Sunday, October 2, 2022

You Have All the Faith You Will Ever Need




Increase our faith.

If you think about all the things that Jesus has said up to this point, in the Gospel of Luke, about what it means to be a disciple you can understand why the disciples thought they needed more faith.

Let us take a look at all the things that Jesus has said about being a disciple up until this point.

·        Don't cause little ones (the most marginalized) to stumble

·        Rebuke fellow followers that falter.

·        Also, practice radical forgiveness to each other.

·        Put God first in all you do in life, even ahead of family.

·        Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

·        None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

 

No wonder the disciples are asking for more faith.

Anyone of these things would be difficult to live out, forget about all of them.

This doesn’t even mention being a light to all people or living as salted people.

Maybe something we don't take into account enough is how hard it is to be a disciple of Jesus.

It would seem that we would need lots of faith to do this.

 

And let us be honest with one another this morning.

Most of us are not doing these things.

We are just here trying to get by.

We are just trying to bring up kids, do a good job at work, and love our friends.

And let us be honest those things are hard enough.

I can tell you that is really hard to be a parent.

I can't speak for how hard it was at other times.

But I can tell you it is incredibly hard these days.

It is hard to be a family unit.

And one of the things that makes it so hard is that everyone will tell you how to do it.

And you will see other people on social media and it looks like their lives are so easy and great.

Here is a picture of my perfect child doing the perfect thing.

We don't tell the truth about how hard things really are.

My point is this, I sometimes don't think I have enough faith to just do the basics of life.

 

I don't know if I have enough days to make it through.

And Jesus is asking us to give up our lives, to forgive radically, and to be concerned about those suffering from poverty, hatred, and marginalization.

It is a lot to ask.

And yes I am with the disciples this morning, "I need more faith".

 

And Jesus gives an unsatisfactory answer.

Jesus essentially tells the disciples, and us, that we have all the faith we will ever need.

In fact, we have way more faith than we know.

And that faith has a power that we can't really imagine.

I mean can I really move a mulberry bush with my faith?

Can I throw it into the sea with my faith?

 

Let us assume this morning that Jesus is telling us the truth.

We have all the faith we will ever need.

Let us also assume this morning that you all feel the way that I do, that we simply don't have enough because life is just too overwhelming at times.

How do we bridge this gap?

How do we see what Jesus sees?

 

I know that as I get older and as I have more experiences in life I get to be more and more cautious about what can and can't be done.

It comes from living and experience.

You come to see the limits of your own power, and of your own gifts and abilities.

You also see that other people have the same limits.

You come to see time as something that is not limitless.

And often I will be in meetings and someone will suggest a course of action.

And the first thing that comes to my mind is, "that can't be done".

We don't have the time, energy, and resources to make that happen.

Do any of you experience this?

 

This is different than how I was when I was a young pastor.

My first congregation merged with another congregation.

We came up with a list of things we were going to do as a merged congregation.

Start a preschool, an after-school program, a faith-based community organization, and a day camp.

We had to present this at a conference meeting.

One of the people from another congregation said, "man that seems like a lot of things. I don't think you can do it."

To which I replied, "We are going to do it. It is going to be great."

You know what happened we did all those things and more.

Was it just the foolishness of youth?

 

I don't think so.

I really think I had the faith in God, in our congregation, and in myself to make those things happen.

It came from a deep place of trust in God to give us the strength to do them.

God gave me confidence in people to believe we could.

 

I don't have any less faith now than I did then.

The difference is that I forget sometimes.

I lose that faith in disappointment.

I lose it in the struggles of life.

I lose it in the complications of life.

But it is always there for me to have.

 

With that faith Jesus is right we can do all sorts of spectacular things.

We can forgive.

We can be generous in our giving.

We can care about those experiencing poverty.

We can care about our marginalized neighbors.

We can put God first in our lives.

We can move mountains.

 

But maybe more important we can do all the other things we are called to do too.

We can be loving parents, caring spouses, thoughtful friends, and helpful co-workers.

With faith, we can actually make it through each day doing the things God asks us to do.

We can get through life's most difficult things.

We can grow every day into the people that God calls us to be.

 

You don't need increased faith, you just have to use the faith you already possess.

You were given it in your baptism.

It is renewed by the Holy Spirit every day.

I think our faith does three things for us.

It gives us comfort to face life's difficulties.

It is important to know God is there for you.

It gives us the courage to face life's challenges.

It is important to know that God is pushing us to love and forgive more.

It gives us assurance to overcome our fears.

We need to know that God's love is always there for us so that we can overcome our fear of failure.

And if we do fail it is ok.

 

So may you know that you have all the faith you will ever need.

May that faith give you comfort, courage, and assurance.

May that faith help you in all your life's endeavors.

May it challenge you to be more generous, more forgiving, and more loving.

May it keep you following Jesus all the days of your life.

Amen

 

 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Seeing Grace Through Those Experiencing Poverty




 I don't know about you but when I read our Gospel for this morning I instantly feel convicted.

The rich man in the parable feasted sumptuously while Lazarus begged at his door.

I know that I feast sumptuously all the time.

I have talked many times about my love of food.

What are we to do this morning with Jesus' parable?

It would seem that all of us who have means are in trouble here.

As a Lutheran, this text is challenging because it seems to suggest some connection between my behavior towards the poor and my getting into heaven.

I believe that getting into heaven is a gift, a free gift of God's grace that does not depend on my behavior.

What is going on in this parable?

What are we to make of it?

 

To me, the key to this parable is the chasm that exists between the rich man and Lazarus.

In life, there was a chasm between them.

One of them ate and lived a lavish life.

One of them had all they needed.

And because of that wealth and privilege didn't see the poor man at his door.

Not only that but did not care about the plight of this person experiencing poverty.

It would seem the issue here is one of being able to see, it is about bridging a chasm.

 

And we have to be honest there are all sorts of chasms between other people and us.

Some of it is cultural.

It is about what we grow up with, and understand to be how life should be.

We can't always see the goodness of others through our cultural experiences.

Some of it is economical.

We don't really know what it is to experience poverty.

We can't see why someone would make certain choices about life.
We can't understand why they just don't work harder.

And of course, there is just a chasm of people with a different understanding of the world.

There is a chasm of misunderstanding one another.

 

The issue in our Gospel this morning is how we bridge those chasms.

How do we connect with people who are not us?

How do we see other people, as people?

 

I want you all to know that one of the reasons I was so fired up about bringing Family Promise to Concord was so that we as a congregation would have an opportunity to be around people experiencing poverty.

Often times when we help people experiencing poverty we are removed from the people themselves.

We give money, or a can of food, or a coat we don't need anymore.

We do this without ever having to get close to the actual people.

It is through Family Promise we could bridge the chasm that exists between us and people trying to survive without all the resources we have.

I was hoping that through that experience we would come to see the issues faced by the families we encountered through Family Promise.

Over the years talking to those families I know I got a better sense of what they were facing.

 

First of all, we must say that poverty is violence.

It is violence because it dehumanizes people.

It puts them into a category.

And we as a society tend to view those living in poverty as lazy, mentally ill, or having a substance abuse problem.

Those things might be true for some people, but it is a shallow analysis of the problem.

It takes away the societal systems that lead to poverty.

It does not take into account that poverty in most cases is generational.

It is passed down.

And it does not take into account the uniqueness of each person.

 

I have seen in Family Promise how poverty robs so many of making choices.

How it makes families live in chaos.

How it makes families have to really work extra hard for just the basic amount of human needs.

Poverty robs us of what is most precious and needed in life.

 

This is Jesus' point.

Because in Jesus' day, just like ours, many religious people believed that people that lived in poverty did so because they deserved it.

They had done something wrong.

They didn't live the righteous life that God demanded and their poverty was because of this.

Jesus teaching this morning directly contradicts that idea.

In the text, Lazarus is rewarded with eternal life in heavenly glory, while the rich man ends up in eternal torment.

This would have been a shocking twist to Jesus' hearers.

 

In this way, the text is infused with grace.

What we do on this earth is not about rewards and punishment.

Those who are given eternal glory are given it only because of God's grace.

It is not earned through a righteous life.

What we think on this earth of as success might not be what God thinks is successful.

We treat people living in poverty as a problem to be solved, God treats them with grace and love.

 

For me, this is the takeaway for today.

That it isn't about trying to earn my way into heaven.

It is about living out the grace that God has given unto me.

It is about seeing in others God's grace present.

It is seeing all the world through those eyes.

And in doing that we close the chasm that exists between us.

If God is in all people then I can see and appreciate each person for who they are.

 

I can overcome my economically privileged place.

I can see other people who are begging at my door.

And I can advocate for people living in poverty.

I can work for a more equitable and just world.

I can see.

But none of that is done to make favor with God.

Jesus tells us that we have everything we need to know God's goodness to us.

We know what God expects of us.

We have been given the grace to know God intimately and deeply.

We know that God deals with the world through mercy and grace.

The problems come when we don't know that.

It comes when we think we have earned our privileged life, instead of it being a gift.

 

Jesus is telling this parable to rich religious people.

He is telling it to people like you and me.

And trying to get them, and us, to see that it really isn't about doing the right things so God will reward you.

But living in the understanding of God's grace.

 

That is how we bridge the chasm.

Not through trying to be good, but by seeing God's action in the world.

It is through seeing other human beings that are different from us as God sees them.

It is through the law, prophets, and the resurrected Christ that we know of God's love and grace.

It is through our faith in that God that we bridge the chasm.

May all of us be able to see our neighbor, and act with grace and love as Jesus would.

Amen

 

 

 

 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

We Need to continue to learn to be "Good People" in this complex world


 I have a lot of conversations with people that don't go to church and are not really interested in going to church.

One of the main reasons they give for not going to church is that they will say that they have learned everything there is to know about being a good person.

Someone will often say to me something like, "I am a good person. I know what is the right thing to do so I don't need church."

I have given other sermons about how the church is not about being a good person.

But today I want us to think together about what it would actually mean to be a good person in the world.

 

Our Gospel for this morning is for me a good example of why we have not learned all there is to know about how to navigate the world we live in.

Jesus tells a fascinating parable.

A parable that is not easy to interpret.

And says even, "Make for yourselves friends of dishonest wealth."

That seems like a really weird thing to say.

What is Jesus talking about this morning?

What is Jesus trying to get us to see?

 

I want to say off the top that every commentary I read about this text also struggled with the exact lesson that Jesus is teaching.

But in order to understand we first need to understand the economic system of first century Palestine under the occupation of the Roman Empire.

In that system, there was the super-rich.

They owned the land.

And they hired people to manage that land.

The rich owners of the land also paid a tribute to Rome in order to keep that land.

They passed that expense onto peasants who worked the land, by charging interest on goods and services they borrowed.

The managers would also charge interest on what ordinary people borrowed from the land owners.

This system actually reminds me of sharecropping in the south after the civil war.

Where the people actually working the land could never get ahead because the land owner charged them for everything.

In the story we see the manager offer the people at the bottom of this system a way to pay off their debts without interest.

In this way, he helps the people struggling under the unjust system of the Roman Empire.

Another thing we should mention is that under Jewish law it was forbidden to lend people money with interest.

It is in the Bible that we should not be lending people things with interest.

The Bible sees this as an unjust system, and the manager in the story had forgotten the teachings of his ancestors.

There is a lot going on.

It is complicated.

But for me that is the point.

 

We too live in a complex world.

It is a complex world economically, politically, and socially.

How will we as people of faith navigate our way through it?

How do we know we are doing the right thing?

How do we know that we are "good people"?

 

The thing about being a "good person" is that we all believe we are good people.

I don't know anyone who has ever said to me, "You know pastor I am a real jerk."

We are good at convincing ourselves that whatever we think or do is the right thing to think or do.

I would argue this morning that the only way we can check ourselves is by continuing to learn.

It is through continuing to understand how God works in our lives, and how that helps us navigate this complex world.

 

That begins in Sunday School.

It begins when we are just learning about the world.

And it starts in very stark terms.

When kids are young, we know that developmentally they see the world through right and wrong, good and bad.

Think about the way kids talk.

They will say, "Hey that is not fair".

I remember when my kids were younger and they would say that to me.

I would often respond, "Yeah, the world is not fair."

Because as we grow we see the world in much richer colors.

We see that there is not always a simple choice between right and wrong.

We make compromises.

We can understand that not everyone sees and understands the world the way that we do.

Hopefully, we come to see that what really holds things together is not an absolute, but rather grace.

Grace to help us navigate our lives.

 

Grace that helps us to be shrewd in this life.

Shrewd enough to see injustice and expose it for what it is.

Grace that helps us to see every person as a child of God.

Grace that helps us to see that God is more important than wealth.

 

Jesus this morning only asks us to be shrewd enough to see through the lies of the world.

Jesus asks us to be shrewd enough to be able to see through the lie that "greed is good".

Jesus asks us to be shrewd enough to put God's grace first in our lives.

And it is here together that we learn those lessons.

It is here where we grapple with complex issues together.

 

This is what I love about Bible study.

We will always come across texts like our Gospel this morning.

Texts that challenge us to think about God differently, or our lives differently.

Texts that challenge us to ask hard questions about if we are good or not.

Because being good in this world is harder than you would think.

It isn't just about being nice.

(Just to be clear being nice is good.)

But God demands of us something more.

We are called to be patient, humble, loving, joyful, hopeful, and grace-filled.

We are called to care for the least among us.

To welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the widow, and uplift the broken-hearted.

Anytime I get to spend with people experiencing poverty I am always amazed at the ways they are fighting to survive.

I am amazed at the systems they developed to stay alive and change the economic systems of the world.

And they do it with creativity, grace, and love.

It is really an amazing thing to see.

 

I only hope that God gives me the ability to be shrewd in this world.

God helps me to learn how to fight against oppressive systems.

God helps me not to become complacent, just because I have all the things I need in this world.

 

As we kick off this year of Christian Education, let us be mindful of why it matters.

It matters because we live in a very complex world.

Even more complex than that of the wealthy landowner and manager in the first century.

We live in a world where we can be doing what we think is the right thing and not even realize the damage it is doing to others.

But that is why we need God, it is why we need church, to grow and learn.

 

We come here on Sundays with a desire to grow into the fullness of God's grace.

For that grace to be what we take into the complex world.

So that we become shrewd in how we go about our lives.

This year may we all continue to learn and grow into the fullness of God's grace.

Let us not fall into the complacency of thinking we are good people, but through God's grace be willing to learn about how we might learn to be God's people in this complex world.

Amen