Monday, September 27, 2010

Lazarus at your gate

Being a Christian means different things to different people.
Some Christians are politically conservative.
Some Christians are politically liberal.
Some Christians are neither.
And some like Lutherans are not really sure.
We see this all the time in any one of a number of issues.
Pro-choice versus pro-life, Anti homosexual versus pro-gay rights, Guns versus non guns, etc….
Not only on political issues but on theological issues we see a wide range of opinions.
We see Christians that baptize babies and those that baptize adults.
We see born again Christians, and main line Christians.
Some Christians believe that Communion is just a remembrance, and some believe that the elements of bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
There is a wide spectrum of belief and practice within Christianity today.
And it has always been this way, and probably always will be.
But there are two things that all Christians of any political ideology or theological position can agree on.
Whatever else Christianity may mean there are two things that all Christians believe in.
One is that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.
No matter what denomination you are in, no matter how your Christian understanding is played out politically, theologically, or practically all Christians say that Jesus is their Lord and Savior.
All Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins.
And the second thing is that all Christians believe in helping the poor.
One cannot be a Christians without this being part of who they are.

This morning we see in our three readings just some of the overwhelming Biblical evidence that calls us to help the poor.
The Bible sometimes will say contradictory things about modern day subjects.
For example, the Bible is contradictory on whether or not a woman is allowed to be a leader in Church.
In some places, in the Bible, women are told to be quiet and not speak.
Like in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 where it says, “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.”
But in other parts it is clear that women are taking on leadership roles in the Church in Romans 16 Paul commends a list of women as his fellow workers in Christ.
So on that issue we can use our modern day brains and our reason to come up with the best practice based on what we know now.
But this is not so with the issue of poverty to be a Christian, to follow Jesus Christ means to be concerned about the poor.
The Biblical witness is overwhelming.
We see it in the prophets of the Old Testament.
Amos tells us this morning that those “who are at ease” will be the first to go into exile.
Those who are rich and think they have no worries; those who see nothing wrong and do nothing to fix it are the ones that God calls to action now.
In the letter to Timothy the rich in church are called to share what they have and do good.
The church is told not to make riches our goal, but the kingdom of God.
And finally in the story of the Rich man and Lazarus Jesus warns in a parable about seeing the need of the people at our door and helping them.
The problem with the rich man is not that he is rich.
It is that he does not see his fellow human being begging at his gate.
The rich man takes no account of Lazarus or his pain.
And therefore does nothing to help the one who begs at his gate.
It is not that he has riches, but that he does not use his riches to help others.

For all of us here this morning we are rich.
We have more then we need.
Sometimes it might not feel that way.
I know that it is a monthly struggle for my family to pay the bills, but the truth is I have more then I need.
God has given me riches beyond measure.
I have a roof over my head, three meals a day, clothes to wear.
Beyond this I have money to give away, I have money to buy luxury items, I have money to go on vacation.
And it is my responsibilities to help others were I can.
I am rich.

In fact if you go to the website and put in your income it will tell you where you are in comparison to other people in the world.
I put in our families income and we are in the top .8% of the richest people in the world.
You all know what I make it is no secret.
It was shocking to me how much I make in comparison to the poorest in the world.
You see I am the rich man.
And the question that I have to ask myself is who is the Lazarus sitting at my gate?
Who are the people I ignore?
Who are the people I take no notice of?

One thing we can know is that Jesus never loses concern for the poor.
Jesus asks us not to be apathetic, or hopeless.
This is the attitude of the rich in all our readings, but especially the rich man in the Gospel.
There is no need to act, or do anything for the one who is in need.
I think that this is one of the great spiritual problems of our day.
We are all a little angry and tired of dealing with politics and politicians.
I don’t like the way they express themselves, but we can all understand the frustration that lies beneath the tea party movement.
We all know that it seems hopeless in this world to try and do anything.
After all we will always have poor people.
Not to mention that the statics are overwhelming.
1.1 Billion people are forced to survive on less than a dollar a day.
Consider that the avg. salary for a worker in the US is $91.00 a day.
Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes-one child every five seconds.
11 million children die of preventable illness- that is one every 3 seconds.
These are children whose lives could be saved with simple medicines of immunizations, if their families could afford them.
But these are just numbers and we have all to some extent become numb to numbers.
In fact, we have all become numb which has only fueled our complacency.
But if we take Jesus parable seriously this morning complacency about the poor is really not an option.

I believe we all can do something.
I believe that we all have the power to make some real powerful changes in the world.
Yesterday, our congregation once again participated in the Concord’s CROP walk.
We walked with 25 other faith communities and about 150 other people.
We raised $12,266.
What I loved most about yesterday was the attitude it takes to come out on a Saturday, raise money, and walk.
Forget the numbers what matters more is that all the people that walked believed that they could do something in this world for someone else.
They had hope that the simple act of walking would make the difference to someone that they did not know.
More than anything the CROP walk is an act of defiance against hopelessness and apathy.
It is an act that says I care about people all around the world suffering from the effects of poverty, and I can and will do something about it.

Did it end poverty?
That will take more walks and more time.
But what it did was stop us from becoming complacent in our lives.
We can say to Jesus that we did care, and we took steps (literally) to do something for the Lazarus at our gate.

Our congregation is working hard on these issues.
We do care about the poor here at Concordia Lutheran Church.
There are many ways for you to get involved for you do something that will show that you too are hopeful and are taking action to help the poor.
I am proud to be part of this congregation that will not stand ideally by and watch people suffer.
We will do something.
Because we are Christians and that is what Christians do.
We believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and we take care of the poor.
We follow Jesus therefore we act to help those in need.
We will see the Lazarus at our gate and act to help because we believe in Moses, the prophets, and most important Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Shrewd Thinking

I have to tell you this morning that our Gospel reading from Luke is one of the hardest most challenging Gospels there is.
What makes it difficult is that Jesus seems to be commending someone who has been dishonest in their business dealings.
The verse that always perplexes me is Verse 9 “And I tell you make friends for yourself by means of dishonest wealth.”
Someday I am going to a sermon series of all the things Jesus says that makes us “what did he just say?”
Does Jesus really want for us to make friends for ourselves by means of dishonest wealth?

I think we should start by saying that we live in a complex world.
What I like about this parable is that it is honest about the world we live in.
It acknowledges right off the top that we live in a world that has in it people willing to do anything for themselves or for money.
We live in a world where what is right and wrong is not always black and white.
For example, my father worked for 25 years at Sears.
Every time there was a big sale my Dad would go to work early because that meant they had to mark everything in the store up 10% so they could then sell it for 10% off.
On the other hand that job helped my father provide for his family, it put food on our table, a roof over our head, and gave us a little extra to give away.
Jesus is not being cynical about the world he is being honest.
Jesus knows that his disciples are going to have face some difficult moral decisions in their lives after his death, resurrection, and ascension.
And this parable perhaps is preparation for that life because it tells us to be shrewd.
Notice in the parable that Jesus never commends the manager for lying and cheating.
Instead he commends him for being shrewd.
And for me this is where the parable turns.
“for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
This is so true.
People in the world who are out to make money, out to sell us all kinds of things are simply better at it then the Church.
Think about how much advertising our children are stuffed with everyday, and that is even without turning on the television.
Think about the way we are sold things we don’t need for problems we don’t have.
This years in shoe is low healed, next years will be high healed.
You certainly need a new computer because the one you bought five years ago is terribly out of date.
Certainly we would not look good or be cool without this vehicle or that one.
This is nothing to say of the way we are sold easy sex and easy answers at every turn.

To be a child of the light in this vast landscape will take shrewdness on our part.
Shrewdness is sometimes seen as a bad thing.
But the word really means: having or showing sharp powers of judgment.
To be shrewd means that we can see the world for what it really is a fake superficial money hungry, self serving, place.
To be shrewd means that we can see the importance of using what we have for good, and for the kingdom of God.

A friend of mine told me this story recently about a scam his family had run on them.
It seems that a couple of people tried to pull a scam on his grandmother.
What they did was follow around his cousin we will call him Vinny.
They learned everything they could about his background, about where he went, who he talked to, where he went to school, where he worked..etc.
Then they called his grandmother and told her that Vinny was in jail and they needed the money to bail him out right now.
They were really convincing.
The grandmother was about to write a check as she was distraught about her grandson being in prison.
Luckily my friend’s mom was visiting his grandmother when these guys called.
She was able after a long time to figure out that this was not right.
When he told me this story my initial reaction was how said that people use their time, energy, and money to do evil things in the world.
What would happen if more people put time into doing good, into helping others, into working for the kingdom of God.
I think that is what Jesus is trying to get us to see in this parable this morning.
If the people of this age are so shrewd in doing bad, shouldn’t we who are the children of light be just as shrewd in doing good.
Shouldn’t we work just as hard to figure out ways to get people to do the right thing, and shouldn’t we be just as smart about it.

One of the things that I know takes shrewdness is parents getting their children to Church.
I know all of the things that kids say about Church (probably because I said them when I was a kid), “It is boring”, “I don’t like it there”, “I would rather be doing something else.”
I know that it is hard as a parent to convince your child that coming to church is somehow more important than all the other things that the world tells them is important.
I mean kids don’t get the payoff.
In our world everything is about instant gratification.
Feel good now, be better today, look good, dress good, be good.
And church is an exercise in the long haul.
The benefits are not immediate nor are they always visible to the naked eye.
Jesus is talking about being shrewd so we can have our reward in our eternal home.
I just don’t think kids think that far ahead.
But we must be shrewd with our children.
We must help them see the long term benefits; we must help them know the goodness that comes in coming to church.
For statistically speaking (and of course nothing is ever guaranteed) kids that have a religious grounding and have parents that model faithful behavior are less likely to partake in risky behavior, are more likely to be close to their parents, are more likely to do better in school, are more likely to have a positive attitude, are more likely to have positive self attitudes.
In other words having our children in church is good for them.
The benefits far out way the negative.
That is why I am so glad that we here at Concordia see our children as an asset.
This is why a good Sunday school with dedicated teachers is so important, because it give our children an important instrument in their lives.
It gives them the ability to be shrewd when they grow up and face the world on their own.
It helps them to have sharp powers of judgment.
Having a religious community to belong to and that cares about them will give our children the tools to be able to see the good from the bad, and seek the good in their own lives.

I know this now more than ever as a father.
For to be a parent in today’s world to help our children fight off the messages that those out to make money are bombarding them with means to have to teach more carefully, to love more deeply, and to instill in them the knowledge of God’s love.
I think this especially of my daughter Phoebe.
The things that our culture says to women are just appalling to me.
The things that our world tells women they have to be in order to be good enough is immense.
As I get older I think of the need for shrewd thinking.
The world tells us that getting old is bad, ugly, and useless.
But our faith gives us the tools to know that getting old is just part of life.
That it is not a curse but a blessing to be able to retire, to travel, to hand over things to the next generation.
I know that we are up to facing these challenges because I believe that we have all the tools in order to be shrewd.

We have been given these tools by God as a gift.
God has given you the tools in your faith journey to be able to handle the world.
God has claimed you as God’s Child in Baptism, God has given you his Word, God has sent his only Son for you, and God has blessed you with gifts and passions.
Now the only question is will we use them to be self serving or will you use these things to make friends so you will be welcomed into your eternal home.

Let us be shrewd.
Never tiring of doing God’s work.
Never wavering from living as Children of the light.
Let us live in the sure and certain hope of knowing that God has given us all we need to have sharp powers of judgment to make it to our eternal home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why I Walk in the CROP Walk

The problems of the world often seem overwhelming war, famine, environmental disasters. It appears as if there is nothing we can do to stop poverty and suffering. This is not true. We can all do something. It might seem small, but giving of time and money to help those in need sends a powerful message. We say that we still have hope in a better tomorrow. I am walking in our towns annual CROP walk for this reason to say that there is something I can do and it matters to others.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Time to Count the Cost

This week I read an article sent to me over Facebook called, “More teens becoming “fake” Christians.”
The author says that teenager are being taught and sold Christianity as “divine Therapy”.
Instead of Christianity being about sacrifice and good moral behavior
it has come to be about God making us all feel good.
Reading this morning’s Gospel we see the problem.
Jesus call to us to follow him is radical.
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
Wow! Did Jesus really say that?
What are we to do with this radical call of Jesus?

First of all I am guilty of preaching about divine therapy.
And I make no apologies for it.
There are times when God needs to be our comforter.
There are times when we need God to tell us that everything will be OK.
The message of the Gospel is that God loves us no matter what.
This is the message of grace.
As a Christian Lutheran it is the core of our message to the world and our part in the larger body of Christ.
This is why I am Lutheran and not a Baptist, Roman Catholic, or some other Christian denomination.
I find my spiritual food in the message of grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
I don’t want to have to worry about my salvation or yours.
I am glad that God has already taken care of that through Jesus Christ.
It is good therefore that teens think of God as someone whom they can turn to when they are in trouble.

I think of a man who came to see me this week.
He was in a wheel chair.
He told me that his whole life he knew Jesus and that he had a hard life but because of Jesus he has made it through.
While we were together he prayed a beautiful prayer about knowing the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ.
And Jesus has to be that for us.
Jesus is our therapist in many ways the one we give our troubles to, the one we turn to when things look bad, the one who takes away our fear and grief.

But I agree that this cannot be all that our faith is about.
It is part of it, and a big part, but not all of it.
This morning we hear from Jesus about the other side of our faith journey.
It is the part that calls us out of ourselves into being part of something larger.
Jesus calls us to follow him, to be his disciples but cautions us about what it means to take that journey.
When we start to follow Jesus something does happen to us.
We begin to priorities our lives differently.
Things that once seemed the most important take a back seat to following Jesus Christ.
We begin to see the world as more then ourselves and our priorities.
Our lives are not merely about our families.
Because our families as good as they are cannot consume all of our time, money, and energy.
As good as they are Jesus calls us beyond our families.

Our lives when we follow Jesus become about more than our possessions and the things we have and own.
It becomes about taking up the cross and following Jesus.

And perhaps we have not thought enough in our lives about the cost.
We have not done what Jesus tells us smart people do before they set out to do something big.
We have not thought about what it means to be a disciple and to follow Jesus.
We have not taken into account all the costs.

I can tell you lots of stories about people I have known who are wonderful examples of what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
I have known lots of people who gave up lots of things in life to help others, to grow their church, to follow Jesus Christ.
I know many people in this congregation that give lots of themselves for Jesus.
Many of you put Jesus first in your lives.
I have seen it here over and over again.
I am so impressed that people come here right after a hard day at work or home and are still willing to put in the work to make sure this congregation is a place of God’s love.
I have been impressed that many people in this congregation think of Jesus and their discipleship as a priority in their lives.
I could tell you lots of stories about such people in this congregation.
But I wouldn’t want to embarrass or single anyone out.
So I want to tell you about a disciple of Jesus I knew from my internship church.
Even in that church I could have picked many people to talk about this morning.
But this morning I want to tell you about Ms. Rene.
I should say from the outset that in no way was she a perfect person no one is.
But what she had was this passion for serving Jesus.
She ran the nursery school at the church and she was the first one there at 6 am.
She often was at Church until 9pm.
She started a ministry of bringing food to the homeless that lived in downtown Philadelphia.
She insisted that we cook a full meal.
So once a month people would gather at the church and cook fried chicken, collard greens, corn, mashed potatoes, and pack it up and travel around Philadelphia handing out food.
She never asked for anything in return.
She was a quite person who did her work with dignity and respect of others.
She amazed me every day in the amount that she gave of herself for Jesus.
She taught me about discipleship about giving of oneself for others and the sake of the Gospel.
This is what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

Every one of us is different so we cannot all be like Ms. Rene.
We are all called in our own way to find out what it means to live with Jesus Christ as our priority.
What does it mean for your family to give up things it wants in order to pick up your cross and follow Jesus Christ?
What does it mean for our congregation to follow Jesus and give up what is holding us back?

I think it is crucial to have this conversation with our children and with one another.
Next time your family has a decision to make why not ask the question,
What is Jesus calling us to do?
Often times when I was a kid I would ask for something I wanted.
My parents would often stop and ask me this question.
For example, I once wanted to play football.
We had a discussion about what football would mean to our worship life.
My parents were clear that in our family Church came first and if football got in the way of church then I could not play.
Same thing happened when it was time for me to start confirmation.
I wanted to play basketball but my parents told me only if I didn’t miss confirmation.
Everything was in relationship to how it would affect our faith life.
I didn’t like that very much when I was a teenager.
But today I am grateful that they helped me count the cost.
My parents taught me to put God first (not that I always do it unfortunately).

I can’t tell you what it will be for you.
I can’t tell you what your discipleship will cost you.
But Jesus’ point this morning is that it will cost us something.
Maybe relationships, maybe sports dreams, maybe money, maybe our time.
Jesus words are meant to shock us, they are meant to throw our priorities into question.
What do I spend my money, time, and energy on?
If you know the answer to this question then you know what you value most.
And Jesus this morning is asking us to value him above all else.

So this morning let us go forth from here ready to follow Jesus.
Let us be hear the call to be disciple’s of Jesus.
Let us count the cost so we are ready to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.