On Sheep, Coins, and Being Lost

Luke 15:1-10 – The 17th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, September 11, 2016

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

lambAfter Jesus spun the story about the solitary sheep that wandered away, and after Jesus coined a yarn about a woman searching for missing silver, Luke—and only Luke—invited one of the Bible’s most famous dysfunctional families onto center stage.

Ah, the parable of the “Prodigal Son.”

But, like this week’s formal lectionary readings, I won’t dwell on that familiar account. Nonetheless, it can’t be totally ignored since it immediately followed two shorter parables, expanding on their themes with memorable characters: a generous father, his greedy younger son, and the serious—and angry—older son. Luke’s chapter 15 is a trinity of tales of the lost and found.

And yet isn’t this chapter even more about those who hear (or read) these narratives and wonder if it matters to them?

In Luke, there are three groups of listeners.

The first are the “tax collectors and sinners” that hear Jesus’ story and smile or frown, nod or shake their heads, but hardly recall anything about sheep or coins by their next meal.

The second are the “tax collectors and sinners” who listen to Jesus and everything will change.

The third group includes the usual suspects of the “Pharisees and legal experts.” They grumble about Jesus. He’s a loser. He prattles on about meaningless subjects. He should find a real job.

Those in the third group are like the Trump voters chanting that Clinton should be “locked up.” They are the Clinton voters dismissing Trump as a bully and buffoon. Intransigent, these two sides of the same coin can’t (or won’t) learn anything from another that doesn’t conform to their fixed worldview. The third group is also the folks in the pews that mutter a version of the seven last words preventing new ideas in church: we’ve never done it that way before. Continue reading →

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I Hate You

Luke 14:25-33 – The 16th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, September 4, 2016

“Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

i-hate-you-imageThere is my voice . . .

I hate you! Hear me as a seven-year old kid yelling at my older sister because she did or didn’t do something that seemed unfair.

I hate you! Hear my anguished thoughts about my soon-to-be-former wife (who I no longer loved, honored, or obeyed) as I staggered through a divorce in my mid-twenties.

There are other voices . . .

I hate you! Hear the malicious anger of a white male in 21st century America who is convinced a woman or person of color or gay man received preferential treatment for a new job and/or a raise.

I hate you! Hear the Trump supporter belittle Clinton. Hear the Clinton supporter demean Trump. Hear or read the regular, relentless, roiling, raging voices streaming through flat screen televisions and high-tech phones and tablets, as 24/7 attacks are unleashed on “the other.”

Are you a Christian?

I am.

Oh how I (try, try, try to) follow Jesus. Continue reading →

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The Preacher

Jeremiah 2:4-13 – The 15th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, August 28, 2016

“. . . the prophets spoke in the name of Baal, going after what has no value.” (Jeremiah 2:8)

pulpitThe preacher lowered his head. The congregation probably assumed he was praying, but he was pondering his scuffed shoes. The left one had a broken shoelace. He didn’t have time to find the stash of used and new laces his wife kept in the bedroom. Instead he’d rethreaded the frayed lace and cinched it as tightly as he could. And then the preacher hurried to the car, late again.

Every day felt frayed.

The thirty-something woman who’d just read the passage from Jeremiah at the lectern returned to her front pew seat. She smoothed her red plaid skirt.

The preacher had watched the congregation when she spoke the verses that had unsettled him as he worried over his sermon:

The priests didn’t ask,
“Where’s the Lord?”
Those responsible for the Instruction didn’t know me;
the leaders rebelled against me;
the prophets spoke in the name of Baal,
going after what has no value.

No one in the pews had stirred at the harsh judgment. No one sat straighter. No one appeared guiltier or humbled. Had the words become merely numbing, numbered sentences from a cranky old prophet kept in a book most claimed to revere but mostly ignored?

Continue reading →

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