great hope of the Christian faith. In this passage, Jesus’ doesn’t use any language portraying a distant, future event but rather the Greek indicates a present event stating that the word “today” perhaps should be taken literally.
What does the word “Paradise” mean? Paradise comes from a Persian word meaning “In the Garden?” Think back to the story of the Garden of Eden: Adam and Eve were residing in a fixed location from which they were thrown out. We can think of Paradise being in line with our Gospel text by serving as a waiting room for believers eagerly anticipating the final resurrection of the dead.
Is Paradise the same thing as Heaven? Now let’s answer a different question “Where did Jesus go when he die?” Jesus’ body went to the grave. Where Jesus’ spirit went is a more interesting question. For example, Church Tradition holds that Jesus’ spirit traveled into Hades to preach there. Hence the Apostles Creed. He descended into Hell or better yet, Hades or the place where both the Rich Man and Lazarus’ spirits lay upon death. So if the thief’s body lies beside Jesus in the Jerusalem, there is nothing to say that the Thief’s spirit could not be alongside Jesus’ in Paradise even during the period while he lied in the grave.
So what about all the Bible’s references to “sleep ” as death. A few different things need to be noted here. Number one- the Apostle Paul who did more to articulate the beliefs of the Earliest Christians stressed that Resurrection is the ultimate destination for Christian people.
What those who had gone were anticipating was not Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise, but rather Christ’s Second Coming. I often here people say upon the death of their loved one’s that they are in a “better place,” what’s also true is that they are not currently in “the best place.” The New Heaven will be the place of perfection. The current separation between the living and dead is why New Heaven cannot now exist. The New Heaven and New Earth shall not be separate in any way. New Heaven will be an advance of a purely spiritual existence.
The thing about the Biblical imagery of the New Heaven and the New Earth is it shall be the place where pain and separation shall be no more. These realities explain why Christians eagerly anticipate the Second Coming regardless of where God currently cares for our loved ones.
My belief about the scripture references regarding death as sleep is that they are referring to the present state of the body. Lying in the ground, motionless awaiting the final resurrection. I believe the whole of the Biblical witness is strong enough to lead me to believe I will not die; I will not see death. I will not taste death. I believe upon death that I will enter into My Lord’s presence eagerly anticipating the Final Resurrection which is to come.
So the second question for this morning: How aware are our loved ones regarding what’s taking place on Earth? Last December, I was visiting both Guss Krake and Karl Jevning in the hospital. Guss had cancer. Karl had congestive heart failure. Both were soon to leave this world within a matter of days. Now, what was also going on at this time was that the Minnesota Vikings had a big game coming up against the Green Bay Packers for the division title. Now what you need to know is both Guss and Karl were huge Viking fans.
So what do you suppose I told Guss and Karl “When you get into God’s presence, make sure you tell him to let the Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers, finally.” This appeal for seemingly the first time actually worked. Believe me; I’ve had plenty of failed appeals to God on the Vikings' behalf before. But this story does raise an interesting question of “How much our loved ones know about what’s going on Earth?”
You’ll often hear it said “So and so is watching over us.” I have a pastoral colleague who some years back lost the love of his life. Her presence was such that she can never be that far away from him every day moving forward. Many of you probably have loved ones in your life of whom you feel the same way. The Book of Hebrews describes us as “being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” as we seek to live out our Christian faith. What “the witnesses” presence might be is a much more open question.
This week, I was wandering around Barnes and Noble at the Miller Hill Mall. I came across a book whose underlying theme was questioning regarding death from a non-religious perspective. One of the questions on the cover was “Do the dead watch us shower?”
Now as I see this book, I could merely chuckle under my breath. The reason for this is because that I believe when believers enter into God’s presence their whole outlook on creation is changed. They begin to understand God’s plan and presence in a new, unique way. So to watch living people shower would be a contrary focus to how people actually exist within the afterlife.
When I was in Seminary, I had a classmate who was Roman Catholic. She one day asked, “Why don’t I pray to Saints?” “What’s wrong with having others intercede to God on your behalf?” What I answered and still believe today is we don’t know what those currently in God’s presence can hear or see on our behalf. I think it’s also worth pointing out that upon death, our loved ones would have an understanding of God’s ways that it might be tough for us to speak the same language regarding things of faith. We shouldn’t view this as a bad thing, though, but rather a good thing if they like Lazarus from our text are currently experiencing God’s comfort and care.
As we await our own final answers, how can we make sense of all these issues this morning regarding Hades, Lazarus, The Rich Man, and the afterlife? What I do want to caution this morning is that there are questions regarding our faith that we will not be able to answer on this side of Heaven clearly. “What happens between the day of the believer’s death and resurrection would be one of those questions.” My personal conviction is that our loved ones like Lazarus in our Gospel lesson are currently in a conscious place of rest and comfort eagerly awaiting the Resurrection that is to come.
Whenever we consider these afterlife questions, Resurrection needs to be the focus. We need to draw hope from Christ’s promise to come back for us and gather all believers both living and dead into his presence for once and for all.
Let me close with Jesus’ famous words of comfort to the Disciples as they prepare to mourn his death from John 14:
“In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Amen
 Molin, Steve. “Have You Heard about These Two Guys?” Lectionary.org. 2001.
 The conference was hosted on Saturday, October 25th, 2015 at New Life Lutheran in Duluth.
 Exodus 4:5.
 2 Kings 2:1-12.
 User 3353. “What is the “paradise.” that Jesus references in Luke 23:43?” Stack Exchange(Christianity).24.Oct. 2012. Web. Sept.17.2016.
 Norland, Pastor David. “Afterlife Discussion.” LCMC/NALC Lake Superior Conference Clergy Word Document. 03. Nov.2014. E-Mail. Sept.17.2016.
 Hebrews 12:1.
 John 14:2-3.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 8: 18 - 9:1
Responsive Reading: Psalm 79: 1-9
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 2: 1-7
Gospel Lesson: Luke 16: 1-13
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Carmine Gallo tells the following story: Mami (Mommy) Sato (Sat-o) was your normal 19 year old college student at Waseda University in Tokyo. One day though Mami’s life would change forever. Mami began to feel an unexplained pain in her right ankle.
The pain turned out to be cancer, within a matter of weeks Mami Sato would be forced to amputate her leg to save her life. Mami had no idea what her life might ever look like going forward with one functioning leg. Mami Sato was depressed at the thought of the “future”.
Sato’s ailment though changed how she viewed the world. With her previous goals seemingly unreachable, she began setting “small goals” instead. Once she met a number of small goals, her life started changing. Mami Sato becomes a Paralympian in Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, and was preparing for London in 2012. Sato’s life though was about to take another dramatic turn.
March 11, 2011. A 9.0 earthquake hit 230 miles northeast of Tokyo. Waves got as high as thirty feet on the Pacific Coast. 15,000 people were killed. Sato’s hometown of Kesennuma (K-Sen-New-Ma) was covered in water. Sato had no idea of her family’s fate for the next six days. They had survived but her hometown lie in ruin. Mami Sato along with 200 other athletes start visiting Kesennuma (K-Sen-New-Ma) to bring not only supplies, but also hope. These visits to her hometown helped Mami Sato realize the power of sport.
September 2013, Mami Sato stood at a podium standing before the International Olympic Committee detailing while her home nation should be chosen to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Sato’s speech was thought to face hopeless odds against the other finalists of Istanbul and Madrid.
It was in Mami’s Sato tragedy that her path to triumph began to unfold. Sato’s speech on “The Power of Sport” by many is considered to be the deciding factor that will bring the 2020 Summer Olympics to Tokyo.
Here’s what makes Mami Sato’s story so interesting, two disasters beyond what she would ever wish for herself ended up charting the course for her to become a national hero in Japan.
I want to tell you another similar story today that comes from our Gospel lesson. I want to tell you the story of another guy that faced a seemingly hopeless situation and managed to triumph from it.
Jesus tells a story about a rich man who had appointed a manager to take care of his affairs. The manager was accused of malfeasance. The manager was going to be fired. The manager really didn’t want to pursue another job as he “was too weak to dig” and “too proud to beg.” The manager would certainly never get another job as good as his management gig.
The manager though remains “unfazed.” The manager hatches a plan. The manager’s boss man had a number of debtors. The manager was going to be “shrewd” or “desperate” though if it meant keeping his job. He gathers all his master’s debtors one by one and starts cutting their debts in half. You owe 100 measures of oil, you now owe 50.
Such a scenario would seem to be inviting disaster. The manager was already going to lose his job, if this plan didn’t work he’s probably going to end up behind bars for a long, long time. The plan seemed a longshot to work since why would his boss not like having more money?
The manager after his debt collection finally faces a moment of truth facing his boss. What does the boss do in the presence of such a scheme? The boss praises the manager’s shrewdness. The manager used his darkest hour to seemingly advance in his career. This is a really tricky story to try to sort out but what stands out to me is this.
The manager’s outcome seemed certain he was about to be fired, just like Mami Sato’s outcome seemed certain as she lost her leg.
Yet here’s a funny thing about the Christian Gospel the verdict is never certain. It is often only at the moment of potential death from one’s way of life, does one’s resurrection story begin to unfold.
Let me tell you a story as told by Phillip McLarty.
A man was working the night shift at a small hotel in New York City. Most of the patrons were ones that you would expect to show up from fresh out of the bar in the middle of the night. One night a desperate elderly couple comes in requesting a room. They had been traveling all over New York City receiving nothing but “no rooms available” for an answer. The couple finally arrives at this sad looking hotel off the beaten path. The clerk working the front desk proclaims his hotel also full. The couple was trying to make sense of the hopeless situation. The clerk then proposes a solution. “Why don’t you take my room for the night. I’m going to be down here all night.” The couple was overjoyed, they offered to pay him double or even triple the going rate. The clerk refused their money and helped bring their bags up to his room. The clerk had forgotten about this encounter two years later until his life was about to change forever.
The same elderly gentleman shows up at the end of the clerk’s shift. The sun was starting to rise above Manhattan. The elderly gentleman asks the clerk to let him show him something. The clerk was confused but reluctantly went along. The elderly gentleman escorts him into a stretch limousine. He orders the driver to journey into the heart of Manhattan. The driver stops in front of a hotel more stunning than anything the clerk had ever seen in his life. The elderly gentleman introduces himself as “William Waldorf Astor”. He presents the clerk with an offer to manage his new hotel called “The Waldorf-Astoria.” A simple act that the hotel clerk thought meant nothing ended up meaning everything. Yet it is in this story that at one of the lowest points in this clerk’s career, does the path to redemption begin to reveal itself.
Later tonight, my beloved Minnesota Vikings play. What you might not know is their Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s story.
Mike Zimmer’s dream was to become a NFL Football Coach. He dreamed of his wife Vikki enjoying this dream with him. Zimmer’s becomes a defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys, only to see the team want to move in a different direction. Zimmer takes the same job with the Atlanta Falcons only to see his one year there end in disaster with his boss quitting in the middle of the year. Zimmer takes a similar job with the Cincinnati Bengals who were considered “laughing stocks of the league.” The owner was considered to be the cheapest owner around. At least Mike Zimmer still had Vikki Zimmer through all these ups and downs.
October 8th, 2009. Mike Zimmer gets a phone call that his wife isn’t answering her cell phone. This was out of character. Mike Zimmer walks into his apartment to find his fifty year old wife dead of natural causes. The time ahead was just spent trying to grieve Vikki’s loss while focusing on the more mundane tasks of football. Zimmer would sit in church time after time, lighting candles hoping to see a sign that God could possibly be at work in the hour of his darkness.
The next few years see Zimmer’s coaching star keeps rising, teams are interested in hiring him as a Head Coach, but he keeps receiving “No, thanks” for answers. Zimmer was too old, he wasn’t charismatic, teams continually wanted a different fit. Mike Zimmer kept seeing a plan at work though regardless of any evidence around him. On January 15, 2014, Mike Zimmer is hired as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. As Vikings coach all sorts of things don’t go according to Zimmer’s plan, yet it is often during these times of our lives where God’s movement is the greatest.
I came across a really interesting insight about prayer this week from Andy Stanley.
“Prayer doesn’t force God’s hand. But it keeps us on the lookout for his intervention. Prayer sensitizes us to the subtle changes in the landscape of our circumstances. When he begins to move, we are apt to recognize it.”.
I want to close this morning with the story of the Biblical character Nehemiah. Where as Mike Zimmer had lost his wife and all sorts of job opportunities. Nehemiah had lost a nation. The people of Israel had been driven from their homeland by the Babylonians, who were driven off the land by the Persians. Nehemiah was now living and working in Persia over 1000 miles east of Jerusalem. Nehemiah didn’t have the type of job that one would think could change a nation as he merely worked as a servant of the king. God began pulling on Nehemiah though. God wanted Nehemiah to return to his homeland to ultimately rebuild his homeland’s walls. Nehemiah’s task was thought to be impossible. Nehemiah was surrounded by more powerful nations who would delight in his failure. Nehemiah’s countrymen had grown cynical and despondent over God’s lack of presence in their affairs. Nehemiah lacked a great leadership background as he was merely a cupbearer to the king. Nehemiah saw though what no one could see and that was the possibly of resurrection in the midst of death. Nehemiah saw how one day Jerusalem would be guided by a hope from above. Nehemiah becomes Jerusalem’s governor and begins to bring forth light out of the greatest of darkness. Nehemiah’s presence begins to rebuild not only a nation but its faith from the most devastating of rubble. Just like in the case of the shrewd manager, in the darkest hours could God’s greatest plans begin.
Mami Sato probably couldn’t see anything good come from the moment where she lost her leg, the manager from our Gospel never wanted to lose his job, the clerk probably saw life turning out differently then working the night shift at a rinky-dink motel, Mike Zimmer probably wondered whether all the pain of getting to the top would ever pay off and Nehemiah was putting his life into God’s hands when he dared attempt to rebuild a broken nation in the presence of its enemies.
You might be at a fork in your life no different then the shrewd manager this morning. You might be worried about your health. You might be searching for answers regarding your relationships. You might be worried about your finances. You might have all sorts of other questions about the future. What our parable today reminds us is that no matter what your situation may be that our God can make the best of it. Our Gospel lesson for today is a crazy story. A seemingly crooked manager being redeemed in the end.
Yet it is in the presence of the manager’s career death being seemingly certain that paves the way for his resurrection. It was by the manager’s death that he raises others unto new life. I know of another story like this that involves a cross. Amen
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. Saint Martin’s Press. New York. 2016. P.87-90
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. Saint Martin’s Press. New York. 2016. P.87
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. Saint Martin’s Press. New York. 2016. P.87
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. Saint Martin’s Press. New York. 2016. P.88
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. Saint Martin’s Press. New York. 2016. P.88
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. Saint Martin’s Press. New York. 2016. P.88
 Luke 16:1-13
 Luke 16:3
 Luke 16:3
 Luke 16:6
 Luke 16:8
 McLarty, Phillip. “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.” Lectionary.org. 2011. Web. Sept.6.2016.
 McLarty, Phillip. “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.”
 McLarty, Phillip. “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.”
 Merrill, Elizabeth. “Mike Zimmer finds solace in coaching.” ESPN Online. 2. Aug.2010. Web. Sept.14.2016.
 Stanley, Andy. Visioneering: God’s Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Vision. Multnomah Publishing. 1999. Print. P.30.
 Nehemiah’s story is the focus of Stanley’s book.
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. P.302-309.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 4: 11-12, 22-28
Responsive Reading: Psalm 14
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 1: 12-17
Gospel Lesson: Luke 15: 1-10
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Mount Rose, Minnesota is the scene for the 1999 movie Drop Dead Gorgeous. Drop Dead Gorgeous tells the story of two girls: Rebecca Leeman and Amber Atkins. Let me tell you a little bit about both the girls. Rebecca Leeman had it all. Rebecca’s dad was the richest man in Mount Rose. Rebecca’s mom was a beauty queen herself and sat on nearly every committee within Mount Rose. Rebecca Leeman would seem to be the ideal beauty pageant contestant: long stunning brown hair, blue eyes, and perfect teeth. Rebecca Leeman would boost quite openly about her faith. Rebecca’s favorite catch-phrase was “Jesus loves winners”.
On the other side of the beauty pageant was Amber Atkins. Amber Atkins grew up on the other side of the tracks. Amber lived in a trailer court in fact. Amber’s mom sat around all day drinking beer and using foul language. Amber didn’t have a dad in the picture. Amber had a chipped tooth. While Amber was nice, she didn’t invoke Jesus’ name every five seconds. We all know Rebecca Leeman and Amber Atkins. Many of us would make snap judgments about both Rebecca and Amber and how their stories end up. We’ll get back to Rebecca and Amber’s story in a bit.
Now as you picture Rebecca and Amber let’s talk about our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 15. Jesus has been having meals with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus is having meals with the Amber Atkins types from the other side of the tracks. Certain Rebecca Leeman types like the Pharisees and Scribes couldn’t figure out why Jesus would waste his time.
How did the Pharisees think let me tell you another story. When I was growing up, I had a friend named Ira. Ira and I were playing golf one day. Ira didn’t take to golf too well. Ira would swing at the ball and “miss”. Ira’s best attribute was not his patience. Ira would proceed after every attempted shot to A. Yell out church inappropriate language. B. Pound his club into the ground. C. Throw his club down the fairway.
Eventually, another twosome catches us on the “golf course”. Part of this two-some was the local priest Father Chuck. Now the thing you need to know about Ira is finding out that he’s playing with a Catholic priest is just going to cause him to act out more. So Ira swings then misses then hits the ball way off the fairway then cusses then throws his club into the ground.
Father Chuck would just like act what Ira was doing was normal. His playing partner though was a different story. Trying to distract from the outburst, I asked him where he lived. After answering, he turns and sneers as he asks “What group home did Ira and I live in?”
Now picture this guy. Picture the Pharisees. Picture Ira. Now picture Jesus sitting down to eat with Ira like this was how normal people play golf. The Pharisees were kind of mad with this whole scene.
So Jesus seeks to educate the Pharisees and Scribes by telling a couple of parables. The first parable is the Parable of the Lost Sheep.
Here’s the scenario. One-hundred sheep are under the watch of a shepherd. One sheep runs away. The shepherd has two options at that point: He can declare the one sheep a sunken cost or he could foolishly pursue the lost sheep to risk losing everything that he had. Any normal shepherd would have described the “lost sheep” as a not worth the investment. The Kingdom of God doesn’t work like this, though!
Jesus seeks to drive home the point of the power of one by telling another parable. Jesus tells the story of a woman with ten coins who lost one coin. The woman wasn’t going to view this “lost coin” as any normal coin, though, but rather as the most precious coin that she owned. The woman is immediately going to turn her whole world upside down because she can’t bear not being in the presence of this one single coin.
Now it would have made more sense for this woman to invest her time in trying to make more money, but Jesus is saying that he doesn’t do things like other people do things. The women's devotion to the one coin instead is how the Kingdom of God works.
Phillip McLarty makes the following point:
“When you think about it, our whole lives are based on an acceptable percentage of failure. We start every school year knowing there will be a certain dropout rate. Not everyone will graduate. Marriages start out with a predictable rate of divorce. Not every marriage will make it. We’re happy when the employment rate is below five percent.”
What our parables illustrate though is the depths of God’s love are such that even one lost sheep is way too many.
A couple of years ago, I was staying at my parent's place before leaving on a vacation to Las Vegas. The morning that I’m supposed to go to the airport, I begin to look for my keys. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I finally had to stop looking as we needed to leave for the airport. As I’m in Las Vegas, I couldn’t shake for three or four days, what happened to my keys. I finally get back to Lindstrom, I must have gone over every inch of my parent's house multiple times. You know how it is? I still couldn’t find the keys. I had to take a spare car key and get all new keys made in Silver Bay. The new keys though were an annoyance as they didn’t work as good as the old keys, and I kept getting them confused. Finally, it happens My Mom had by accident grabbed my keys put him in her purse, where they feel on the floor of her middle school classroom. At this point, I didn’t care about how the keys became lost in the first place. When the lost becomes found, you act without abandon. I made sure the keys got sent to me as soon as possible. Now think if keys or coins could generate such emotion. Now reflect on how far you would go to reunite with someone you love. You understand this story. You know this parable.
Now consider it from the other angle of those whom Jesus receives.
Forrest Gump was getting on the school bus for his first day of school. Forrest Gump didn’t look like he was going to fit in whatsoever. Forrest had braces on his legs. Forrest was slow and socially awkward. Whenever Forrest attempts to take a seat next to another child, the child would snap back “seat’s taken”. Finally, a young blonde girl named "Jenny" tells Forrest that he could sit next to her. Forrest’s devotion to Jenny would not cease from that moment forward, all the days of both their lives.
The Colin Kaepernick story of the past few weeks brings back to mind another story the story of Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl did the worst thing that a soldier could ever do in a fit of rage at his unit; he left his post in Afghanistan. Many people figure Bergdahl got what he deserved as he was quickly captured by Taliban soldiers and held a prisoner for five years. Bowe Bergdahl is eventually returned to the U.S. in a prisoner exchange. The problem is though that everyone else in the Army hates his guts. Soldiers from his unit confess to wanting to “murder” him. Bowe Bergdahl is reassigned in the Army to desk duty but requires an armed guard because of the nature of his sin. Now let me ask you two questions: 1. What might you say when someone like Bowe Bergdahl lets you down when you need them the most. 2. What do you suppose that Jesus might say?
What do you suppose the Pharisees thought about the type of people whom Jesus reached out to in his ministry? They thought the prettiest girl in Minnesota, Rebecca Leeman always end up on top. They figured Amber Atkins’ types weren’t worth the time. Only this is how not the Kingdom of God works. Rebecca’s rival trailer park Amber Atkins ends up in a moment of fate becoming one of the biggest television stars in Twin Cities. The Lost can always be Found!
Let me close with one final story. John Newton’s dad was a sailor; his mother died when he was young. John Newton as an orphan gets sent to military school. Here, John Newton was such an obnoxious brat; his instructors nearly beat him to the point where he broke his back. Newton got so mad at the beatings; he ran away from school. John Newton decided to go to the only place that might take a guy like him; he was going to become a sailor.
Out at sea, John Newton came in contact with every bad influence in the book. John Newton joined the British Navy, only to end up becoming dishonorably discharged. John Newton left England hoping never to see anyone he knew ever again. He became involved in sailing for the African slave trade. While on board, Newton would often openly mock the captain by creating x-rated poems and songs about the Captain with the hope of creating an uprising against him. John Newton would steal rum as a way to bond with the rest of his crew. John Newton’s lifelong rebellion kept resulting in further beatings and public humiliations.
One night during a storm, John Newton’s life changed. John Newton became convinced that his ship was about to sink, and he wasn’t going to make it through the night. John Newton remembered the religious words of his mother from years before.
In one final act of desperation, John Newton cried out for the Grace of God to protect him. John Newton called on God’s own son to save him. It was on this night in the midst of dangers, toils, and snares that John Newton came to realize that the only reason, he had breath was because of the Grace of God and it was possible for this Grace to lead him home.
After the storm of this night, Newton eventually becomes an ordained minister within the Church of England. One day, Newton sits down to write a sermon whose words become his great legacy: “Amazing Grace- How Sweet the Sound” “That Saved a Wretch like Me” “I once was lost but now am Found” “Was Blind” “But now I see”. John Newton didn’t just think of these words; his life knew these words.
Who would have sat with John Newton in the days of darkness? Jesus. Who would have gone to Amber Atkins trailer court to say “The Kingdom of God belongs to people like her? Jesus. Who would have responded to my friend Ira’s golfing antics with grace and mercy? Jesus. Who would forgive Bowe Bergdahl after the rest of his troops' vow never to walk alongside him again? Jesus. Who would offer awkward Forrest Gump a seat on the bus when no one else would? Jesus. Who rejoices when the lost become found? Jesus. Amen
 “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 7.Jul.2016. Web. Sept.6.2016.
 Luke 15:3-7.
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002.P.184-188.
 Luke 15:8-10.
 McLarty, Phillip. “The Parable of the Lost Sheep.” Lectionary.org. 2007. Web. Sept.6.2016.
 Bryan. J. “Serial Season 2 and the Second Prodigal Son.” MBIRD (Mockingbird Ministries). 27.Jan.2016. Web. Sept.6.2016.
 The Forrest Gump analogy comes from Pastor Bill Shappell of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lutherville, MD. The analogy is found on the Pentecost 19 (Sept.11.2016) section of Text Week.com under grace.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 18: 1-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18
Second Lesson: Philemon 1: 1-21
Gospel Lesson: Luke 14: 25-33
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“At any moment, you must be willing to give up what you are, for what you will become.”- Eric Thomas.
Let me begin with a story. As told by Carmine Gallo. Some years ago, a young man set out on the journey from London to Los Angeles. The young man seemingly had nothing going for him; no job, no place to live and merely a few hundred dollars to his name. The young man was twenty-two years old and he had not gone to college. His dream was now to make it big in a country that he had never previously visited. The young man believed that the future was a blank slate. The young man after a couple of years starts selling t-shirts at Venice Beach. This young man had no background in sales but was good at reading people and telling stories.
Eventually, the young man gets so good at selling t-shirts that he’s making $1500 a day. The young man invests this money in real estate deals and finally he buys the rights to a British team extreme sports competition. The premise was what would happen if you put sixteen strangers together on an island. Who would lead? Who would follow? Who would get voted off? The man was Mark Burnett. The T.V. Show was Survivor.
Survivor becomes an American phenomena leading to Burnett’s involvement in all sorts of other programming The Apprentice, Shark Tank, and The Voice. When Mark Burnett arrived in America, he only had two things going for him: optimism and confidence that things were going to work out for him. He believed that his previous journey in life was merely crafting him for a difference purpose.
Now you might here Burnett’s story and say “It’s easy to be optimistic when you’re twenty-two with the world full of possibilities.” Let me tell you though about another guy though was also struggling with his life’s purpose.
Jeremiah didn’t want to be a preacher. Jeremiah’s excuse was that he was too young. Jeremiah probably though didn’t want to deal with the hardship of a preacher’s life. Jeremiah didn’t have much in his bank account. God had previously told Jeremiah that he wasn’t going to marry. Jeremiah’s not too well liked around Jerusalem because people didn’t really like his sermons. Jeremiah would spend his nights sleeping on dirt floors, seemingly isolated from everyone in the world.
One night though God sought to change Jeremiah’s life, God taps Jeremiah on the shoulder. God leads Jeremiah to the streets of Jerusalem to a potter’s house.
Why did God take Jeremiah to a potter’s house? God wanted Jeremiah to see a potter working with clay. Clay is a material with limitless possibilities. Clay can always be shaped in a different direction. God wanted to show Jeremiah how involved he would always be shaping Jeremiah’s plans moving forward. Here’s why this is important.
I have a friend who I’ll call Jackie. Jackie had a serious boyfriend some years back. The boyfriend cheated on her. Jackie then began to go through the phrase where “All men are like this”. Jackie after several years decides to give online dating a try. Jackie runs into a few dead ends this way. Jackie had finally had it. Jackie was looking at the world through all that she didn’t have. Jackie believed her trust issues were such that she could never find a relationship with any meaning. Once people abandon hope it’s tough to bounce back.
Life will certainly throw you moments where you feel like Jackie does. Jeremiah would face all sorts of circumstances where he would have wanted to give up on being a preacher. Jeremiah was arrested. Jeremiah saw his writings burned. Jeremiah was forced to wear humiliating clothing in public. Jeremiah saw his home fall victim to a foreign power. Jeremiah had to spend his dying days living far, far away from home. So what is God saying to both Jackie and Jeremiah on this day?
I was reading a book by Andy Stanley a while back where he talked about life being a series of chapters. The chapter that you’re currently living may very well not be the chapter you would write. The current chapter though always can shape the next chapter. The next chapter may even be written after you've left this world behind. The current chapter may provide opportunities for God’s purposes to come to fruition within the next chapter.
What God is seeking to assure Jeremiah in our lesson for today is “I have a plan for you.” So that even as Jerusalem burns. Even as Jeremiah wonders if God has forgotten his people, God is saying “My love shall never cease “. Hope is soon coming to your city of Jerusalem in the form of a child. Hope is coming in the form of a cross. Hope is coming in the form of a resurrection even as the city currently burns. The Potter will not abandon his clay until it reaches its final form in the world that is to come.
What I want you to take from Jeremiah’s story is this that it is possible to be optimistic even in the most difficult circumstances of life.
Let me tell you another story. Let me tell a story about a kid born an albino named John Walsh. Walsh like most albinos had really bad eyesight; Walsh struggled to learn and read because of this. Walsh, more than anything else in the world, loved playing sports growing up. But because of his eye sight, he couldn’t play very well. Sports though gave him the focus and discipline to improve his school work. Walsh enrolls in college. He decides that since he won’t be able to play sports for a living that the world had a different path for him. John Walsh became the rare almost blind Sports Editor. The first magazine that Walsh founded folds in 1982. Walsh bounces around at odd jobs for a couple of years. In 1987, he got hired as a consultant by the Sports Network ESPN. Six months later he gets put in charge of a program called SportsCenter. SportsCenter under Walsh’s direction becomes a national phenomenon. John Walsh could have all sorts of times going through the world could have called out “woe is me”, but regardless of John Walsh’s eyesight. He was able to maintain his sense of purpose.
Dr. Rich Guerra presents the following scenario.
Imagine living in medieval times and you’re traveling through the countryside. There’s all sorts of dust, noise, and activity. You come across a man with a sledgehammer and he’s smashing rocks.
“What’s going on here?” you ask.
The man responds, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m breaking rocks.”
You continue on your way and find another man who’s got a sledgehammer and he’s breaking up rocks.
“What’s going on here?” you ask.
The man responds, “I’m making a living.”
You walk further down the road and you see a man doing the same thing. He’s got a sledgehammer and is smashing rocks.
“What’s going on here?” you ask.
“I’m building a cathedral.”
What this story illustrates is how the Potter sees the world. The Potter does not merely see lumps of clay at any given moment. The Potter never loses sight of what this lump of clay might become.
Let me close with the following story of why this is so important for God's purposes within our world. Joe Falkner dreaded going to Middle School. Joe had heard horror stories of ninth-graders bullying seventh graders leaving them without any pants. Joe seemingly had nothing going for him. Joe was short, fat, and shy. Joe didn’t have a dad living at home. Joe was poor and it had crushed his self-esteem. As he began Middle School, Joe encountered a teacher named Miss Evridge. Miss Evridge was seemingly the tallest woman that Joe had ever seen. Miss Evridge seemed cold with her hair worn in a bun and glaring eyes for anyone who ever crossed her path. If you were a second late for class, then Miss Evridge would mark you as tardy. All the kids thought Miss Evridge was mean and unfair.
Joe Falkner began to see something in Miss Evridge over time. She was fun! She could get the students both laughing and learning at the same time. Miss Evridge was also a Christian. When Joe Falkner found out, he let her know that he was too and their bond deepened. Miss Evridge eventually encourages Joe to enter a speech contest. Joe was way too timid and shy for public speaking. Miss Evridge promised that she would work with him. Joe Falkner won the public speaking context.
Miss Evridge and Joe were one day talking about what Joe was going to do in life. Joe wanted to be a “scientist”. Miss Evridge suggested that he could be a preacher. Joe stomped his feet at that suggestion. Joe Falkner was like Jeremiah he never wanted to be a preacher, but God had other plans. Joe Falkner became not just a preacher, but a preaching professor. Miss Evridge helped take a short, fat, shy lump of clay to mold it for God’s purposes.
The point is this. It’s real easy to get defeated in life. It’s real easy to look everywhere around you and see no sense of purpose. Jeremiah would have understood this reality. So Jeremiah sees a vision on this day. The vision has Jeremiah see a potter working on some clay; the clay begins to lose its intended shape or form. The Potter had two choices at this moment. The Potter could curse at his imperfection, or the potter can keep working on it until the clay ultimately serves the Potter’s purposes.
As I’ve talked about before, I do not stand here on this day apart from the influence of my Great-Grandpa Arvid who shaped my life well into his nineties. Mark Burnett doesn’t become one of the biggest influences in television apart from his optimism. John Walsh doesn’t change American sports if he doesn’t keep faith even as life veers off course. Joe Falkner doesn’t become a preacher apart from the influence of Miss Evridge. The Potter is looking to lump clay in your own life. The Potter is looking to work with your strengths to change the lives of those around you. God is saying on this day “Follow me to the Potter’s House.”
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”-Jeremiah 29:11.
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. Saint Martin’s Press. New York. 2016. P.18-22.
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. P.20
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. P.23
 The Sunday lesson is Jeremiah 18:1-11.
 Jeremiah 1:4-10.
 Jeremiah 16:2.
 Hyde, Dr. Randy. L. “Jeremiah: The Season of Discontent.” Lectionary.org. 2004. Web. Aug.31.2016.
 Hyde, Dr. Randy. L. “Jeremiah: The Season of Discontent.”
 Jeremiah 18:1-11.
 Portier-Young, Anathea. “ Commentary on Jeremiah 18:1-11”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 4. Sept.2016. Web. Aug.31.2016.
 Stanley talks about this in the book Ask It.
 Lamentations 3:22-24.
 Wagner, Dr. Keith. “A Play-Doh Like Faith.” Lectionary.org. 2001. Web. Aug.30.2016.
 Walsh, John. “His Own Unique Self.” Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal. 11-17. May. 2015. Web. Aug.30.2016.
 Walsh, John. “His Own Unique Self.”
 Gallo, Carmine. The Storyteller’s Secret. P.153.
 Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hanson, Patty Aubrey, and Nancy Mitchell. Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. Deerfield Beach, FL. Health Communications Inc. , 1997, Book. P.189- 193.
 Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hanson, Patty Aubrey, and Nancy Mitchell. Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. P.190-191.
 Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hanson, Patty Aubrey, and Nancy Mitchell. Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. P.191-192.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 2: 4-13
Responsive Reading: Psalm 1, 10-16
Second Lesson: Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16
Gospel Lesson: Luke 14: 7-14
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story. When I was at Luther Seminary, I managed the Seminary’s mail room. One Saturday a gentleman came into the building where the Olson Campus Center which was the location of the mail room. The gentleman said he lived across the street, which was plausible with the number of students it was hard to keep track of neighbors. The gentleman was clean-cut and looked like a guy living in Saint Anthony Park would look going about his business on a Saturday morning. The gentleman had a dilemma; he had locked himself out of his house. He needed to call a locksmith. He only needed $20, before the locksmith would get to work. He needed a loan because his wallet was in his house. This gentleman promised to come back within a half-hour with $40 and an offer to buy lunch for whoever helped him out. Now being good Lutheran seminarians, you want to be trusting of your neighbors. I handed the gentleman $20 then waited around for a couple of hours only to never see this gentleman again. Now everyone hearing this story can point out plenty of problems with this scenario. There are people out who by their nature always end up on the short-end of the stick of these arrangements hence the title of Today’s sermons.
Let me ask a question, though “Is being a sap or sucker always bad?”
A few months back, I read a book by Adam Grant titled Give and Take. Grant’s specialty is in Organizational Psychology. Grant’s book describes three types of people that you will meet in the office, but we could easily apply to life in general.
The first type of person is a taker. Takers are ruthless. Takers make sure to get the better end of every deal. Takers are always in competition with others. Takers will always let you know of their accomplishments. Many people think you need to be a taker to get anywhere in the world.
How do takers operate? I have a friend who I’ll call Dale. Dale lived in Fargo when I attended Concordia. Dale and I would go out to eat quite a bit. Dale’s policy on tipping at restaurants was interesting. Dale would start out with a small albeit low amount. Dale would stiff the waitress/waiter on a tip at any real or perceived slight of service. Dale was always thinking about what was in it for him. Dale was always on the defensive about people taking advantage of him. Dale would be the first person lecturing me about my foolish giving away of money. Certainly not everyone is as extreme as Dale without being a doormat.
The second type of person is a matcher. Matchers are all about fairness. You want to give to others just as much as you receive in return. Matchers will give favors for favors. Matchers will give back scratches to get back scratches.
Matchers make sense as people. If I walk down to Zup’s, and when I see some delicious fatty, red meat, the scenario from this point forward is relatively straightforward. I will then make the decision that I would rather have the red meat than the money, and Zup’s would rather have the money than the red meat. Seemingly everyone wins in this interaction, so most people won’t admit to being takers, but being a matcher doesn’t seem like a bad deal. A matcher might ask for collateral before offering to give any sort of money to a total stranger. So matchers seem sensible.
The third type of person that Grant describes could be called all kinds of things they could be called a sap, a sucker, but Grant calls them “givers.” Givers are about giving more than they receive. Givers are about giving their time without receiving any obvious benefit in return. Givers would be the type of people where the saying that nice guys finish last could be apt. Givers would do things like hand money to complete strangers trusting that they will return it.
What can we say about givers? When studies were conducted about who were the least successful: engineers, salespeople, and medical school students , givers were at the bottom. Givers seem to be just too caring, and too trusting to advance in the world. So if givers are at the bottom of the ladder.
Who is at the top? Again, it’s the givers. Givers can be both champs and chumps at the same time? So our question this morning is this “How do givers get to the top”? Givers are able to ask for help for help when they need it. Givers realize that they can never get anywhere alone.
Now as you picture givers, takers, and matchers that you now in your life.
Let’s talk about Our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 14. Luke 14 takes place right after Jesus heals the crippled woman on the Sabbath. Jesus is dining at the home of a Pharisee.
Now to understand our lesson, you need to understand the world in which Jesus lived. The whole Greco-Roman world operated via a class system. You had the “patricians” who were the elites; you had the “plebs” who were the commoners. Lastly, you had non-citizens and slaves who were entirely separate class from these. For many generations, the classes could not intermarry. Within Jesus’ day, the various classes didn’t have a lot of interaction with each other. When I read Kent Kaiser’s book Company Town, Reserve’s Hat System would not be entirely dissimilar to the social realities of Jesus’ day.
So Jesus is having dinner with a group of Pharisees. The Pharisees would have been the religious big shots of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees would have been made up of scholars and other political/religious elite. Now with Jesus being the center of attention, everyone wanted to sit the closest to him.
My Dad and I have been to more sporting events over the years then I could even begin to count. Occasionally, we’ll spot two open seats better than where we are sitting. Dad without hesitation will seek to claim the better seat, whereas I’m more cautious. I would much rather stay in our regular seats for the whole game. What happens if someone is sitting in our seats? Dad acts like it’s no big deal, whereas deep down I’m annoyed. It’s hard to shake the idea from my head that someone should get something as simple as a seat they don’t deserve.
Now back to Jesus having dinner with the Pharisees. The Pharisees have their ranks and the thinking goes that those at the top of the Pharisee food-chain should get the seats that are the closest to Jesus. How do you determine which Pharisee has paid forth the most spiritually to sit on the fifty-yard line of Jesus’ presence?
Jesus says the Pharisees understand his kingdom all wrong? “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”- Luke 14:11.
How can we make sense of Jesus’ words? Let me tell another story: In 1994, my hometown of Lindstrom was having its centennial celebration. We wanted a keynote speaker with local ties. Nils Hasselmo who was at the time the President of the University of Minnesota agreed to come. Hasselmo was a perfect fit: born in Sweden, spent a summer in Lindstrom growing up, spent his teaching career as Chair of the Scandinavian Studies department. After Hasselmo’s speech, my parents were in charge of organizing a reception for dignitaries from the community with Hasselmo as the guest of honor. My grandparents hosted the event at a lovely setting on South Center Lake. My parents hired a caterer who they had known for a long time. The caterer put together a nice spread with just one problem. When the caterer was bringing the food into the house, he dropped the chicken salad. The glass bowl shattered. The caterer though refused to chalk this up to a loss, so he decides to put the chicken salad in merely another bowl. Let’s just say this was the first chicken salad recipe to contain shards of glass and it was served to one of the most distinguished men in the State of Minnesota.
What this story reminds us is that even those at the head of the table will face unexpected trials throughout the course of life. Jesus is saying today that our shared human experience is such that who gets the closest seat is pretty much irrelevant.
So Jesus in our lesson for today wants to address two key things. 1. Who sits where at the Pharisees’ dinner party? 2. Who is invited to the party?
The list of people that Jesus wants to see invited is not just limited to his family, his friends, or the rich. Jesus wants to invite those that are never going to be able to give him an invitation that’s any good at all. Jesus wants the pro-wrestling, monster truck loving, non-religious management crowd at any party that he’s going to be.
Jesus being a preacher of grace was going to operate as a giver. Jesus was going to invite to the banquet even the guy that conned me out of $20, even if I stood outside protesting. If you understand the politics and class-system of Jesus’ day, then you begin to understand how radical his message truly is in reaching out to cripples, foreigners, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and all kinds of other sinners. What Jesus is saying is this. The Kingdom of God isn’t you where you take something to receive something. In the words of Steve Molin “The Kingdom of God is about being invited to a place where you don’t belong to be”. The Kingdom of God is about giving you a place of honor regardless of what events in life previously have brought you to this place.
So how should we understand Jesus’ Words that the humbled being exalted, and the exalted being humble? What should our interpretation be of the first being last and the last being first? What should you think about saps and suckers?
Remember the Christian Faith is not about claiming the best seats in the house for ourselves. The Christian Faith is rather about God giving us an invitation to the party handed to us by Jesus. Amen
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take. Penguin Books. New York. 2013. Print. P.4.
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take.P. 5.
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take.P. 5
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take..P. 7
 Analogy based on Grant’s language from P.10 of Give and Take.
 Luke 14:1, 7-14.
 “Social Class in Ancient Rome”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 24.May.2016. Web. Aug.23.2016.
 “Nils Hasselmo”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 17.Mar.2016. Web. Aug.23.2016.
 Brown, Jeannine. “Commentary on Luke 14:1,7-14.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 29. Aug.2010. Web. Aug.23.2016.
 Molin, Steve. “Friends in Low Places.” Lectionary.org. 2001.
 Similar statement from Jesus’ ministry found in Matthew 19:30, 20:16.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 1: 4-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 71: 1-6
Second Lesson: Hebrews 12: 18-29
Gospel Lesson: Luke 13: 10-17
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Robert Holmes gives the following anecdote. There once was a farmer who put a want ad in a farm journal. The ad read “Wanted: a woman in her thirties interested in marriage who owns a tractor. Please send a picture of the tractor.” What this ad illustrates is how easy it might be to lose perspective of what’s crucial in a given situation. We come across such a situation in our Gospel lesson for today.
Our Gospel contains three main characters. The first character is a hunched back woman, the second is a rabbi and the third is Jesus.
Let me tell a story when I was in Lamberton; we had a woman in the congregation that I’ll call Lena. Lena couldn’t make it to church so I would visit her at home every month. Two things that I noticed about Lena the first time I met her. Lena was as hunched over as any woman that I’ve ever seen. The second point I noticed is that Lena’s home might have been the least kept that I’ve ever set my feet. Catalogs and newspaper ads from decades ago lined the floor. I couldn’t begin to venture a guess since that the last time the kitchen sink had been cleaned. When I visited with Lena, all I had to ask her was “How everything was going?” and I didn’t have to say another word for the next 45 minutes. Lena longed for human contact. Once in a while, I would see Lena uptown. The interesting thing about this is people tended to avoid Lena. Lena wasn’t unpleasant or mean-spirited in any way. But because of Lena’s condition people didn’t know what to say to her or do for her. You would see Lena and long for her back to be healed.
As I describe Lena this morning, I want you to now to picture the hunchback woman from our Gospel lesson. This lady had been hunched over for eighteen long years. I don’t imagine this woman to be a regular Saturday Synagogue goer. This woman had heard though about a new preacher giving a different kind of message. She decides to show up to hear him on this day. Jesus immediately notices this woman. Let’s be honest; she would have been pretty hard to miss. Jesus approaches this woman and pretty soon she is crippled no more. The people began to cheer this healing! Why wouldn’t everyone be happy?
The second character in this story is the Rabbi. Most people will read this story and think of the Rabbi being a bad guy. Why would the Rabbi not want this woman healed on the Sabbath? Here’s the thing though the Rabbi knew the scriptures well.
Steve Molin describes the Sabbath regulations best: “If a pregnant woman went into labor on the Sabbath, you MIGHT be able to help her deliver her baby. MIGHT. If you’re child broke his arm, you could put it in a sling, but you could not run cold water over it. If your daughter cut her finger, you could put a bandage on it, but you could not apply any ointment; that would be working on the Sabbath.”
Molin illustrates how you were not to do any work on the Sabbath. Here’s how a Jew in Jesus’ day would have understood the Sabbath. The Ten Commandments came after the Exodus from Egypt. In the days of Egyptian slavery, the Israelites would never have gotten a day off. Now think of the weather these past few weeks. Now imagine, working in the hot sun day after day after day without rest in the much, much warmer climate of Egypt. Now think of the importance of having a Sabbath day of rest. The Rabbi’s point was the following. Jesus could have healed this woman any other day of the week.
How did the Rabbi see this healing? To understand the Rabbi think of the anecdote of the boiling frog, you put a frog in boiling water (the frog will immediately jump out), but if you put the frog in tepid water then slowly raise the heat then the frog ends up boiling alive. The Rabbi wasn’t just concerned with this healing; the Rabbi was worried about a slippery slope where pretty soon the people of Israel were doing everything and anything but attending the Synagogue on the Sabbath day. So if you understand the Rabbi’s role in the story this way, then perhaps not healing this woman on the Sabbath might make sense.
So we understand the hunch-back woman, we understand the Rabbi, so now let’s figure out why Jesus dared to heal on these most sacred of days.
To understand Jesus’ thoughts on the Sabbath let’s look at his words from Mark 2:
“And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
You see Jesus knew the rules. Jesus knew the rules so well that he was able to out-debate the smartest religious scholars of his day at age 12 in the Temple.
Jesus’ point was not that the Sabbath was a bad thing.
The Sabbath is about what God can do for us, not what we can do for God. We get the Sabbath day all wrong when we think of it existing for God’s benefit rather than our own.
Dr. Armand Boehme tells this story. “One individual noted that going to church and listening to sermons was not doing her any good. Church was a waste of time because she couldn’t remember what had been preached two weeks prior. This woman decided that she was going to stop coming to church and soon dump religion altogether. The Pastor then asked her “If she can remember what she ate for Sunday dinner two weeks ago?” Her response was “Of course not! How could I remember that!” So the Pastor said, “Then perhaps you should stop eating since you can’t remember what you ate; the meal couldn’t have done you any good!” Her response was, “Well, of course, it did me some good since I am still alive. The food nourished my body.”
“So” replied the Pastor, “the food did you some good even though you can’t remember what you ate! So it is with the Word of God. As the food nourished your body, so the Word nourished your soul and kept you spiritually alive. If you neglect to feed your soul, you will die spiritually just as surely as you would die physically if you stopped eating food. No more comment was necessary and the lady kept coming to church to be fed and nourished by God’s Word and the Sacraments!”
Jesus’ point about the Sabbath was that the letter of the law was and is important. “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy” but remember the Sabbath exists for our benefit, not God’s. And if a woman can’t remember her supper or a sermon from two weeks back, then think of the impact upon a woman that had been healed after being hunched over for 18 years.
Here’s another story why the Spirit of the Law is more important than the Letter of the Law.
At the turn of the 19th century, the country of Norway was in shambles. Poverty and drunkenness were both running rampant. Norway’s State Church was more interested in seeing that the citizenry possessed Seminary type belief even if it didn’t connect to their lives. Into this crisis comes a man named Hans Nielsen Hauge. Hauge grew up poor and lacking in education. The Spirit of God one day touched Hans Nielsen Hauge and he began to preach. Hauge’s preaching wouldn’t have earned him an “A” in seminary. Hauge was arrested for not being a licensed preacher many times. People accused Hans Nielsen Hauge of practicing “witchcraft”. Hans Nielsen Hauge saw the Spirit of the Law as being more important though than the Letter of the Law. Hauge’s movement eventually began to revitalize Norway. Hauge’s writings and sermons began a revival throughout Norway. Hauge’s influence began to cause men to put down the alcohol and become better husbands and fathers. Hauge’s mission took up the cause to find factories and mills throughout Norway. A simple, uneducated lay preacher started to help lift the nation of Norway out of poverty. Many regard Hans Nielsen Hauge as one of Norway’s greatest heroes. They said Hauge shouldn’t preach; they also said that Jesus shouldn’t heal on the Sabbath.
The Norwegians could have waited for the right preacher to come around. Just like there were six other days of the week that Jesus could have healed this hunch-back woman. The thing is Jesus would always place the person as the priority rather than the way that things had been done before. You see later in Jesus’ ministry he would encounter people who were guilty of sin. Jesus heard these people say and do all kinds of nasty things to him. No one else would dare do what Jesus did because it just wasn’t right. The thing is that Jesus was always about placing God’s people at the center of his ministry rather than rules about what had been done before. So therefore, Jesus was going to set the woman’s hunched back straight. When the rules tell Jesus one thing, he will always come marching on out of the grave. Amen.
 Holmes, Robert. “Beyond Change to Transformation”. Day 1.org. 26. Aug.2001. Web. Aug. 15.2016.
 Luke 13:10-17.
 Molin, Steve. “Maybe Resting on Sabbath is Overrated.” Lectionary.org. 2004. Web. Aug.15.2016.
 Lose, David. “The Law of Love.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 18. Aug.2013. Web. Aug.15.2016.
 Mark 2:27
 Luke 2:41-52.
 Pastor Boehme serves at Trinity Lutheran in Northfield, Minnesota. I previously used this analogy during a October 10th, 2010 sermon given at Our Savior’s in Lamberton, Minnesota. I have previously met Pastor Boehme and thanked him for use of this analogy.
 “Hans Nielsen Hauge”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 09. June.2016. Web. Aug.16.2016.
First Lesson: Isaiah 5: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2, 8-19
Second Lesson: Hebrews 11: 29- 12:2
Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 49-56
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“If you can’t fly run, if you can’t run walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward”- Martin Luther King Jr.
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house, there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”-Jesus of Nazareth- Luke 12:51-53.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus comes at us with some words that probably will catch all of us off-guard “I come not to bring peace but a sword.”
The way to understand this passage is to learn about the context in which these words were spoken. In the earliest days of Christianity, if a Jew converted then he was cut off from his family. If a Roman converted, they were viewed as a fool who was often engaged in treason against the empire.
To understand what it would have been like for people to announce they were converting to Christianity in the 1st century imagine the following scenario: a thriving college student who seems destined for medical school. Now imagine this student announcing to his parents that he intends to drop out of school and follow some band with what Mom and Dad consider awful sounding music all over the world as a roadie. The parents would rightfully think that their child was wasting their life. Now imagine this scenario and as you hear Jesus’ words for today. Imagine now the college student within Jesus’ day confessing to his parents that he was going to become a Christian. Jesus was the ultimate interriant preacher surrounded by seemingly nothing other than deadbeats and hangers-on. Jesus’ realized that following his ministry would create turmoil for the Disciples and those close to them.
Jesus is getting at something very important today as he speaks to the Disciples and that is the importance of mission in the midst of hardship.
One of the more influential books that I’ve ever read is Dr. Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. Branden seeks to ask the question of this book “How do you keep going in life when everything is working against you whether it is your family or your situation?” Branden’s answer is self-esteem comes from living purposefully out one’s mission.
Let me illustrate how living with a mission might work. Bill Wilson was a thirty-nine-year-old alcoholic. Wilson’s life was a complete mess. His marriage was in shambles and due to the Great Depression, his finances were a ruin. Wilson had lost his job after getting into a booze-induced fight at a country club. Wilson had tried everything from detox to support groups and the only place where Bill Wilson continually found comfort was in the bottle. Wilson eventually meets a friend who told him he recovered due to finding religion. Wilson thought the guy was nuts! Wilson’s life in the latest round of detox would soon change forever. Wilson took a drug that began to cause hallucinations. Wilson finally yelled out in agony “If there is a God, I am ready to do anything.” At that moment, it was almost as if God’s hand reached out to Wilson as he described a “white light filling his room” and “pain ceasing”. Wilson otherwise known as Bill W. would never have another drink the last thirty-seven years of his life. Wilson today is known as the founder of an organization called Alcoholics Anonymous. What forever changed Wilson’s life is expressed in AA’s step three “He turned his will and life over to the care of God as he understood him.” When Wilson was only living life for himself, he had no sense of mission. After his white light experience, the new found mission totally changed Bill Wilson from that day forward.
How might you live out Mission within your life? Let me tell another story; this story involves a personal confession. The year was 2009; I was working down in Lamberton, and the Vikings were playing the San Francisco 49ers. I was watching the game by myself. The Vikings seemed headed for defeat. My parents and sister were at the game. Vikings fans had already left in large numbers. Twelve seconds left in the game, the Vikings new QB Brett Favre hoists a ball to the back of the end-zone. Greg Lewis catches it; the Vikings win the game and the play is known as “The Minneapolis Miracle.”
How did I react to this catch in the privacy of home? I started running around the house as fast as I could, I was screaming at the top of my lungs, I feel down on the ground and started hyperventilating from all the excitement. My breathing wasn’t back to the normal for probably a half- hour.
Why do I tell this story? It has to do with a sense of mission.
Vince Lombardi once said, “Think of only three things: your God, your family and the Green Bay Packers in that order.”
My mission would be the same only with a different football team at the end.
I tell this story with no embarrassment this morning because everyone that knows me would believe it to be true. Your life mission ultimately shapes how you will interact with the world around you for both good and ill. Your mission can either be who everyone else wants you to be or who God calls you to be.
I also tell this story to illustrate Dr. Branden’s point that self-esteem comes from living for something bigger than you. One’s personal mission should cause them to approach the world not with a sense of embarrassment or shame but rather with a purpose even when things get tough.
What Jesus had been hearing about in our Gospel lesson for today was all sorts of conflict. To quote: David Lose “People were fighting within families, synagogues, and the larger public arena”. Jesus kept hearing about all sorts of families being broken up because of their faith. So Jesus seeks to speak to these conflicts involving mission.
Let me tell you a story related to the Olympics this morning. This story was captured in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell was born in China the son of missionaries. As Liddell grows up, he becomes known as the fastest runner in all of Scotland. Liddell’s fame spread as a potential “gold medal” winner. Liddell is one of the favorites at the 1924 Paris Olympics in the 100 meters until he finds out that the prelims were scheduled to run on a Sunday. Eric Liddell refuses to run because of his faith. The British Olympic Committee and even the Prince of Wales try to convince Liddell to change his mind. Liddell’s sake of mission was stronger than any conflict, Liddell’s mission was stronger even than the pull of a potential gold medal.
Your mission in life will probably not be the same as Eric Liddell’s. Your mission like his and will inevitability run into conflict.
What Jesus is illustrating to the Disciples this morning is something very important “If someone says something nasty to you, don’t let this keep you from your mission.”
People certainly said nasty things about Dr. King; people denounced Bill W. as not having been properly trained in counseling; people have certainly made fun of the Minnesota Vikings for having empty trophy cases. The thing about mission is that it can keep a person going even in the midst of divisions and disagreements within your life. Jesus is illustrating potential conflict over life mission in Today’s lesson by citing family conflict as the harshest of potential examples of mission conflict.
Yet Jesus in our Gospel is encouraging people to hang on to mission in one’s hardest of times.
Why cling to mission in the midst of hardship? Let me tell a story about why mission can ultimately bring hope to a person’s life. Henry and Jeanette DeLange were married in 1953. Jeanette DeLange several years back was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Jeanette went into nursing home care in 2011. Henry kept coming to visit Jeanette even with her mind unable to remember (one, two, or three times a day).
For Henry DeLange, his sense of mission to his wife was more important than any personal convenience. Several months back, Henry is diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. The Doctors weren’t able to do anything more for Henry DeLange. Henry eventually ends up in the same nursing home room as his wife, Jeannette. Sunday, July 31st: Jeannette died at 5:10 PM, Henry died at 5:30 PM.
Here’s how their son Lee DeLange described both Mom and Dad’s deaths “mom and dad were Christians. They loved Christ. They wanted so badly to show their love for Christ that they loved one another. It’s natural what they do. For them to be able to be a witness in life, also in death…That’s cool. Really cool.”
For what Henry DeLange’s story illustrates is that mission will not always be easy to live out. Mission will probably cause you to have all sorts of conflicts within your life. Mission might cause you to debate whether to visit your Alzheimer’s ridden-wife or do something simpler with your time. When you sustain mission, it can carry people not only into the grave but beyond the grave itself.
“God gave you this particular mix of talents and abilities because they match up with the mission that he has in mind for you.” -Matthew Kelly.
For let me tell you this morning where many people go wrong in this life. Many people go wrong by spending their days obsessed worrying about how other people are going to judge them. Instead how we should be approaching life is looking towards why God put us in this following time and place. We need not worry about judging other people’s value; we need instead focus on defining our own.
Jesus’ words that we hear today are hard. No one wants division within their life, especially with their families. For plenty of people within our midst, these words that Jesus says about houses being divided hit close to home. No one likes to hear negative feedback in life, especially from one’s family. What these words also indicate is that Jesus understands your pain on this day. Unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t have the words that will instantly heal every rift within this world in this instance. Jesus does have words to help deal with your conflicts. Define your mission! Look towards the cross!
Realize that you alone will not be able to fix all the problems that ail this world. Cling to the hope that there is a power out there that can forgive your past, can guide you in the present, and will save you in the future.
The following is a quote from Matthew 10:34 which parallels our Gospel lesson for today.
 The theme of “mission” in the sake of division comes from Ed Markquart’s sermon “Christ Brings Division” Pentecost 12: Year C. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Aug.9.2016.
 Dr. Branden’s book was originally published by Bantam publishing in 1994. It was republished again in 1995.
 Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit. Random House. New York. 2014. Paperback Print. Pg.66-71.
 Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit. Pg.67.
 Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit. Pg.68.
 Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit. Pg.70.
 Lombardi quote comes from 2001 Steve Molin sermon “Flashing Yellow Lights” found on lectionary.org.
 Lose, David. “Commentary on Luke 12:49-56”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 15. Aug.2010. Web. Aug.9.2016.
 Analogy idea taken from Zingale, Tim. “Cutting Edge”. Sermon Central. August 2001. Web. Aug.9.2016.
 “Eric Liddell”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 29.Jul.2016. Web. Aug.9.2016.
 Collen, Courtney. “ After 63 years of marriage, Platte couple dies 20 minutes apart.” KSFY News (Sioux Falls): ABC. 07.Aug.2016. Web. Aug.8.2016.
 Collen, Courtney. “ After 63 years of marriage, Platte couple dies 20 minutes apart.”
 Collen, Courtney. “ After 63 years of marriage, Platte couple dies 20 minutes apart.”
 Matthew Kelly is a Catholic Motivational Speaker. I got this quote from Saint Mary’s of Silver Bay Parish Secretary Cindy Rowlee.
 The idea for the hard sayings of Jesus came from Pastor Steve Molin’s sermon “A Strange Sort of Peace” copyright 2004 from Lectionary.org.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.