Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As this country’s news, this week, focuses on the sudden and tragic death of Robin Williams, let me begin with a story.
A man goes to see a doctor. Doctor asks the man “what seems to be the trouble." The man says “Doc, I’m depressed. Simply, I can’t sleep sometimes, I can’t eat, and I feel down and irritable most days. I just can’t feel happy.”
The Doctor figuring it was a simple case of a man being down in the dumps offers a solution saying “Sir, I’ve got the perfect fix for you. In town, tonight is the great clown Pagliacci. He’s considered to be the funniest man in all the land; he will make you laugh until you cry. During his show, you will experience a joy unprecedented.”
Upon hearing this advice, the man broke down beginning to sob hysterically. The Doctor is thoroughly confused by the man’s reaction at this point, so he asks “Why the tears?” At which point the man belts out “Doctor, I am Pagliacci."
What this story along with Williams’ death reminds us is how we can’t judge what’s going on in a person’s life merely on the basis of external appearances. We remember how a man who had brought so many people happiness and laughter throughout the years went through life unable to escape from the darkest of places.
The reality of not only Williams’ death but also our neighbors well-being brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from Matthew the 15th chapter. To understand our story you need to know that it takes place in Tyre and Sidon which were outside the land of Palestine where Jesus spent most of his life. Within Tyre and Sidon, Jesus would have encountered a very different type of religious people from everyone else he would have encountered previously within his ministry.
Let me tell another story, when I was in Seminary I attended quite a few Minnesota Twins games. I was in school during the Twins run of back to back to back division titles. The Twins closest competitors during these years were the Chicago White Sox. The contrast was stark between the big market; power-hitting White Sox versus the small-market, small-ball Twins. I went to a few games between the White Sox and the Twins in Minneapolis during this time. There was the occasional White Sox fan at the games during these times. White Sox fans were wildly outnumbered by Minnesota college kids who had bought $3 tickets. If any White Sox fans got too-bold, there would be trouble.
I liked nothing better than cheering loudly for the White Sox to get beat with tens of thousands of other Twins fans to back me up. Well, a few years after this, I went to a game at US Cellar Field on the South Side of Chicago right in White Sox territory. 2005 was the year the White Sox had the best record in Baseball and would eventually win the World Series. It’s safe to say that I was a lot less bold in my cheering surrounded by inebriated White Sox fans than I was in home territory.
Our lesson for today takes place in the heart of Gentile territory, amongst the Canaanite people. The Canaanite people engaged in every sort of religious practice that good first century Jews like the disciples would have found offensive they engaged in interfaith marriages, and they sacrificed children. These bad feelings between Jews and Canaanites over their religion had stretched back nearly two-thousand years since the days of Abraham. The idea of a Canaanite going to Jesus for religious wisdom seems about as probable as me wearing a White Sox jersey to Target Field.
There was this woman, and this woman was a piece of work.
One of Robin Williams’ most-famous movies roles was the film Mrs. Doubtfire. In this film, Williams plays an unemployed actor, who is loved by his kids, but considered immature by his wife. The wife played by Sally Field eventually divorces Williams’ character, ending up with sole custody of the kids due to Williams’ irresponsibility. Many people would have heard this news and given up. Williams’ character though was going not to stop until he could spend time with his children. Upon Williams finding out that his ex-wife wanted to hire a housekeeper to help watch the children, Williams decides to fake a resume so that he may pose as an elderly Scottish Nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire as a way to spend time with his kids. What gave this rather silly film its heart was the lengths that Williams’ character was willing to go on a daily basis through make-up, ill-fitting clothing, and continuous awkward situations for the sake of his children.
Jesus encounters a woman in Tyre and Sidon who was persistent just like Mrs. Doubtfire. This woman was sassy; this woman was bold, and this woman dared to approach Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter of demon-possession. The Disciples were probably uncomfortable with this scene as it would have been considered scandalous for a religious teacher to be interacting in such a matter with a foreign woman who wasn’t his wife. Jesus seems to at first shrug off this woman’s request, proclaiming that he could only deal with the sheep of his house the House of Israel. Merely saying no isn’t going to deter Mrs. Doubtfire.
This woman who is the star of our gospel lesson reminds me of the lady at Walmart who even though she might not have had a good case for a refund. She is going to be so annoying that the Clerk eventually just throws their hands up in the air, and opens the cash register.
This Lady was not going to stop pestering Jesus until he dealt with her demon-possessed daughter. This woman was not trying to stop Jesus’ mission to the people of Israel; she was merely asking that he bring his ministry beyond the people of his homeland. What this lady wanted on this day was merely scraps from the Master’s table.
What does this story say to us on this day? I think it reminds us of something important about Jesus’ ministry how he is always finding faith outside the traditional religious establishment of his day. What this story reminds us is that the Kingdom of God is about breaking down boundaries every single day that many people thought to be previously unimaginable.
We face some stiff challenges in the days ahead as a congregation. We’re getting older every day; our numbers have been declining for years and years. We pray that something will turn it all around. We assume that we are not up to the task. Some of us have given up hope. We figure we’re not preachers, we assume that we have no way to reach other people.
Let me tell you a story, there once was a teenager girl named Kate. Kate was the first of her friends to get a driver’s license. One of Kate’s friend’s parents decided that they would let Kate drive their new Ford Explorer so that their daughter and her friends could have a good time. So a group of teenage girls goes out having a good time and being silly in the car blasting music when Kate loses control of the car crashes into a telephone pole. The car is unsalvageable. Kate believes her life to be over. Kate had to first call Mrs. Anderson her friends’ mom to explain everything she had done wrong. Eventually, police arrive onto the scene of the accident. Main officer asked questions to Kate; she confessed the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As every discriminating word came out of Kate’s mouth, she grew more and more convinced that she would wind up in jail. Kate sits in the back of a cop car for 45 minutes, when one of the girl’s parents came up wanting to say something to her. Kate didn’t know Jessica’s dad all that well as he approached her. The only thought that could go through Kate’s head at this time was that now she was going to get everything she deserved. As soon as Kate rolled down the window, the first words out of Jessica’s dad’s mouth were “You know one time; I totaled a Porsche when I was test-driving it.” Kate broke down in tears at this very moment. As Jessica’s dad proclaimed “We’re all just so thankful that no one is hurt. Don’t worry; this happens to all of us.”
As Jessica’s dad spoke forgiveness, this was the first time since the accident that Kate didn’t hate herself. A figure that Kate dreaded as a condemning judge chose to pour out grace and empathy instead.
How do we face the challenges before us a church? We’re going to do what Jessica’s dad did. We’re going to proclaim grace when people become convinced that no one else in the church will proclaim to grace to them. We’re going to speak forgiveness, when people don’t believe they can receive forgiveness. We are going to embrace people when not one other person in the world will embrace them. These things do not promise us success, for Jesus wasn’t successful in earthly terms, the disciples weren’t successful in earthly terms, yet they realized that their proclamation was more important than mere success in earthly terms.
It was not easy for the Disciples today to accept that Jesus dared to reach out to such a strange woman in such a strange land. We are often called to reach out to people whose behavior extends beyond what we might dare to consider acceptable.
Loving someone who has hurt you or even could potentially hurt you is tremendously difficult, yet the most-meaningful love that we encounter in this life doesn’t come without struggle or hurt. The most-meaningful love of all was poured out upon the cross.
So who are we trying to reach this morning? We’re going to try to reach Kate the reckless driver. We’re going to try to reach Terry and Kim the upstanding church couple who accidentally had a kid out of wedlock. We’re going to try to reach Steve, the guy who just got busted with a DUI and now needs rides to work every day. The type of woman that Jesus encounters in our Gospel is the type of person that we need to be encountering, the type of person who pours out all her hurts and needs upon Jesus’ feet.
We will reach people by reminding them that no one person in this room has life all figured out. We will remind them that no matter what brought them to this place, we have a God whose grace is bigger than our weakness. We will remind them that everything that people think they know about religion might very well be wrong. These truths are what Jesus taught the Disciples on this day.
We encounter today the very types of people that would have been in Jesus’ mission field. We’re going to let people know that in the midst of deserving judgment that we still love you and Jesus does too. For ultimately there are more than enough table scraps of God’s grace to go around. Amen
 This joke is based on the 1892 Italian Opera Pagliacci. This story/joke was told in the 2009 film Watchmen.
 Matthew 15:22
 Matthew 15:23
 Matthew 15:24
 Matthew 15:27
 Norris, Kate. “Judgment Kills, Love Gives Life”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 26.Oct.2010. Web. Aug.12.2014. This story is from a collection of stories called Judgment and Love put out by Mockingbird Ministries in 2010.
 These were inspired by a article by Corrie Mitchell at On Faith entitled “5 Churchy Phrases Millennials Want To Hear” published on August 14, 2014
First Lesson: Acts 2: 42-47
Responsive Reading: Psalm 23
Second Lesson: 1 Peter 2: 19-25
Gospel Lesson: John 10: 1-10
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning with a story from my childhood. When I was eight years old, my dad had put up a tree house about seven feet off the ground for my friends and I to use. My parents being quite cautious attached to this tree house a ladder that was meant to be used for every journey up and down from the tree. I had a group of friends from the neighborhood that would frequent the tree house. As a child, I was the most risk averse of the children in our group. My friends Tommy and Danny discovered that they could jump down from the tree house, rather than take a boring ladder. So Tommy and Danny began to jump down quite frequently from the tree house, while I would watch. Tommy and Danny in all their jumps never managed to get hurt, so I believed that I could jump down like them also. So one day, I decided I was going to make my first jump down from the tree house. Now when Tommy and Danny jumped they always managed to jump straight down. They maybe even hung with their legs dangling along the edge before jumping off. I had a different idea for my first jump though; I was going to jump as high into the air as I could, thinking that I would be able to fly like superman. Judging by the title of the sermon as you probably guessed; my first jump would end up being my last jump. Soon I would be an eight year old boy having to use a walker, and the next three months were going to be spent in a cast. What does this tale of my broken leg; have to do with our gospel lesson? I’ll get back to broken legs in a little bit.
Our Gospel lesson for today comes to us from John the 10th chapter. This lesson takes place right after Jesus heals a Man who born blind, the discussion before this miracle between Jesus and his disciples centered on the following question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Our lesson for today occurs right after a long debate regarding the meaning of the Blind Man’s healing. The passage consists of two basic parts. The first part of the passage consists of Jesus describing the work of his ministry in comparison to herding sheep. The second part of this passage makes sense of the analogy.
So why does Jesus seek to interpret the Blind Man’s healing by comparing the people of Israel to sheep?
1. Sheep are vulnerable to attack.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”-John 10:10
Second story- when I was at Luther Seminary, I managed the Seminary Mailroom. One Saturday early afternoon a guy came in who appeared to be frantic. The Guy said he lived across the street from the school; this story seemed plausible with so many different people living either on or near campus. This guy claimed that he had locked himself out of his house, and he needed $20 bucks to pay a locksmith. This guy said he would come back in twenty minutes, and give me $40 bucks to go buy lunch. Being my normal self, I handed the guy twenty without giving it much thought. As you can guess, I never saw this guy again.
As I tell the story I realize how completely sketchy this guy’s story was, and to be totally honest I am somewhat embarrassed to admit it. This story reminds us all though how we often fail to see and recognize the forces both spiritual and earthly that are out to attack us before it is too late to respond.
The reason Jesus compared his followers to sheep is because of the nature of our enemies, how we are often defenseless against the wolves and coyotes of life in sin, death, and the power of the devil. Those who are seeking to destroy our faith along with crushing our spirit.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
We know these words from the 23rd Psalm.
We hear these words and we immediately know they are words of comfort directed at us. Perhaps the greatest image of the Lord being our Shepherd is the Sunday school painting with Jesus holding a lamb in his arms no differently than a mother would hold her child. We see this painting, and it quickly brings us peace. We do not want kids to be done with Sunday school without understanding the meaning of this painting.
For even though none of us probably know shepherds, there are a few things we know about shepherds. We know shepherds as being caring and loyal in every circumstance that comes before them. A shepherd cares for his sheep, no differently than a mother would care for a child that she carried in her womb.
The relation that Jesus speaks of between the sheep and the shepherd only makes sense if one realizes the nature of the very forces which seek to threaten us nearly every single day.
2. Sheep often stray
“All like sheep gone astray”- Isaiah 53:6
I want to tell you this morning the story of a Major League pitcher named Barry Zito. Barry Zito came up with the Oakland A’s and was a star. Two years into Zito’s career, he won the Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the American League. After six and a half seasons in Oakland, Zito signed a seven year contract with the San Francisco Giants for $126 million dollars. Zito’s contract was the richest given to a pitcher at the time that he signed it. Zito’s time though in San Francisco was a disaster. Zito ended up in such low regard that just four years into his contract; he was left off the San Francisco Giants roster as they won the World Series.
Zito had been brought up in a very religious albeit non-traditional religious home. Zito had been brought up in New Age Spirituality. New Age Spirituality tends to place emphases on flowery ideas such as humanity’s inner goodness. Christianity tends to stress humanity’s differences with God; whereas New Age Spirituality tends to emphasize humanity’s oneness with God. The New Age Movement tends to de-emphasize things such as sin, evil, and judgment. The New Age Movement teaches humanity’s problem is one of sheer ignorance, keeping them from reaching their full illumination as individuals.
New Age Philosophy has been brought to the mainstream by people like Oprah Winfrey, Shirley Maclaine, and plenty of 21st century churches. As Zito kept encountering disappointment after disappointment from the highest of highs, he began to reconsider some things about the nature of his faith.
Barry Zito heard that there was no sin, yet such a statement is the very opposite of comforting when all you see around you is darkness.
Barry Zito eventually gets injured.
A few months after Zito’s injury, he was talking to his best friend who told him the story of the shepherd. How a shepherd will be leading his sheep and one of the sheep will be walking astray from the pack. The shepherd will then take the radical step of breaking the sheep’s leg, so that the sheep will have to rely on the shepherd to get better. But once that leg is completely healed, that sheep never leaves the side of the shepherd ever again.
This story illustrated to Barry Zito something important about the nature of faith. Faith is not dependent on our own sense of inner-goodness or motivation, faith is rather dependent on the promises of forgiveness that come to us as strayed sheep in our Gospel.
What Barry Zito’s story reminds us of is something important, Barry Zito needed to truly stray from the path that he designed for his life, to be able to find answers. Zito had to walk along a path that he would have never chosen for himself, yet it was on this path that the Shepherd’s ultimate work was revealed to rescue lost sheep.
3. Sheep need to be guided.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”- Matthew 9:36
The thing about sheep is that they are not dumb animals. The thing that makes sheep, so unique is their inability to act apart from the rest of the sheep. If the head sheep won’t eat, none of the other sheep will eat. Sheep tend to follow the crowd. I saw friend after friend jump out of the tree house; I needed to do it next. When you are eight years old, you will follow your friends over the edge of a cliff. Herd instinct will be stronger than intelligence.
When I was in high school, I was playing in a golf meet talking to a kid that had recently moved to a new small school. This kid’s new school drove him crazy! If one kid had a particular pair of jeans, then within two weeks, everyone else would make it a priority to have the same time of jeans. One kid would smoke, soon everyone else would smoke. Studies about human decision making tend to portray humans as risk adverse in all walks of life, the main reason that humans are so risk-averse is they fear standing out for the crowd.
Sheep at the end of the day are ultimately fearful creatures that will not lie down unless they know that the shepherd is in sight.
“A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”-John 10:5
What our lesson in comparing humans to sheep reminds us of, is our need for a shepherd, a shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.
Our Good Shepherd leads us to the Cross. It is on the Cross, that the Shepherd stays beside those who have strayed from him there whole lives. The Good Shepherd goes before us into the valley of the shadow of death and seeks to call his own sheep by name, so that they may come out upon the other side. Our Good Shepherd reminds us that we shall not go through anything that he has not already endured. On the Cross, the Shepherd became the Sheep, the Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world, who cleanses us from all sin.
“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”-John 10:3-4. Amen.
 John 9:2
 Lannon, Nick. “Barry Zito, a Broken Leg, and the Outer Christ.” MBIRD. 12.Dec.2012. Web.
 Keown, Tim. “A man in the game.” ESPN the Magazine. 1.Dec.2012. Web.
 The Asch conformity experiments of the 1950’s are one of many studies which highlight this general phenomena.
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning by telling a story from when I was in High School. I had gone to meet my friend Josh and we were going to go get something to eat. We decided to go to a place called the Traprock Inn, right across the Wisconsin Border in the village of Dresser not far from where Josh lives. As I’m pulling into Dresser, distracted by talking to Josh, and with very few other cars in sight, right behind me I see bright flashing lights. I pull over to the side of the road when the officer comes up to tell me that I had been speeding, than hands me a speeding ticket.
I got mad! I got mad because I thought this whole thing was totally unfair. I had ridden with friends who would drive windy Chisago County roads at over 100 miles per hour putting people’s lives in danger. Yet, here I was being given a speeding ticket for not knowing where the speed limit changed in a town of 600 people.
My response to all this was not rational. I decided that I was going to go the Polk County Courthouse to fight the ticket. My parents for some silly reason decided to let me skip school to do this. I dragged my Dad and my Grandma to these proceedings.
I was 18 years old, stubborn, foolish, the ticket was given the weekend of a Viking/Packer Game, and figured I had a case. So, my name is called up by the Judge. The Judge asks “Whether I plead innocent or guilty?” I pleaded innocent, never mind I had no case. Never mind, I would be forced to argue against a radar gun and a cop.
I figured persistence would lead to this ticket be dropped.
The Judge amused by this spectacle, asks “If I was really innocent”? “If I was sure that I wasn’t going a few miles an hour over the speed limit?” The Judge than ordered me to meet with the cop where he agreed to drop a few miles per hour off my speed for insurance purposes.
My afternoon at the Polk County Courthouse draws a parallel with our Gospel lesson from Luke the 18th Chapter. In Today’s Lesson you have a Plaintiff standing before a judge without any sort of case, hoping that the judge will relent from the normal way of doing business. Our Lesson consists of Jesus telling a Parable regarding a Widow standing before a Judge.
To understand our Lesson for Today, we need to understand the role of Widows within Ancient Palestine within Jesus’ day. The Author BB Scott describes the Widow as such:
“According to the Customs of the day, a marriage contract stated a husband’s obligation to his wife, and on his death she had the right to be supported out of his estate as specified in that contract. The widow had no legal right to inherit. Normally a husband’s estate would take care of a Widow’s needs. But the normal conditions were by no means universal. Many widows and their children were left destitute. So, common was the state of affairs that “widow” came to mean not simply a woman whose husband was dead, but also one who had no means of financial support and thus needed special protection.”
Consider that the Widow in today’s lesson was so vulnerable, that she had no family to support her even as she went forth before the judge. Consider the character of the Widow versus the character of the Judge. The Judge is supposed to be righteous and impartial.
I know a woman who serves as a Minnesota District Court Judge. She is obsessed with her reputation within the community. She refuses to go to Bars, not because she doesn’t like a cocktail, rather she fears interacting with someone she has previously sentenced. She doesn’t wish to go to church, because she doesn’t want too much attention drawn to her presence. Yet the Judge this Widow went before was different than the average judge.
“In this certain city of which Jesus speaks there resides a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people”-Luke 18:2
This Judge had no reason to hear the case. This Woman owed creditors. .This Widow was so low on the social ladder that any normal judge would have considered resolving her difficulties a waste of time. “In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent’.”-Luke 18:3
The Widow had no legal or coherent case to make. It was the equivalent of when I stood before the Judge in Balsam Lake. The only hope was that the Judge might decide to relent on upholding the law. This Widow was persistent in bringing before the Judge, her request, no matter, how absurd it might have seemed. The Judge eventually relented because the Widow kept on bothering him.
What this parable is meant to speak to is the nature of God. It seeks to compare God to an Unjust Judge. Yet point out how God’s mercy will even far surpass this of the Unfair Judge.
Robert Farar Capon summed up Today’s parable best when he said:
“What does this parable say about God? It says that God is willing to be perceived as a bad God and for no better reason then he wants to get the problems of a world full of losing winners off his back. It says he is willing, while they are still mired in their futile pursuits of the spiritual buck, the moral buck, the intellectual buck, the physical buck, or the plain old ordinary buck, to just shut up about whatever is wrong with them and get the hassle over with. It says in fact what Paul says in Romans 5:8 “While we still sinners, Christ died for us…God simply wants the wet blankets of his back, and to let the party begin.”
Our parable today causes to consider the nature of our own judgment day. Ask ourselves whether we want to receive a fair judgment of our lives or receive an unfair judgment of our lives?
A Just Judge would give the defendant what they deserve in Death and Hell, whereas the Unjust Judge would not. A Just Judge would make sure that the Widow repaid every last penny, where as an Unjust Judge might repudiate the debt. A Just Judge would obsess about the widow’s motives or her sake of repentance, whereas an Unjust Judge wouldn’t care about the self-perceived current state of one’s soul.
Our parable for today is similar to many of Jesus other parables. The Shepherd who seeks the Sheep who wanders off from the fold, the Woman who celebrates finding the coin that she had lost, the Father who welcomes home the Prodigal Son that had blown his wealth.
The focus of this parable is on the nature of God in reaching his chosen ones. How this God will not delay in rescuing and saving them no matter how desperate a situation his loved ones find themselves in throughout the course of their life.
What every one of Jesus parables is to meant to do is challenge the given audience into a wider understanding of how God’s reign transforms the earth. How God’s power is able to reach in the words of Mark Vitalis Hoffman, those who are last, those who are lost, those who are least, those who are little, and those who are ultimately lifeless.
Parables such as our lesson about the Unjust Judge are always defined by a surprising even potentially scandalous outcome regarding the nature of God’s grace. To illustrate this all let me close with a Modern Day parable in The Parable of the Bus Driver.
A while back there was a college student who in pursuit of needing to make a few bucks took a job as a bus driver on the South Side of Chicago. The Young Man soon grew to enjoy this job greatly as he enjoyed the people he dealt with on a daily basis. Although one day this all began to change, as a group of punks or hoodlums got on the bus and refused to pay the fare. This same sequence went on for a few more days. When eventually this Bus Driver sees a Police Officer on the Corner and reports the young punks who refused to pay the fare. The Officer then got on the Bus and made the young hoods pay their fare. The young men didn’t take this act so well and soon began to plot their revenge.
So, then a few days later, the young men stayed on the Bus till the end of the line. They then attacked the Bus Driver. They not only robbed this Bus Driver, they beat him within an inch of his life. This Bus Driver was in such rough shape, he had to spend several weeks in the Hospital recovering from injuries. And deep down inside, the Bus Driver got angrier and angrier at the young men that attacked him. The Bus Driver wondered “what would possess people to act such a way”.
The Bus Driver eventually got out of the Hospital just about the time the Young Punks were about to go to trial for their crimes. The case was pretty clear cut and sentencing was just around the corner. Yet the Bus Driver still deep down was angry and though he’d never be able to forgive these men who beat him.
But then the Bus Driver got to thinking about these Young Punks from the perspective of his Christian Faith. He thought of how he was far from perfect. He began thinking about how much forgiveness had changed him. So, the Bus Driver decided that he was going to something to illustrate the power of the Gospel to forgive sins on the next day at sentencing. The Bus Driver was going to illustrate something about God’s sense of justice and fairness. The Bus Driver was going to illustrate the meaning of Today’s lesson.
So, the very next day, right before the sentence was handed down, the Judge asks the Bus Driver if he had anything he wished to say to his attackers before their sentenced was announced. At which point the Bus Driver stood up and said “Yes your honor there is, I wish for you to add up all the time these young men are going to serve and assign me to serve it in their place.”
Jaws dropped throughout the courtroom. It was so quiet that people could hear the sound of their own breath. The Judge was flabbergasted and barely articulates a response as he muttered “This has never happened before… there is no precedent.”
To which the Bus Driver said “Yes it has” “It happened on the Cross, For You and For Me.”
So, therefore let us give thanks and praise for the sentence of the Unjust Judge. Amen
 Scott, Bernard Brandon. Hear Then the Parable…p.180. Retrieved on October 7th, 2013 from http://www.gettysburgseminary.org/mhoffman/parables/other/UnjustJudgeSWMN.pdf- Mark Vitalis Hoffman
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Justice, Grace, p.332. Retrieved on October 7th, 2013 from http://www.gettysburgseminary.org/mhoffman/parables/other/UnjustJudgeSWMN.pdf-Mark Vitalis Hoffman
 Vitalis Hoffman, Mark. “Parable of the Unjust Judge”. Southwest Minnesota Synod Assembly. 10-11 June 2006. Lecture taken from http://www.gettysburgseminary.org/mhoffman/parables/other/UnjustJudgeSWMN.pdf
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was nineteen, I worked for a summer as a Bible Camp Counselor. This job represented a transition in life for me. For the first time, I wasn’t being the one disciplined; rather I had to be the one doing the disciplining kids not much younger than myself. So, I sought out to think of ways to make the punishments creative and memorable. The perfect solution existed outside the cabin; there was a wood pile for campfires. This wood pile led me to a solution. One time a kid named Jared who was around 15 refused to go along with directions. So, I figured this wood pile would serve as a perfect opportunity to teach a lesson. I took Jared outside and told him that I didn’t like where the wood pile was currently. I instructed Jared to move this whole pile of wood, five feet to the right. Jared moved this wood in about 10-15 minutes. As soon as Jared thought he was done, I told Jared that I didn’t like the way the wood pile looked where he had moved it. I then asked Jared if he could move this pile of wood, five feet to the left. As soon as I made this request, a huge smile came upon Jared’s face. He understood that I didn’t care one iota about where this wood sat. I was instead seeking to convey to Jared the message that you don’t know, how the world works like you think you do. This is the most valuable of lessons for us as Christians.
Last week, I went to visit a friend of mine named Josh. Josh works as a Middle School Teacher. Josh is involved in a very interesting marriage. Josh is married to a girl named Katie. Katie grew up Wisconsin Synod. Katie’s Dad is a Wisconsin Synod Minister. Katie’s Brother is a Wisconsin Synod Minister. Katie’s Sister is married to a Wisconsin Synod Minister. When Josh asked Katie’s Dad for her hand in Marriage, Katie’s Dad said he needed to think about it. He only relented with several conditions placed upon his blessing, most of all an insistence that any kids be baptized as Infants. Josh didn’t see this as much of a problem because he didn’t see the Baptism as nothing more than the act of getting the baby wet. Josh tends to be skeptical of traditional religion. Josh is a strong Christian, yet he views traditional forms of religion as being dead religion. Josh sees too many people going through the motions on Sunday morning and in their everyday lives. Josh believes that Christians need to be expecting dramatic miracles and healings around every corner. Josh believes that if someone really has faith than any sort of life outcome is possible. Josh thinks Christianity is marked by progress of the human potential to become like Christ. So, this is why the notion of Infant Baptism seems so foreign to Josh. What evidence is there that God is really working in the life of a smelly, crying, wailing infant?
Today’s Gospel comes to us from Luke 14. It’s a passage that speaks some very harsh truths about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus associates discipleship with hating one’s mother, father, brother, sister, wife, and children. Jesus speaks of discipleship involving the cost of hating life itself. Jesus defines Discipleship through the act of carrying one’s own cross. What should we make of Jesus words for us, this morning? Jesus language giving about hating one’s family is given for a dramatic effect. It’s a speech that’s given to a large crowd of followers. It’s a speech given to group that Jesus knows will see many people struggle in their faith during the times ahead. To assure people that following Jesus will not be easy. Jesus spoke his words today because too many people were misunderstanding his message. They assumed that following him was going to instantly lead to all sorts of good stuff in return. Where as when Jesus speaks the language of “carrying one’s cross”, he is seeking to remind his followers of the reality of a Christian’s life in the starkest and most honest of terms.
How can we make sense of today’s lesson? I wish to tell you a story about the meaning of discipleship. At the end of the 2011 NFL Season, the Vikings Adrian Peterson suffered a tear of his MCL and ACL ligaments in his knee. There were pundits proclaiming that Peterson will never be the same again. One’s ability to make cuts on these ligaments is essential to being a good NFL Running Back. No one thought that Peterson would be the same type of player in 2012. Only then something remarkable happened. Adrian Peterson was the best player in Football. This leads into an interesting cause and effect.
Week 4 the Vikings are playing in Detroit when a player asks Peterson “Adrian, what are you taking? What juice you using? I gotta get me some of that.” Peterson’s response to the question was “I’m juicing on the blood of Jesus. Faith is what got me to this point.” 
Now to my good friend Josh this statement might serve as evidence that God is really working in Adrian Peterson’s life. God performed a miracle in his recovery because Adrian had faith.
The way that Adrian Peterson portrays his faith is problematic; Peterson goes way beyond acknowledging God for being one of the rare people on the planet with his talent. Where Peterson is wrong is his implication that it’s because of Jesus Juice that he achieved what he achieved. Adrian Peterson is presenting a flawed understanding of how God works in people’s lives. You go over to William Kelley High School and you have nice kids and kids with devout faith. Kids that could pray to get Jesus Juice like Adrian Peterson every single night. Yet these kids will never become Adrian Peterson.
As pointed out by Religion Blogger Matt Patrick, Adrian Peterson’s success is noteworthy because it’s so rare. Number 28’s success is so rare that it doesn’t provide an accurate representation of a normal Christian’s life. A Christian’s life is not marked by MVP awards. A Christian’s life is more likely to be marked with failure, disappointment, and struggle.
The average Christian’s life is marked by wishing that things could be different by the time they get up the next morning. I have no doubt about the sincerity of Adrian Peterson’s faith. The problem with Peterson’s message is that if one places their faith on the basis of their everyday experiences. One’s faith will soon experience crushing blows for which there are no good words to say. The question that needs to be asked today is “Where do we encounter God?” Does God encounter us in victory or failure? Does God encounter us in our MVP awards or does God encounter us in Baptism? These are the big questions.
To answer this question I wish to tell another Football related story. Tony Dungy was a former QB for the Gophers and a former Defensive Coordinator for the Vikings. In 1996, Tony Dungy was hired to take over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before Dungy’s arrival, the Buccaneers weren’t very good. They hadn’t made the playoffs in 14 seasons and were considered the laughing stock of the league. In 1997, Tampa stunned the league as it won its first five games. The season though quickly began to unravel. The Buccaneers had a kicker named Michael Husted who started missing kicks. Husted was not only missing field goals, he was struggling to make extra points. Husted quickly became public enemy number 1 in Tampa. The media and fans shouted how Husted needed to go before it was too late. Any coach other than Tony Dungy would have brought in another kicker.
Tony Dungy had set out that if he ever coached a NFL Team that he was going to model his leadership on the principals of his faith. Dungy was going to seek to encourage rather than threaten. Dungy wished to go against the grain in how he sought to achieve victory and success. Dungy had waited years for his big break. He knew that teams weren’t going to hire him because of his worldview in relating to people. Tony Dungy was going to run his team in his own image, no one else’s.
Tony Dungy knew something much deeper was at work in Michael Husted’s life then just missing kicks. Michael Husted’s Mom was dying of Cancer up in Virginia. Husted thought he could be a professional, yet this burden began to overwhelm him. Husted’s burden carried over to the Football field. After the Buccaneers lost their third straight game due to Husted’s troubles, Husted thought it was all over for him.
The next morning, Dungy called and Husted was sure he was being let go. Dungy’s words were different. Dungy just told Husted “You’re a Buccaneer, you’re part of our family, and you’re our kicker.
The next week, the Buccaneers go up to Indy where Husted makes the game winning kick. Dungy went forward not by ignoring the situation with Husted’s mother. Rather Dungy saw to it that she came to games that season and sat in the box with his wife. Husted’s season turned around as a burden was lifted from him.
Dungy’s story stands out because it is such sharp contrast to how the world normally works. This is the message of the cross. This is the message of our gospel. God reaches us in failure. God reaches not at the moments when we achieve our potential, but rather God reaches us at the moments we understand the limits to our power. When we say the cross is at the center of everything we believe. We are not issuing a statement of belief but rather a statement about life.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is presenting us both with a challenge and an assurance. The challenge is what lies ahead isn’t MVP Awards. What more likely lies ahead are wounds scars, as we journey towards our own inevitable deaths. Yet Jesus offers words of assurances as he promises that your victory has already been won through his death and resurrection. The crosses you carry today are not worthless ventures like moving the wood pile. Your crosses point towards that what you experience today will one day be put to death at the moment of your resurrection.
Luther summed this up beautifully when he proclaimed “God receives none, but those who are forsaken, restores health to none, but those who are sick, gives sight to none, but the blind, and life to none, but the dead… He has mercy on none, but the wretched and gives grace to none, but those who are in disgrace.”
In just a few moments we’ll sing our Hymn of the Day “Onward Christian Soldiers”. This is a hymn that has fallen out of favor in many churches. It’s a hymn that’s seen as glorifying violence. Yet this hymn has nothing to do with earthly warfare. This hymn has rather to do with the spiritual conflict that engages us everyday. It’s a hymn that deals with the reality of sin and evil in our world. It’s a hymn that doesn’t seek to present life in sanitary terms. When people ask how we’re doing too many of us wish to say “fine” or “ok” even as we’re being eaten up inside. “Onward Christian Soldiers” is a hymn that portrays as we go forward from this place today, we do not march alone. We rather march forth led by the Cross of Christ which promises us that God can and will bring victory out of defeat. Amen
 Luke 14:26
 Luke 14:26
 Luke 14:27
 King, Peter. “10 Things I Think I Think: Every Record Means Something’ ” CNNSI. 21 Aug.2013. Web. Sept.3.2013
 King. “10 Things I Think I Think: Every Record Means Something’
 Patrick, Matt. Adrian Peterson’s Theology of Glory (and Why It’s Unhelpful) “ Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 28.Aug.2013. Web. Sept.3.2013
 Yasinskas, Pat. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”. ESPN NFC South blog. ESPN. 12. Jan.2009. Web. Sept.3.2013
 Habib, Hal “On his terms: Colts Dungy stays true to principals”. Palm Beach Post. 23. Jan.2007. Web. Retrieved September 5, 2013 from Wikipedia- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Dungy#cite_note-28
 Yasinskas. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”.
 Yasinskas. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”.
 Yaskinskas. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”.
 Luther, Martin. Weimar Ausgabe 1, p. 183f. Retrieved on September 4, 2013 from http://www.mbird.com/glossary/theology-of-the-cross/
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
A few years ago, a movie came out called Yes Man. Yes Man tells the story of a loan officer named Carl Allen played by Jim Carrey who in the wake of a divorce becomes embittered at the world. Carl’s attitude leads to him becoming isolated from everyone he knew. One day after Carl misses one of his best friend’s engagement parties, Carl is told that unless he changes his ways, he will remain completely alone in life. Such a warning eventually leads to Carl attending a self-help seminar whose keynote presenter challenged the audience to never say “no” to any potential request that came their way. The challenge was given to Carl to say “yes” to every opportunity that came before him.
Get together with his friends? Carl says “yes”. Help plan a Bridal Shower? Carl says “yes”. Learn Korean? “yes”. Take Flying Lessons? “yes”. Start approving any sort of loan no matter how crazy at the bank? “yes”. No matter how uncomfortable the request, no matter what Carl’s first instinct? He was going to say “yes”.
Saying “yes” so many times led Carl to end up in some very uncomfortable situations which made up a lot of the humor in the film. Eventually Carl answers “yes” to an ad for a lead singer for a band, where he ends up meeting a girl who became the love of his life.
Yes Man hits an important point on the meaning of the word “yes”. Yes is the riskiest word in the English Language with all sorts of uncomfortable possibilities and uncertain outcomes that can be issued as soon as you say it.
I was recently talking to a woman who I’ll call Katie. Katie had recently met a guy that I’ll call Matt at work. Katie thought Matt was a nice guy with a good personality so she became interested in a possible future with Matt. Yet Katie quickly became skeptical. Katie started to think back to her past relationships. Katie thought of how she had her heart broken when guys had cheated on her. Katie then began to see flaws in Matt. Matt had been divorced a couple of times already and this raised red flags for Katie. Katie then began to think of her own flaws: her own lack of trust, and a general lack of confidence that Matt could be interested in her. Katie was already saying “no” to herself. Katie’s attitude had produced the worst thing in life an inability to consider the possibility of a “yes”.
This brings us to Today’s Gospel Lesson from Luke the 15th Chapter. Today’s Gospel is ultimately parables of the meaning of “yes”. Today’s Gospel contains two short parables: The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. These parables set up the better known parable in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
When considering the meaning of Jesus’ parables one must remember that these parables were not spoken with the intent of inducing smiles or snickers. These parables were told with the idea to shake up all previous ideas regarding how God actually works.
The novelist Flannery O Connery said it best “When you assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”
Jesus parables were all given in a context intended to shock. The parables for today were told to the Pharisees.
The Pharisees had all sorts of good, religious qualities. The Pharisees were at the Temple every Friday night. The Pharisees avoided all the bad foods that Jews of their day were supposed to avoid like Pork Chops and Cheeseburgers. The Pharisees were often the biggest and most generous of givers.
Yet the Pharisees didn’t fully recognize the nature of their existence. The thing about Jesus’ parables is they aren’t concerned with ethics. The parables of Jesus are concerned primarily with death and resurrection.
For the whole point of Jesus parable to the Pharisees is at the time of their funeral, they could have a beautiful and true eulogy given on their behalf yet this doesn’t change the fact that they’re dead. This doesn’t change the fact that on the very same day as the Pharisees funeral on the other side of town is the funeral of tax collectors and sinners. Now these Tax Collectors and Sinners will have people struggling to say something nice about them at their funeral, yet just like the Pharisees they will also be dead.
The Pharisees body might be prettier. The Pharisees’ death might be mourned to a greater degree. Yet Pharisee, Tax Collector, and Sinner alike will all be brought to the Foot of the Cross. Jesus in these parables isn’t intending to call the actions of the Pharisees bad nor is he intending to support the actions of the tax collectors and sinners as good. Rather Christ Jesus in our parables for today is illustrating much like Carl Allen in Yes Man the reckless, irresponsible nature of whom exactly God will say “yes”.
Our parables for today both involve individuals displaying very strange behavior to pursue lost items.
The first parable is the Parable of the Lost Sheep. In this parable, a Shepherd with 100 other sheep abandons 99 other sheep to the wilderness. The Parable of the Lost Sheep stands out because the Pharisees would have understood that most shepherds would have just dismissed that one lost sheep as a lost cause. The lost sheep would have been unruly and more trouble then it would be worth. The Parable of the Lost Sheep stands out because the Shepherd didn’t think a rate of loss being 1 in 100 was acceptable. The Shepherd had a personnel devotion to this lost sheep and didn’t dismiss the missing sheep as the cost of doing business.
The other parable, The Parable of the Lost Coin tells the story of a woman who stays awake all night to find one missing coin. Not only did this woman spend more time trying to find the coin then it was worth. The woman then throws a celebration for all her friends and neighbors over the coin being found, thereby certainty blowing the value of the coin.
What these parables do is the highlight the nature of grace. These parables highlight the nature of God’s Mercy. These parables highlight the nature of the Gospel. These parables paint a picture of a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness- Exodus 34:6. These parables draw a sharp contrast between our yes and God’s yes.
For example, a few years ago, I interviewed with a church out in a beautiful part of Washington State. As I prepared for the interview, I gradually picked up on background for the congregation. Their previous pastor had been a young man who was a rather successful youth worker that journeyed out there to be a pastor. This congregation set out for this new pastor’s ministry with the highest of hopes. Yet the whole thing quickly began to unravel, this young man was lonely, and this young pastor eventually had a nervous breakdown within several months then was forced to leave the ministry. This brought much pain to the congregation as their best of intentions resulted in nothing more than hurt feelings.
So, as I sit down for this interview, they didn’t proceed to ask traditional interview questions. Every other question was “whether I had a girlfriend?” “Whether I wanted to get married?” “How do I think I’d meet women in a small town in the middle of Washington?”
This congregation had been so badly burned in the past. I left that interview knowing regardless of how good or bad I did, I would never see those people again. I had the least experience, the most unstable home situation, and the most potential to fail. This congregation fully realized the implications of the word “yes”.
The reason that saying “yes” is the riskiest word in life is because “yes” involves potential consequences. When you say “yes” to a new employee, you see the cost right away, but the benefit requires imagination.
When you say “yes” to a spouse, you run the risk of having your heart broken, you run the risk of having your life turned upside down, you run the risk of being dragged kicking and screaming to some undesirable corner of the earth.
Yes is dangerous because yes introduces the possibility of failure and disappointment. Families feud for years because someone fails to meet the inherent demands of some other family member, so our everyday experiences make it real easy to say “no” to other people. 
Where as we run from the word “yes”, the Grace of God is different, where as our “yes” is given with conditions, “the yes” given to us on the Cross is given unconditionally.
William Barclay told the story of a backpacking doctor who had been traveling across Europe for several weeks. Due to the nature of backpacking; this man hadn’t shaved, cut his hair and his clothes had become dirty. People automatically assumed as soon as they saw this man that he was a bum. The young man during his backpacking contracts an illness then eventually passed out along the road. This led to two strangers bringing him to a hospital. Into this man’s hospital room walked two attending physicians. They saw this man’s outwardly disgusting appearance and figured his role in society to be nothing more than a drag upon it. One of the doctors said to other “We’d do this man a favor to let him die”. These two doctors had no idea that this young man was listening to their every word. When this dying young man summed up the Gospel by saying “Never call a man worthless for whom Christ died”. Never put a man beyond the possibility of God saying yes.
Consider the meaning of the word “yes”. Yes is the most hopeful word in the world. Hearing “yes’ is a putting to death all the reasons you tell yourself “no”, all the reasons those around you might tell you “no”, and all the reasons that you think your God might tell you “no”.
Today, we hear two parables about what the word “yes” means. Yes means you will not be abandoned in the fields to fend for yourself. Yes means you will be searched for all throughout the night of our lives. Yes is the answer to God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Amen
 Flannery O'Connor, Collected Works: Wise Blood / A Good Man is Hard to Find / The Violent Bear it Away / Everything that Rises Must Converge / Essays and Letters.
 Patrick, Matt .“The Johnny Football Saga Continues” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 4.Sept.2013. Web. Sept.12.2013
 Taken from http://www.lectionary.org/Sermons/McLarty/Luke/Luke%2015.1-17,%20LostSheep.htm