Epiphany Moments

Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12 & Matthew 2:1-12

God speaking through the prophet Isaiah tells His children to “Rise and shine!  Your light has come!” even though at that time Messiah had not yet come and they still were enveloped in darkness.  

In our Gospel reading we read that Jesus is born in dark times.  Don’t skip over the line of our Gospel, “In the time of King Herod…” Herod was a cruel king who killed innocent children and others at will.  His was an oppressive reign of terror.

Yet mystically and magically men—foreign dignitaries who studied the stars—travel countless miles to find Jesus.  They come saying, “We observed His star at its rising…”  In the darkness God was at work.  Amidst the political, social, personal horror of a world gone awry God enters the scene.

Matthew says when the magi find the place where Jesus is born they were thrilled with excitement. “When they saw that the star had stopped they were overwhelmed with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).

In this crazy world God shouts through the prophet Isaiah:  Rise and shine, people of God, your light has come!  

God has come to us in the here and now.  We have questions about the future.  We are concerned about politics and security.  There are many things we don’t know.  We are growing older.  We have problems that mount to the sky.  Our eye sight is failing.  Our hearing is waining.  Our finances are stretched thin.  Our health is gone.  Our bodies are imperfect and aging.  

We struggle with insecurity, loneliness, depression, longings that we cannot put names to, what-not-all.  And God’s light is penetrating the darkness.  Here are some stories to illustrate:

Lori Ann’s doctor led her into the X-ray room.  “If we are lucky, it’s pneumonia.”  

It was not pneumonia.  The following months were filled with tests, surgeries, heart catheters, stays in intensive care units, emergency flights to the hospital…and learning about end-stage heart failure.  

Lori Ann was healthy.  Her blood pressure was great, her cholesterol level perfect, her health pristine.  Her family history showed no risk factors for heart disease.  

“A crevice opened up beneath me as I read, ‘high risk of sudden cardiac arrest’ on my medical record” she writes in the January 2020 issue of Christian Century.  

Darkness.  Doom.  Bad news.  Yet she writes that God was at work.  Her faith community surrounded her with prayers, food and loving support.  

Then she was hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy.  The doctors discussed her precarious condition and the risk of surgery because of her weak heart.  They ordered an echocardiogram and discovered her heart function had somewhat, inexplicably, become normal!  

Lori Ann writes, “God had used those months to bind my faith into something stronger than it could ever have been in perfect health.  I guess you could say I was lucky it wasn’t pneumonia.” 

God shining in the darkness.  An incredible epiphany moment.  

Mary, in the same Christian Century journal writes about her time in the darkness.  Her husband had just recently retired when he was diagnosed with tongue cancer.  Twenty years earlier he had battled his first bout with cancer.  Surgeries, drug therapies and tube feedings saved him.  But, now, cancer again?!

The doctors recommended removing his tongue and replacing it with a new tongue from a thigh tissue graft.  Could he speak afterwards?  How would his swallowing be affected?  And never being able to taste food again!  Would he survive?  The doctor said, maybe better than a 50/50 chance, but no promises.  

Then in her devotional readings Mary re-read the story of Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana in John 2.  She read the phrase, “the wine gave out.”  She also read Jesus’ mother’s response, “do what ever He tells you.”  

Tears streaming down her face, Mary cries out to God “Do something!  We are out of wine here!”  

“With God’s help, 12 difficult weeks after my husband’s surgery, we are rising each day with no small amount of joy, despite the ongoing struggles.  We are more aware than ever of the preciousness and potential in each moment, taking nothing for granted.  Trusting God to help us live fully and lovingly, we inhabit the life we have, a life overflowing with care from family and friends, and with opportunities care for others and for creation.  The new vintage of wine offered us has notes of creativity, heart, vulnerability, grace, and grit.”

God’s love and grace shining in the darkness. Mind you, the darkness may not completely go away, but please be aware of God’s light and love penetrating and breaking through the darkness!  An epiphany moment indeed!

One more story, also from this January’s issue of the Christian Century.

The setting is Hawaii.  The author writes about a yellow school bus ride being interrupted.  A high school student, she was with a group of other high school students returning from a field trip to a publishing house.  The school bus is stopped.  Her pastor boards the bus, speaks to the driver, comes back to where she is sitting and simply tells her to “follow me.”

She is gripped with fear.  They enter her family home that is filled with family and friends.  You can imagine the fearful thoughts running through this young high schooler’s mind.  

“Your brother died today in a plane crash.”  He was a jet pilot.  His plane had mechanical problems and crashed.  He did not survive.  

Norma, the writer who shares this heartbreaking story says she stopped trusting God.  As a teenager she had been in church twice a week—choir practice on Wednesday and worship every Sunday.  She had prayed every night before going to sleep.  But now all that stopped.  

She was angry with God and stopped believing.  She didn’t crash and burn.  She didn’t use drugs, or become an alcoholic.  She simply stopped believing and trusting in God through Jesus.  

She became an atheist.  Other things filled her life.  Sunday mornings  were for sleeping in.  She married an engineer, lived as successful life, had children.  

“Then one summer afternoon,” she writes, “several mothers and I were with our children at a pool party.  Suddenly my son came up to me and said, ‘Mom, Anne is at the bottom of the pool.”

Her daughter Anne is rushed to the hospital emergency room.  Norma freaks out.  Who can she turn to now?!  God had let her down with her brother.  Norma’s best friend, Edna, is a member of a nearby Catholic Church.  Together they go to the church’s unlocked doors and pray.  

“I returned to the One who had brought me joy and hope as a young teenager.  I prayed desperately, ‘Oh, Lord, if You let her live, I will serve You the rest of my life!’”

Three days later this young mom walks into her daughter’s ICU room and is shocked to see her little girl pink-cheeked and smiling. “Can I go home?”

God in the darkness!  A ray of hope shining through the gloom.  Norma says her anger with God dissolved that day and she realized that even through death and sadness and loss she was wired to know and love and follow her Savior.  Jesus had not abandoned her even through her loss.  And now, He hands her back her daughter, alive.  

Neither you nor I know what 2020 holds in store.  Most of us are wired to be positive despite gloom and doom clouds in our personal lives and in our crazy world.  Some of us will experience loss.  We will taste failure and pain.  Yet we will also taste the wine of joy and gladness because our Savior Jesus will not abandon us—no matter what.  

We can not control the future. We cannot change most of the things in our lives.  But we can control where our gaze of faith focuses. We can look to Him who is the author and finisher of our faith and cling to the One who holds fast to us.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen,.

Promises! Promises!

Elim Lutheran Church, Ogden, UT 12/7/2019|bwk

Genesis 15:1-6, Romans 4:13-16 & Luke 1:46-55 

Key verse:  “…according to the promise He made to our 

ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants 

forever” (Luke 1:55)

to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”

Joshua 21:45 “Not one of all the good promises that the Lord had made 

1 Corinthians 1:9 “God is faithful; by Him you were called into the 

fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Hebrews 13:5 “…I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

What is a promise?  

“a declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that a particular thing will happen.”

A word of honor, a pledge or guarantee.

Someone’s solemn word to do something for us or with us.  

Someone’s solemn word to change their thinking and/or behavior.  

A vow to love one through all the ups and downs of life.

A vow to keep one’s word.

I promise to love you no matter what.  

I promise, I won’t let you down again.  I have quit.  I am clean and sober.  I won’t miss anymore payments.  

This time, I will keep my promise and we will go fishing; I’ll take you to the movies; we’ll have a date…

A part of our human experience is broken promises.  Ours, and that of others who have let us down.  

Our first two readings are about God’s promise to Abraham and Abraham’s trust in believing the promise—that God would keep His Word.  No matter what.  Even though there were mind-boggling obstacles that could have prevented him from trusting God.

The biggest obstacle was Abraham and Sarah’s age.  They were too old.  Yet God says, look to the stars and count them if you can.  So how many stars could Abraham see?  How many stars are there?

The internet (that infamous source of knowledge) tells us there are an estimated one hundred billion (100,000,000,000) stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, although some estimates range up to four times that many, much depending on the number of brown dwarfs and other very dim stars. A typical galaxy may contain anywhere between about ten million and one trillion stars.

Romans tells us that Abraham believed God’s promise even though science and good old fashioned common sense would have instructed him otherwise.  He believed in spite of his and Sarah being old. In fact, verse 18 of Romans 4 says, “hoping against hope he believe.”

The author of Romans (St. Paul) tells us that God didn’t count Abraham as faithful because of his obedience—how well he lived and carried himself—a trap we often fall into.  But that God counted Abraham as righteous—in good standing with God—because Abraham trusted God and believed God would keep His promise!  Wow. 

So often we say we believe.  Yet so often we measure our selves by how good or bad we believe ourselves to be.  We are not faithful enough.  We don’t pray good enough.  We are too shallow, too selfish, too sinful, etc.  We have made too many mistakes.  We have ruined our lives.  And the list goes on and on.

Abraham didn’t measure himself.  He measured God. He measured God and found God trustworthy.  

Now, consider Mary.  Young, innocent Mary.  Was she naive?  Too innocent of the realities of life?  She too trusted God in an impossible situation.  You are going to be mother to Messiah!  God’s Son, born of human flesh!  Yeah, right Gabriel!  Tell me another outlandish story!  Yet she believed God’s Word of promise through the angel Gabriel.  What’s more, she believed that her Son, Messiah Jesus, would change everything!  EVERYTHING!

The world’s order of right and wrong, where the rich and powerful control everything and the poor are victims and powerless will change because of this mystery child she will conceive.  Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is a song of praise to God about Jesus turning everything around.  

We should be singing it today.  I don’t mean just in church. We should be shouting it out loud in our culture, in our world of human relationships, in our cities, our countries, our world, in our politics and all human relationships.  

Because if we really believe God’s promise to Abraham so many years ago, and God’s Word to Mary so many years ago…if we really believe God’s PROMISE we will be and speak and act differently.  We will stop trying to win God’s approval or the approval of people.  We will begin to live rightly with purpose, intent and integrity.  We will become the change we want.  

We will move and work toward God’s love and care for all people as expressed through the reality of God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Even when others are mean and indifferent.  Even when those in power use and abuse us and/or others.  Even when it seems as if God’s Word is falling to the ground unfulfilled.  We will continue to trust God’s promise and Word.  We will believe and follow the star of God’s promise.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Why Pray?

ELC October 20 2019

Luke 18:1-8 & Genesis 32:22-31 (a persistent widow & Jacob wrestles in prayer all night long…)

Weird questions that make us smile…

· Why do doctors and lawyers call what they do practice?

· Why is abbreviation such a long word?

· Why is a boxing ring square?

· What was the best thing before sliced bread?

· How do they get the deer to cross the highway at those yellow signs?

· How did a fool and his money get together in the first place?

Now another question; why do we pray?

A toddler climbed up somehow onto the back end of a flatbed truck and could not get back down.  Sitting on the edge of the truck bed, dangling his legs, he started calling out in a matter of fact sort of voice, “will somebody help the little boy, will somebody help the little boy?”  Sometimes our prayers are that simple.  Sometimes not!

Sometimes we get ourselves caught in predicaments that we cannot work our way out of and like that little boy we cry out for help.  Sometimes we see a loved one, a son or daughter or grandchild or nephew suffering and we pray for them.  Sometimes we pray for a group of people, like immigrants or families such as those caught between a rock and hard place on our southern border, and we pray for them.  

And sometimes we feel our prayers go unheard and unanswered.  Does it do any good to pray?  Why do we pray?  

Martin Luther on prayer:

  • “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”
  • “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
  • “Pray, and let God worry…”
  • “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing…”
  • “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”

Never, never, never, never give up. (Winston Churchill)

…so many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

There are so many verses that talk about prayer in Scripture.  Here are two:

1 Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing…”

Psalm 55:16-17

16 But I call to God, and the Lord will save me.

17 Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.

Prayer; it is a gift to be able to pour our hearts out to God.  He hears and cares for us in all circumstances of life.  Prayer; it is a command as well as an invitation.  Jesus taught us what we call “the Lord’s Prayer,” though it might more appropriately be called, the disciples’ prayer.  It is our connection with God, our soul’s life blood.  It helps bind us together with those for whom we pray.

Why do I pray?  Why do you pray?  What do you expect to accomplish in and through your prayers?  Do you expect to change your circumstances?  Do you think you might change God’s plans?  

Last week’s Gospel reading was about ten lepers being healed, and just one, a foreigner, a non-Jew, coming back to say thank you!  Following that reading Luke quotes Jesus as talking about being ready for the end—the Second Coming.  That is the context for Jesus’ telling us the story of the widow who persists in getting justice from a cold, heartless judge.  

He prefaces that parable by saying, we should always pray and never, ever quit; never loose heart.  Then He breaks into this parable of the unjust judge and the helpless widow.  

Parable is a Greek compound word:  para ballo.  The first word, para, means along side.  The second means to throw.  It is the basis for our word ball.  Paraballo…Parable.  To throw a spiritual concept or truth alongside something more common and earthy.  

Sometimes parables help us to know more about God and God’s love in Christ Jesus.  This parable does not teach us about God.  Rather it teaches about the importance of never giving up hope, never giving up on prayer.  

If we are honest, I think we all want to give up and throw in the towel sometimes.  Job in the book that bears his name did.  He got so miserable at one point he wanted to just die.  He felt it would have been better to never have been born.  Have you ever felt that way?

We live in a world that is filled with evil and violence.  Even when we want to be positive and see only the good, injustice and evil are inescapable and unavoidable.  There are times when it seems that bad days and bad guys outnumber the good.  Thousands and millions even are killed without justice.  Families lose run for their lives, loose family members, loose their possessions, lose their homes and freedom.  Good businesses fail.  Scoundrels and crooks succeed.  Boys of the wrong race and color are lynched with no justice or repercussion.  Girls are raped and the offender gets off scot-free.  

There is no shortage of bad news. We can grow weary and succumb to just wanting to give up!  Life on this side of heaven is hard, harsh and hellish.  

Is it any wonder that Jesus ends this little parable with the question, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  It is easy to despair and yield to cynicism. 

Our parable is about a woman trying to get justice in an unjust, cruel world.  Her judge could care less about her or her situation.  He had no regard for anyone or even God.  Yet he finally gave in and helped this woman.  

His motivation?  “This woman is wearing me out with her continued battering of me.  It actually has the sense of a boxing match in a boxing ring with the continued battering and beating of the opponents upon each other.  The Greek word is hypopiahdzo.  Paul used this word in 1 Corinthians 9:27 where he says, “boxing as though beating the air.” This woman was determined and would not quit!  

The parable therefore is more about our never giving up on hope; our never giving in to bad thinking and acting; our quitting on faith and trust.  When we fail to trust the goodness of God and give in to evil thinking, speaking, living and just down right bad attitudes ourselves then evil really does win the day.  That is why Jesus ends this parable with the question:  When He (Jesus) comes again, will there be people who still believe and live in faith, trusting God’s goodness, doing God’s will?  

So whether you are like the little boy stuck on a flatbed truck, or like this woman in our text, never give up hoping.  Never stop pouring your heart out to God. Keep praying.  Keep trusting.  Keep believing.  Hit back against evil and injustice.  Keep following Jesus and living for God.  You and I are called to be different.  Let’s not give up on that call! 

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

No Regrets

preached at ELC September 29 2019 | bwk

Luke 16:19-31

Regrets 3 x 5 index cards…privately write down one thing in your life that you regret. Then fold it up and place it in your pocket or purse.  We will deal with them at the end of this sermon.

Stephen Covey’s second habit of highly effective people is to “begin with the end in mind.”  What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?  What do you want to be remembered for?  Picture what your legacy might be and live into it.  

Wayne Gretzky is quoted as saying, “you miss every shot you don’t take.”  Do you have regrets for opportunities lost—shots you didn’t take?  

My guess is that we all have words spoken we wish we could take back.  We all have times we wished we had spoken up, but didn’t.  We have things we have done—mistakes, silly, stupid mistakes—we wished we could go back and do differently.  But what about the big ones?

Ron Wayne was one of the founders of Apple, along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. He helped to steer the computer company in its early days, and had a hand in designing the famous Apple logo. Wayne owned 10 percent of the company, while Jobs and Wozniak each owned 45 percent. But Wayne decided to hand back his stake, fearing that he would be liable for a portion of a $15,000 loan if the company went under.

Apple succeeded, of course, and if Wayne had held on to his stake it would now be worth more than $37 billion.

Does he have any regrets? 

Surprisingly, no. “I made my decision on the information I had at the time,” he tells James Thomson of SmartCompany. “I’ve got my health, my family and integrity — and that is the best fortune you could ask for.”

Do you believe him? Thirty-seven BILLION dollars — and NO regrets?

Jesus tells the story of a rich man who was “dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). The man dies, is buried and finds himself in Hades being tormented (vv. 22-23).  He is miserable and sees Lazarus “in the lap of luxury” Abraham’s bosom, while he is in torment.  Interesting, isn’t it that the rich man is unnamed (implying we should put ourselves in his place) and the poor man,Lazarus, is named.  Their situations are completely reversed.  Does he have any regrets?  Sometimes we regret the consequences of bad decisions we have made, yet don’t really regret the bad decision.  

A nurse specializing in care of the terminally ill has recorded the most common regrets of the dying, and there’s no mention of missed business deals. No regrets about skipped bungee jumping opportunities or even about marriage — despite the many jokes that link regret to the choice of a mate. (According to one, a woman inserts an ad in the classifieds: “Husband wanted.” Next day, she receives a hundred letters. They all say the same thing: “You can have mine.”)

No, the top five regrets discovered by the nurse include:

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. People admit that they feared change in their lives, so they pretended that they were content. In fact, they wish they had laughed more and allowed themselves to be sillier.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. People feel badly that they were so caught up in their own lives that they let important friendships slip away.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppress their feelings in order to keep peace with others.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This regret was expressed by every male patient. Every single one of them.

And the number one big regret, discovered by nurse Bronnie Ware and reported in The Guardian (February 1, 2012):

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This is the most common regret of all. “Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams,” says Ware, “and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

Do these big regrets ring true? 

What would you regret if this were your last day on earth?

This unnamed rich man—again being unnamed he seems to picture all of us, put yourself in his place—still seemed to look at Lazarus as a servant, less than himself.  “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”  And then, when that fails he says, “send him to my father’s house to warn my brothers…”  It seems to me the unnamed rich man is regretting his circumstances, not his poor decisions.  The reason Jesus tells this parable is for us to cause us to LISTEN, THINK AND CHANGE—improve our response and examine our decisions.  

Consider the following thoughts:

1. Cared for the people around us. Who is sitting outside our gates?  How can we see and respond to those in need around us?  

2. Listen to Moses and the prophets. God has given us His Word.  Do we read it?  Do we “pay attention?”  Does the Bible have any impact on our thinking and values? How we act? How we drive? How we spend our money? How generous we are (or aren’t)?  How we vote?  How we fight or disagree or speak up for those less fortunate than us?  You see, we need to not only read the Bible, we need to live it and let it change us.  

3. Find the courage to live a life true to my Savior, and live consistently to what I say I believe. One of the biggest challenges we face—I face, you face—all of us—is to give in to peer pressure.  We get wrong impressions about what it means to be a believer and follow Jesus when we let the crowd tell us what to believe and do.  If we are really following Jesus we will keep the law of love as Jesus lived and taught it.  And that means seeing and identifying with the weak, the disenfranchised, the widows, the orphans, the foreigners at our gate.   

This unnamed rich man responds to Abraham’s suggestion that they have Moses and the Prophets—whereby he means the Law and Prophets, the Old Testament of the Bible because that is what they had back then—by saying send someone back from the dead, then they will certainly believe.  Yet, Jesus prophetically predicts that even if One would come back from the dead, they won’t believe.  

Jesus tells this parable not so we could judge the unnamed rich guy, but that we would see ourselves in his shoes and judge ourselves.  None of us is perfect.  We will all come to the end of life feeling that we have made mistakes along the way.

Don’t make excuses for past blunders.  Accept yourself as human—we are all in the same boat! Confess your need for forgiveness.  Accept the forgiveness God gives you in Christ Jesus.  Claim the indwelling Spirit within you and practice making better choices.  Live your faith out loud.  Be aware.  Be kind.  See the invisible, unnamed people around us.  See Jesus in them.  Give to the poor through all the many charitable organizations available to us.  

Putting our actions in line with our beliefs — living a life of integrity — is a change that is made one choice at a time.

The result is a life you won’t regret.

What to do with your 3×5 index card with its regret.  Change your regret if you can still do so.  If not, take it to the cross, give it to Jesus and leave it there.  

Pastor Bruce Kolasch

ICR’S

His name is Knute.  He was a cranky old Norwegian.  He joined our caroling party one Advent. We had just finished singing Christmas carols to home bound members and nursing homes and had returned to the church for hot chocolate and snacks.  We were all joyful, but Knute (pronounced Ka Nute) was a little too happy.  Later that night I found two little empty liquor bottles in the trash in the men’s room. I asked him about that. Not long after that Knute committed himself to a rehab program. He ended up becoming a regular part of our church family.  

One of his favorite phrases was, he was having a bad case of the ICR’s—”I can’t remember.”  What did I come into this room to get?  Did I miss my appointment? What’s her name? Did I write that note?  Whatever he’d forget would lead him to say “I have a bad case of the ICR’s.”

I grew to love that man.  We talked a lot about life, the church and various elements of faith, and God’s forgiveness in Jesus.  

Forgiving ourselves is hard to do.  Sometimes we cannot let go of our past mistakes and failures.  We cannot forget and feel God won’t either. Yet did you know that God can have a case of the ICR’s?  Here are a couple of verses that tell us about God’s forgetfulness.

Isaiah 43:25 

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Psalm 103:8-12

“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  He will not constantly accurse us, nor remain angry forever.  He does not punish us for all our sins; He does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.  For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.  He has removed our sins as far from us as the east if from the west.”  

Micah 7:19

“Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet

and throw them into the depths of the ocean!”

Does God have a memory problem?  No, and yes.  God never forgets us, never breaks His promises to us.  Never forgets to care.  Yet, because of Jesus our sins are forgiven. More than that, they are forgotten.  Our sins have been thrown into the sea of forgetfulness (Micha 7:19)!  Because of Jesus none of us has to fear God’s remembering what we strain to forget.  Because of Jesus each day is new, a day to hope and not give up, a day to start over again with a clean slate!

Pastor Bruce Kolasch

The 3 R’s of Religion

The 3 R’s of Religion:  Rescue, Restore, Rest – ELC  August 25, 2019/ bwk

Texts: Isaiah 58:6-14 & Luke 13:10-17

What does God expect of you? of us?

Keep the big ten—Ten Commandments?  

Answers that have been given:  Worship?  Read the Bible?  Tithe?  Pray?  Be kind?  

John Wesley’s advice was “avoid causing harm, do good and keep loving God.”

In verse 5 and the verses earlier in Isaiah 58 the children of God—believers in the Old Testament—complain that God does not pay attention.  Why do we fast and humble ourselves and you don’t notice or give us credit for being so good!

God’s response is to confront them with how they are living, and to tell them what He really looks for from us.  Read through verses 9b and 10 again.  

If you remove the yoke from among you, 

the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 

10 if you offer your food to the hungry 

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, 

then your light shall rise in the darkness 

and your gloom be like the noonday.

Unpack that a bit:  Free those who are bound, stop pointing the finger, judging and blaming others and speaking evil of them.  Give food to the hungry.  Take care of those who are going through tough times.  

vv. 6 & 7 are not printed in our worship folder, but hear what they say:

6 Is not this the fast that I choose: 

to loose the bonds of injustice, 

to undo the thongs of the yoke, 

to let the oppressed go free, 

and to break every yoke? 

and bring the homeless poor into your house; 

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, 

when you see the naked, to cover them, 

and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 

Rather than performing some religious duty, what does God look for / expect from us?  To CARE. 

You might recall Ivanka Trump’s jacket many months ago when she was at our southern border.  Do you remember what it said?  “I really don’t care.  Do you?”

Most of us will not be quite that crass or blunt.  Yet, we too, can loose our focus and be more concerned about our image, our comfort, our agenda than what God looks for from us.

God, according to our reading from Isaiah expects us to rescue those who are disadvantaged and in harms way.  Give food to those who need it.  Give help to those in need.  Give freedom to those are under bondage because of injustice.  It is hard to escape the social justice message of both the Old and New Testaments.  We can wonder and wrestle with the violence of the Old Testament in numerous places, but you cannot dismiss what God says about caring for strangers, pilgrims, foreigners, refugees, etc.  

Our Gospel reading this morning is a great example of that. 

Consider the woman who has come to the synagogue to worship.  She didn’t draw attention to herself.  She didn’t beg Jesus to heal her.  Yet as Jesus teachs in the synagogue on the Sabbath He looks and sees her.  What was her problem?  She was stooped over!  Presumably at a ninety degree angle or close to it.  He saw her.  He called her to His side.  He put His hands on her and set her free.  “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

She immediately straightens up, no groaning, creaking, complaining, and begins to praise God!

How long was she stooped over?  Eighteen years!

What would that have been like?  What would she see from that bent over position?  The floor, the ground, eye contact would be nearly impossible.  What work could she do? Communication with others very difficult.  Life would be very hard indeed.  

And she had this condition for eighteen years!  

Then Jesus sees her, calls her to His side, and frees her from bondage.  That’s what the Gospel is all about!  Sometimes we are temporarily healed on this side of heaven. However, physical healing often times does not happen on this side of heaven.  Spiritual healing begins as soon as a person places their faith and trust in Jesus.  This woman is healed immediately!

The call of the Church, the 3 R’s of religion are to experience the freedom God gives us in Christ Jesus through His life, death and resurrection—to know and experience the freedom won through the cross and empty tomb.  But it does not stop there.  

God calls us to care for others, to actively be involved in working for their well being and freedom, rescuing and restoring them to the fullness of life God desires for all of us.  We are the body of Christ.  We are Christ’s hands and feet in the world.  God works through us.  Just like next Sunday is “God’s Work Our Hands” Sunday.  Only God longs for us to do that 365 days of the year, every year, all life long.  

And that can wear us out!  Notice in our Isaiah reading God also talks about the Sabbath.  What is the Sabbath for?  Rest!  But the Sabbath is not just rest from physical labor, but rest from our agenda’s our rat race to do our thing.  The Sabbath is for the sake of listening to God and retuning our hearts and souls, refocusing our vision and perspective.  Learning how to see ourselves and others from God’s point of view.  

Sometimes we need to give our pride and prejudices a rest—let go of our stubborn agendas and crooked thinking.  That does not happen automatically!  None of us can say we are “the least prejudiced person in the world.”  None of us can say we are more open and welcoming—more spiritually alive than anyone else.  We all, must of necessity, always examine ourselves, turning back to God in repentance and learning how to walk in the Spirit, fulfilling the Law of Love that Christ has called us to.  

Consider our Gospel reading again from Luke 13.  

Jesus confronts the Pharisee’s for their hypocrisy.  They are more concerned about having things done “decently and in order” — Don’t heal on the Sabbath.  There are six other days of the week.  Come then and be healed.  They didn’t scold Jesus.  They scolded the woman who had been healed.  

Jesus turns the table on them.  They are hypocritical.  They will untie their beasts of burden and lead them to water even on Sabbath days.  If they can do that for an animal, is there any reason to unloose this poor woman from her satanic affliction?  Note, we don’t know what caused her disease, but Jesus says she has been bound by Satan for eighteen long years!  The Greek word for untie is the word Jesus uses in His confrontation of the hypocritical Pharisees, and for unloosing the woman from her 18 year old affliction!

Jesus shames the Pharisees for their mixed up, legalistic thinking.  Imagine being there. You could hear the joy breaking out in the crowd.  The leading Pharisee had made a good sound point.  There are proper ways to get things done.  The Pharisee’s demand seemed logical and fair.  After all there are six days in the week other than the Sabbath.  Come then and get healed!  Why mess with the sanctity of the Sabbath! Keep the law.  The crowd was probably convinced of the Pharisaical line of reasoning.  Then Jesus spoke and applied the law of love in front of them, and shattered the hypocrisy that we all get caught up in.

If we are really resting spiritually and learning how to listen to God’s heart through worship and reading of Scripture, we will connect past what seems right and learn how to keep God’s fast, doing what God really requires from us!  Care for the people for whom Jesus came, died and rose again.  That includes us, yes.  Once we have tasted that freedom we share it with all others too.    

Let us be bold and learn to do as Jesus would have us do.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Find Meaning in Life

Luke 12:13-21 (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14 & 2:18-23)

Perspective!  Looking ahead!  Seeing down the road.  As a young driver I was taught to look further down the road than just in front of the car.  One of my jobs as a farm hand was to do field work such as cultivating, etc.  That, too, required looking further down the field so as to keep as straight a path as possible.  

One of our challenges in life is to look far enough down the road that we can see where we are heading and what obstacles we might encounter.  Looking down the road also helps us to consider consequences for our actions.  

The rich man in our second story this morning is called a “fool” because he failed to look far enough down the road.  He saw his physical well being, but completely forgot about his spiritual well being.  He forgot his soul.  He forgot his mortality.  

He was planning ahead in one sense.  His retirement and financial well being were well taken care of.  He had it “made in the shade.”  

The first unnamed person in our Gospel account was also narrow sighted.  He wanted Jesus to tell his brother to be fair—share the family inheritance.  That sounds like a “fair” request.  The family inheritance should be shared, right?  Jesus, however, was more concerned about the shadowy issue of greed and discontentment.  “Guard against greed—for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The word “vanity” from our Ecclesiastes reading can literally be translated as “mist, or vapor” or “mere breath.”  Think of standing out in the cold on a winter day and watching your breath as you exhale.  How long does it last?  That is longer than our lives in comparison to eternity.  

We spend so much of our time focused on things that do not last.  We invest our entire lives on things that disappear like a vapor.  The preacher in Ecclesiastes calls it vanity.  It is useless, vain, wasted effort to give our lives to what does not last.  

Yet, money and taking care of our wellbeing is important, isn’t it?  All of us are concerned about how far the money will go, how will we afford medical costs, health care, all the “what if’s” in life.  Jesus is telling us to be balanced.  Take care of things physically, yes!  But don’t neglect your soul—don’t forget about God’s kingdom and spiritual values!

A part of this unnamed man’s (Nemo—no man, every man, all of us…) problem is he is self focused.  He only sees himself and only talks to himself. 

His farm, his labor, his crops have all done well.  Where’s the gratitude?  He obviously considered himself a self-made man, and felt no need for thanksgiving or gratitude to God.  No one is completely self-made or independent.  We all need God.  We all need each other.  Not to see that or acknowledge it is foolishness.  

This man also had no thought of sharing with those less fortunate.  What was Scruge’s phrase for the hapless, helpless poor in Dicken’s Christmas Carol?  “Decrease the surplus population!”  God gives us plenty so that we can share our bounty with others.  That is a very common theme in Scripture.   

This man is mindless of how mortal and temporary he is.  He is not conscious about the eternal value of his soul.  There is more to life than “eat, drink and be merry.” You cannot take it with you.  There are no U-Hauls or storage units in heaven. 

The preacher in Ecclesiastes echoes our concern for this hapless fellow who is shallow and narrow minded. 

We work so hard to acquire so much, and to what end? Who will profit from it?  Will they take care of my “stuff?”  Will they waste it?  

Who knows whether they will be side or foolish?  Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun.  This also is vanity.”  (Ecclesiastes 2:19)

The problem with consumerism is that we are the ones that end up being consumed.  Do we possess our possessions, or do they possess us?  

Materialism, the pursuit of happiness?  God never promised us the American dream—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  God does help us discover purpose in meaning in life by how we live and by how we care for and invest in others—how we give ourselves away.  

Money and wealth are no guarantee of happiness. Money and possessions become fodder for fights and arguments about who gets what when inheritance comes around.

Money cannot buy peace.  Money cannot guarantee health.  Money cannot buy love.  Money cannot buy forgiveness or help in our relationship with God.  Only Jesus, and faith in Him can do that!  Money is a resource we use to provide for ourselves and our families.  Money is a tool we use to care for and bless the world in which we live.  

“Take care!”  Jesus says, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

People who live for themselves are lonely and unfulfilled. God made us so that we are the happiest when we love and care past ourselves.  True joy comes from finding fulfillment and purpose in tangible acts of love and care for others. 

A seasoned pastor once said, “I have heard many different regrets expressed by people nearing the end of life, but there is one regret I have never heard expressed.  I have never heard anyone say, ‘I wish I hadn’t given so much away.  I wish I had kept more for myself!’”  Death has a way of clarifying what really matters.

We do not belong to ourselves.  We belong to God.  All we have is a gift from God and is on loan to us. There is peace and joy in recognizing this truth.  At the end of this chapter Jesus says, “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  (Luke 12:32)

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.