John 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
On the first day of school in kindergarten classes all around the country, teachers read the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. This picture book tells of a young raccoon who is apprehensive about leaving his mother for the first day of school. He would rather stay in the comfort of his mother’s presence forever. She kisses his hand and explains she will always be with him, and that kiss acts to remind the raccoon of the gift of his mother, helping him feel her presence even when he is physically away from her. This book is read by teachers to their students on the first day of school to help encourage and give them strength as they go out in the world to begin their formal learning journey.
The readings for Pentecost remind all Christians that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit with us forever. In the Gospel reading from John, the disciple named Philip tells Jesus that he wants to see the Father because he doesn’t fully grasp the divinity of Christ himself. Jesus goes on to explain that he will be leaving to be with the Father, and that God will provide an Advocate to be with us forever. Jesus reminds them to keep the commandments and do even greater works for the glorification of God and with the Holy Spirit abiding within them and therefore in us all.
What does it mean to have an advocate in the Holy Spirit? Another way to translate the word advocate is as a companion or helper, making the Holy Spirit an ever present guide in our lives. As followers of Christ, this means that we are not alone as we go about our daily lives. Philip didn’t really understand God when he asked Jesus to show him the Father, and the same is true for us today. How can we fully comprehend that which is divine when we are only humans? Although our revelation may be limited by our humanity, we can see the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As we face the challenges that come our way, our faith in God can give us strength that can only be understood as divine, since we would never be able to overcome those challenges on our own. That evidence points to God’s promise to be with us as Jesus said to the disciples that day.
This text also speaks of the great works we will do, with Jesus using his own works as a model for us and as a way to show his divinity with God. Imagine if our own works showed our creaturely relationship with God as well! With the companionship and help from the indwelling Holy Spirit, our helping actions toward our neighbors, the poor, the marginalized, the neediest among us, will point directly to our God. The restoration of the Kingdom of God demands these works from us, and the Holy Spirit is in our midst to make it happen. We just have to seize the opportunity.
The words of the first verse of Hymn 516 in our Hymnal say it best:
Come down, O love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
May we know God’s presence in our lives as more than just a kiss on the hand, and may we call upon the Holy Spirit to work in us to serve God in the world. Kindle in us the fire of your love!
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
We’ve been stuck in the ice since Thursday night, victims of “Icemageddon 2013” in North Texas. We have come together to laugh and watch movies, gone to our separate corners to have time alone and have skated across the driveway to use a hairdryer in an effort to free the teenager’s car encased in an ice tomb. Our part of the world can get ice without snow and there is really no way to save the trees that have snapped and the cars that have collided when everything is covered in ice. So we are pretty much just hunkered down, waiting until we can peek above the freezing mark which will hopefully come soon so life can get back to normal.
I generally prefer NOT to have a day off from school – a day that will have to made up on a beautiful spring Friday where the weather is perfect, I’m sure! But I can’t even tell you how much this gift of time has been appreciated. All the hectic holiday schedules were cancelled and the tempo of time has slowed down considerably. As I have reflected and studied this week’s Gospel reading from Mark, I am struck by the image created in my mind of John the Baptist.
I picture this really crazy looking guy showing up when least expected. The Pharisees and Sadduccees are up to speed on the prophets’ stories and John seems pretty darn far fetched as the one who prepares the people for the coming of the Lord! Dressed as an outsider and maybe even smelling a little ripe, John comes on the scene shouting of repentance and that the Lord is coming, taking people to the Jordan river to experience baptism, a completely new concept in the traditions of the faith at the time.
As John is calling out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy, I can only imagine their confusion. That same confusion still exists today in those who proclaim their faith with television ratings and prosperity gospels, with our own hypocrisy in what we say we believe and the story our actions and words tell that conflict with those beliefs – the self-righteous were hustling to get baptized by John for sure. But John throws cold water on this party as he tells about Jesus who will separate the wheat from the chaff (or the righteous from the lowly) and bring those who need mercy into the fold while banishing the rest of them (or us!) from the Kingdom of God.
So here are a few observations about this story and what we can learn from it in today’s world:
- God doesn’t seem to select the high and mighty to tell of his kingdom. He chooses the lowly, the ones who look and sound different from the usual leaders. So listen to everyone with a discerning ear and a loving heart.
- Get ready y’all! Advent gives us the time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the future coming of Christ into the world. Don’t squander the time we need to get ready for all God has prepared for us.
- Don’t be the chaff. Don’t be a wasted part of the world. Add value to all you meet, love with reckless abandon, even when it is uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to listen to God’s message in your life.
- If you aren’t living the life you know that God is intending for you, take a step toward that today. One step forward brings you closer to God. Don’t assume that just showing up at church will ever be enough to meet God in his desired relationship with you. He wants to be known to us and makes himself available whenever we take the time to notice.
So, prepare the way of the Lord. Make it easy to find you on the threshing room floor when the time comes, or the ice thaws once and for all.
Giver of life, you have given us all we need to love you and follow you. Thank you for your goodness and mercy. Draw us nearer to you so that we may do the work you have called us to do in your kingdom. Give us strength and courage to love and serve you, preparing ourselves for your coming into the world. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Necessity for Watchfulness
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
I love the season of Advent. In this crazy, consumerized time of year, it is a refreshing take on preparing for the Christmas season. Many folks don’t celebrate a time of preparation like Advent; from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary (Click here), the definition is the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting. The second definition is the coming of Christ at the Incarnation. In our Episcopal/Anglican tradition, we labor to stay focused on Advent for the full four Sundays before we “green” the church and switch our focus to the Christmas celebration which carries us all the way to Epiphany (See definition here). In our home, we have an advent wreath that we put out each year with the traditional four candles (three purple or blue, and one pink/red, depending on tradition) that we light each Sunday. Our almost adult daughter also has a wall Advent Calendar which builds the pieces of a felt and velcro Nativity. Somehow, the craziness of the holidays stays at bay when we take the time to prepare for the coming of Christ.
Another kind of event that I love is a good old fashioned surprise party! When everyone does all this activity to prepare behind the scenes and the honoree carries on throughout all the preparation without a clue of what is to come at the moment we all jump out with a loud shout of “SURPRISE!!!!” – I just love it! So what’s the connection between a surprise party and Advent? Go with me here…
The season of Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of our Lord. Christmas is a day to remember his birth and the season of Christmas actually starts on Christmas Day, but Advent goes way beyond that. The birth of Jesus is truly a remarkable event – from the virgin, teenage mother, her betrothed taking on a potentially scandalous situation, to a long ride in less than comfortable conditions with a very pregnant mom-to-be; only to be turned away as they seemed to desperately seek shelter for the obvious and inevitable birth. The very unlikely setting for the Son of God’s rather unceremonious birth and then all the special signs, guests/visitors and heralding angel chorus – remarkable details of Jesus’ birth indeed. But Advent doesn’t just have us focusing on the birth of Christ as a singular event. As Resurrection people, we go beyond the birth to thirty some odd years later and the crucifixion, and then to the second definition referenced by Merriam-Webster – the second coming of Christ. Jesus tells his disciples there will be no warning – a literal surprise – as to when He will come again. And tells them, and through them tells us all, to be ready. Not like the honored guest at a surprise party who never sees it coming, but like the host who plans all the details except the biggest details of all – the time and place of the surprise itself.
So Advent gives us a purpose just as the upcoming season of Lent does prior to Easter. Advent slows us down and attempts to keep us focused on preparing the way for the Lord. One of my favorite hymns during this time is from the Taize music tradition:
Prepare the way of the Lord.
Prepare the way of the Lord,
and all people will see the salvation of our God.
We don’t know the time or the place, and being ready doesn’t mean we need to pay any attention to those details. The only requirement from Jesus was to be ready any time. Knowing when and how won’t make us more ready and will distract us from our job at hand: to prepare the way of the Lord. To study the Word, to pray without ceasing and to go out and do the work we are called to do in the world. The celebration of Advent makes us take the time to be mindful of our job in this Christian relationship – to invite Jesus into our hearts, minds and actions; to be thankful for our blessings and grateful for our challenges that bring us closer to him. Don’t skip over the preparation to jump straight into celebration just yet. Be watchful and prepare for perfect healing through Christ.
Giver of Life, I come to you humbly as I prepare for your coming. Your gift of your Son to live and die for me is more generous a gift than I could ever give. The hope of Advent and the coming of Christ to save us all brings all the joy I need to help me focus on preparing my sinful self for seeing you. Thank you for giving us time to prepare. In your gracious name I pray. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Destruction of the Temple Foretold
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Signs and Persecutions
7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Being a faithful Christian is something I strive for, but know that I fall short of every single day.
With that said, what does being a faithful Christian really mean? This week’s Gospel from Luke seems to be a doomsday prediction on the surface. Jesus teaches that our temples will fall, false prophets will lead us astray, our families will turn against ourselves and there will be some really bad stuff happening in the world. Followers of Christ will be treated as criminals and be hated; all while wars and natural disasters are happening around us. Pretty heavy stuff, but not too far fetched if you just watch a little television in the evenings. Jesus then says the most calming things: don’t worry about preparing to defend yourself, as he will give us the tools we need to be protected and we will not be harmed in the process of all this doom and gloom.
There are a lot of preachers teaching this “end of time” preparation stuff and tons of books that attempt to explain how it all will end for us here on earth. There are classes you can take to prepare you and your family for the end of the world by hoarding canned goods, toilet paper and gallons of water and how to live off the grid if needed. The news is full of stories that can align tightly with the scary parts of the reading for this week as well – it’s not a huge leap to think that the end is near.
The title of this blog entry isn’t “The End is Near,” but rather focuses on the time is now. Reading this Gospel through the first time might elevate your heart rate a little, but go back and read it again. This is a lesson on peace – peace in the here and now. Jesus tells us about all the bad stuff while at the very same time reassuring us of our safety and security in his arms.
I’m a pretty positive person who tends toward the optimistic slant in my views of the world. So I’m drawn to the part of today’s Gospel that focuses on faith. I hear today’s interpretation of Jesus’ words in Luke as this; “Draw near to me in faith and I will give you all the tools you need to stay on the path in the face of the world of distractions and conflict.” The folks who say that we need to be ready for the end of times are focused on their own skills and tools – I choose to let my faith give me the tools I will need that I cannot even muster from within myself on my own. It’s way easier to get discouraged and sad by the news around us than it is to remain faithful to Christ. Yet that is exactly what we are called to do. “By your endurance you will gain your souls” is the last line of today’s reading. Endurance is about getting back on track as we follow our Lord and Savior through this world that we humans do a great job of destroying. And gaining my soul sounds a lot better than having enough canned goods when all is said and done. So the time is near alright – the time to get right and stay right in our faith. There really is no better time than now to join with God in his plans for us.
In this scary world, we give thanks to you Lord, for being our protector and provider of more than we even knew we needed. Thank you for giving us the wisdom to choose to follow you in the face of adversity. We love you and look ahead to our perfect relationship with you through Christ our Lord. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus and Zacchaeus
19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
A different perspective:
“I don’t really know what all the fuss is, but I heard Jesus was coming to Jericho. I’ve heard stories from travelers passing through that he has healed some really sick people, forgiven and accepted some people that don’t normally have any stature in the community and welcomed with love tax collectors like me. I don’t really like taking money from the people in my community, but Rome wants the taxes and I need to feed my family so that is the job I have to do and most of the jobs out there require a physique I just don’t have. I had heard that tons of people would be coming to see him as he passed through town just like other places he has been and I thoughtthe only shot I would have to get a glimpse of this guy Jesus would be to run ahead and find somewhere on high ground. So I headed up in front of the crowd, but I was still having a hard time seeing with so many folks standing in front of me. I spotted the sycamore tree and thought that climbing up a bit would help me get a better view, and that’s where I was perched as Jesus came down the road. I waited with great anticipation and out of the way of the crowd.
Just as Jesus reached the spot in the road under my tree, he looked up directly into my eyes. He called me by name. By MY name. I was shocked; how did he know who I was? Then, again, just talking to me, he told me to come down because he was going to stay at my house. Well, when Jesus says he needs you, you better “hop to!” I couldn’t believe my ears! Why me? A Tax Collector even! But I scrambled down and started walking with Jesus to my home. As we turned to walk away together, I could hear the not so quiet grumblings of the religious leaders and others in the crowd – I’ve become used to the way folks look at me and talk badly about me and my family. That’s the risk you take when you are the Chief Tax Collector. But it still stings to have people speak about you like you aren’t as good as they are.
So I stopped with Jesus right there. I felt like I needed to justify myself to Jesus and those who were watching, so I pledged to give away half of everything I owned to the members of our community who lived in deep poverty. I’ve always prided myself on being honest – I collected taxes to send to the Roman government and only kept enough for myself to take care of my family, but I assured Jesus that I would make amends to any who felt like I had taken more than necessary; I promised that and so much more if needed. But Jesus said the most unexpected thing: He welcomed me into the Body of Christ with open arms and no strings attached. As his eyes burned into mine, he told me he was there for me. My life had been just lived for me until that day, when he gave me and my family the gift of salvation. I will forever be changed by this intimate encounter with Jesus and commit to sharing the Good News of Christ to all I meet.”
Ok, I fudged a little to make a point. Imagine how Zacchaeus must have felt on that once in a lifetime day. Forget about the special event that Jesus provided by calling him by name and stating his intention to stay in his home – unthinkable based on his stature in society. Then, when Zacchaeus realizes everyone is looking at him as if he could never deserve such an honor, he tries to prove himself to Jesus. But Jesus never even acknowledges the offer to give away his possessions and pay back anyone wronged by him four times over. He just welcomes him to accept the greatest gift of salvation. No questions asked and no task required.
I’ll bet that shut up the crowd for a second…once they headed down the road the family home though, I’m sure the talk started right back up again. “Unbelievable!” “No way!” “Zacchaeus…are you kidding me?” Surely that is just a snippet of the nasty things said about him when he came down from the tree to Jesus and again when they were out of earshot.
Why do we sometimes hate it when others are blessed? Why do we look down on others based on their lot in life? Why do we always think we are better than anyone else? Why don’t we read stories like this and realize that each of us is worthy of redemption and forgiveness, as Jesus proves time and time again in our Gospel readings? All we have to do is turn to him. So ignore the negative talk (both from others and from yourself), stop judging others like we are better than them and turn to Christ. Simple, huh? Simple but not easy…that’s why we keep having to do it over and over again, every single day of our lives. And spread the Good News in the world. That is all God wants from us is to serve his Kingdom with love.
Lord of all mercies, we give you thanks for your incredible generosity and your forgiveness of all we do to drive a wedge between ourselves and our Savior. Keep us looking ahead to salvation and give us strength and courage to speak of your children with love. Thank you for the perspective of Zacchaeas and for welcoming us into eternal life. We ask all things through Jesus Christ who loves us. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
18 Then Jesustold them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Big themes in our Gospel for this week! Here are the ones I teased out during my reflection:
- Jesus needs us to pray.
- Persistence works.
- Justice from humans = flawed/imperfect. Justice from God? Perfect.
- Keep working on faith.
The use of parables in Luke’s Gospel is a successful way to get me to think. I love to tell stories myself as well as hear others’ stories too – and parables make it easier for me to relate to God’s teachings. And this parable starts off strongly with, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.” It’s not written in the form of a question either – not we “should” pray, or “ought to” pray…but rather that we NEED to pray. And then the implication of patience is stated when Jesus tells them not to “lose heart.” That reminds me of the story of how long and how hard St. Augustine’s mother prayed for him to find a relationship with God. I bet she was frustrated with the seemingly lack of answer to that prayer, but she kept praying without ceasing. A great life lesson as she must have wrestled with faithfulness as she begged God to be able to reach in her son’s heart and see him turn to the Lord.
Persistence is easy to have when we want it. I have been known to shop for hours looking for the perfect shoes. THAT is persistence! When I want someone to change their minds about something, I can be pretty persistent in making the case for change. Toddlers have persistence down pat at quite an early age, don’t they? So why do we give up so easily when it comes to prayer and building our relationship with Christ? Why do we walk away from the chance to have the intimacy of a relationship with God through our conversation and quiet listening time? Why don’t we make the time for this important part of our walk with Christ?
The judge in this story is a self-proclaimed jerk and non-believer who basically rules in favor of the widow to get her off his back. Whether that justice was deserved or not seemed to be a non-issue in the story (although widows in this day had very little influence at all). We do that too – make decisions like this judge to mollify others whether they are right decisions or not. Maybe if the judge had been faithful to God the story could have been a different one because he would have relied upon discernment that comes from faith in God to help him with this and his many other cases. But he held out as long as he could while she kept coming back for her justice. Our God is much more generous and merciful than that. He sent his Son to die for our sins; that is the kind of justice we can never deserve. And though it may feel as if the world is unfair and God isn’t listening to us, when we think about his gracious gifts to us it explains how we can find the strength in our times of greatest challenge. In fact, without his grace, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful as we are now! And PS…his timing is perfect and way better than what we think it should be in the long run, right?
But the last line of this week’s passage is the real question, “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Gosh, I sure hope so. And that starts with me. Will he find faith in me if he comes tomorrow? Will he see evidence of our love in the world we live in, building communities of faithfulness that are pleasing to him? Are we doing enough to spread God’s love in all we do and say? Are we leaving the judging up to him and him alone? Is our praying persistent enough to keep our hearts and minds on his true love?
Lord, you are the great Judge. You are merciful and full of grace and compassion. Look generously on us as we strive for faith and justice and give us a heart that yearns for you. For you are the one who knows what we need before we know for ourselves and your timing and answers to prayers is perfect. Help us to be relentless in turning back to you each and every day. Your saving grace is ours. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Our daughter had the most awesome caretaker when she was a year old. Her name was NeeCee and she was loved by each member of our family. She did really creative activities with the three little girls that came to her house every day – like field trips in the stroller to the library and our family’s favorite – baking day! She loved the girls like they were her own, but the very best thing she did was teach the foundation of gratitude. At 14 months old, our little girl said “thank you” for every little thing she received because it was NeeCee’s expectation 100% of the time from the each of her kids, even the ones that belonged to the rest of us!
But saying thank you the way a toddler does is not what this story in Luke is referencing. First, let’s start with the 10 lepers. 10 lepers hanging out together and walking down the road – what a sight that must have been! Lepers lived at the lowest rung of society during Jesus’ time, so they were most likely very desperate for relief from their probably painful and definitely disabling condition. We don’t know from this story whether they were people of faith, or just people willing to ask for healing from any Tom, Dick or Harry. But their display of belief becomes apparent as they do exactly as Jesus says when they ask him for healing (“Have mercy on us.”).
But why did only one of the healed lepers stop to show his appreciation to Jesus? I mean, come on, they were HEALED and headed back up the social status ladder! I remember doing something really nice for a “close friend” when I was much younger and being shocked at the lack of gratitude showed to me for my sincere effort and sacrifice I made for this friend. It ended our friendship because I was so downright bitter about the lack of gratitude, so I can only imagine how Jesus may have felt when only one took the time to say thanks. It’s easy to look at this story and say that 1 out of 10 lepers had the decency to say thanks for the mercy, Lord.
I’m thinking that is not the best message to take away. For me, I know that showing gratitude for my gifts can get lost in the excitement of receiving them. I am often guilty of taking my gifts of grace and mercy for granted. Jesus isn’t going around Samaria and Galilee and healing in order to get appreciation and we shouldn’t do our good works for others to fish for compliments either. But there is a tangible effort in our relationship with others when we do take the time to appreciate them for what they do for us. Our thanks is a great relationship builder with one another and most certainly, that holds true in our relationship with Christ as well. Doing things for others is what we are called to do. Showing our appreciation is the least we can do and one of the most powerful tools in relationship development. And that holds true for our relationship as followers. The appreciation can do much in the work of our relationship, showing our intimacy and closeness to keep mindful of our gifts of grace.
I choose to focus on the one healed person who turned back and recognized his gift of healing. The other lepers probably partied all night long celebrating their good fortune in healing. They may have thanked God for that gift as well. But I bet the one who took the time to appreciate Jesus had the deepest blessing of a relationship with Christ – which in the end, is better than any physical healing anyway. His gratitude did much in the way of working in faith with God. Our challenge is to find ways to show appreciation to our friends, families and strangers, as well as to our Lord and Savior. It seems to be the very minimum expectation and goes the longest way to having that deep relationship we want with God.
Healing God, you give us the grace mercy we never deserve through the loving gift of your son our Savior. Help us to find the time and the strength to be grateful for our many gifts. We want to deepen our relationship with you and know that our gratitude will help us grow closer to you every day. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
Have you ever looked around you and seen people who clearly have more faith than you? You know, those people who just radiate peace and that all knowing look of “No worries, God’s got this!” We have all been a witness to our friends or family who have handled a significant health crisis who made it seem easy and reported all the miracles God had worked in their lives along with the way? Their faith waves in my face as if to mock me and make me sometimes say, “If only my faith was as big as hers!” If only….
So reading this passage not only brings me back to the question of how much faith is enough faith, but also makes me feel a bit bad about the obvious jealousy which can be my default. The last line of this passage really spoke to me today, and I read it as faith enough is all the faith I need to do what I know to do as a follower of Christ. This was a good wrap up to this reading, as the first line was a hook that made me want to read more….as if there is a recipe to follow or a heavenly flowchart of “if this, then that” steps to get me to enough. It’s also a pretty passive statement, as if Jesus’ job was to do faith TO us.
So first, I say that it is no one’s job to deepen my faith….no one but me. I can’t complain that the sermon isn’t reaching me, the Bible was too far from my reach, the poor live too far away for me to really reach out to them or that it’s inconvenient to spend time in study, piety and action as a Christian. I have been a passive person of faith for too long – and I have no one to blame it on. All I can do now is re-commit every day to living a life of faith, a deep commitment to following God’s will. I think of it like a carrot growing in the garden vs a bush with a crazy root ball; the carrot doesn’t spread out and get all tangled up as it grows. It is singularly focused in its genetic make up. I want my faith to be my genetic makeup too, keeping me from all distractions that put a roadblock between me and God’s plan for me.
The second lesson for me from this reading is that the faith I have is enough faith for me. If I follow my walk with Christ and believe his word, then I have enough faith. It’s what I am supposed to do. I have found in the trials and tribulations of life that the faith I have is enough when I need it and under whatever circumstances. And here is another note about that…we must (ok, I must!) stop comparing our faith to others. When we see those giants of faith cross our paths, remember that each of those “giants” has the same insecurities that we all do. And who knows what doubts they wrestle with too? My faith must be my very own. I must cultivate my relationship with Christ and my faith will be enough.
God of grace, I draw near to you. May my faith in you and your love and mercy be a comfort to me in time of trouble and a gift in abundance as you bless me. I pray my faith will continue to be enough. In your name I pray. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
I serve as an elementary principal in a school where the majority of the students qualify for free or reduced meals. They eat breakfast and lunch at school and for many of them, those meals are their only meals during the week. Our students are homeless, come from broken families, worry about their safety and have disadvantages which make their times tables, reading on grade level and concepts in science and social studies very, very challenging to learn. For the most part, their families are doing all they can to support their children in school and none of them would ever purposely choose this life of extreme poverty for themselves or their children. Many people in our society look at these families and make judgements about their lack of worth ethic (they should just get a job like the rest of us and stop taking from society) while driving by on the way to their safe homes and warm dinners with their families. I’m not opening the door to debate about social justice issues, but I can’t help but think about those students I serve who didn’t choose to be born into their very challenging circumstances.
Lazarus lived one heck of a hard life in his day as well. His name literally means “God has helped,” and this story tells how great was his reward as compared to the man who lived a “wealthy” life separated from a relationship with Christ. There isn’t anything in this parable or the verses leading up to it about the relationship Lazarus may have had with Christ (this is not the same Lazarus as the brother of Mary and Martha who Jesus describes as his friend), but I think the name has some real significance. The rich man in this story is described as a person who didn’t want for much in the way of material goods. Lazarus begged outside his house and it is implied that he received nothing in the way of help from this wealthy man. But our God takes mercy on the least of us (Matthew 5 spells this out in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”) and Lazarus is given his gift of eternal life. His suffering is now over. But the rich man whom we can assume did not help the least among us when he was alive is not offered the same rewards in death. He realizes quickly how the comfort of his earthly life, without regard for the rest of humanity, has left him with regrets. He begs for some interventions for his family still living, even suggesting a “raised from the dead” experience for them to get their attention.
This story isn’t about rich people going to hell for being rich and poor people going to heaven because they were poor during their lifetime. Don’t apologize if you are able to live a life with luxuries. Don’t choose poverty to get eternal life. It’s not that simple, friends. Instead, this is a “knock on the head,” parable and learning opportunity. Jesus is clear – we need to be ready to serve when service is required. We need to love on another as he loves us. We must draw near to Christ rather than allow sin to drive us away. And let’s be honest; there isn’t much ambiguity in the directives. When we sit in our nice houses and ignore suffering, or miss out on showing Christ in all we do, we are CHOOSING to ignore the truth. The truth is uncomfortable and off-putting, but that doesn’t make it less truthful.
The students I serve deserve to have the same needs met that I do. They deserve the freedom to choose a life outside of poverty because they were given options through education, outreach and love. They also will receive the gift of grace and everlasting life through Jesus Christ. What will it take for the rest of us to reach out to them and others in need?
Merciful Father, there is no greater love than the love you have for your children, sending your son to die for our sins. We want to serve you in all we say and do. Help us to love the least of those among us, especially those who cannot help themselves. We want to live our lives with you and have no regrets when we are united perfectly with you. It is in your gracious name we pray. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Through the wonders of social media and its ability to make miles seem insignificant, I have had the pleasure of keeping up with friends from high school I haven’t seen in almost 30 years. Through FaceBook, I have been able to see pictures of family events, pray for friends in trouble, celebrate new life and laugh at Throwback Thursday posts. I have been able to keep in touch in a way that didn’t even seem possible when we graduated, even with my friends of friends or folks who have the same shared memories of homeroom or after school activities. I also share myself with them, and we have learned more about each other as we have grown into our closer to middle age years than we did in the three years of high school for sure.
One of those folks is a gal whose mom was one of my favorite teachers in high school, my 10th grade English teacher. She was a year behind me in school, so we didn’t run in the same circles (why is that such a big divider in high school and non-existent as a barrier in adulthood???), but I have enjoyed seeing her kids as adults and hearing about her life, especially her life of faith. She married her high school sweetheart, but as those things sometimes do, it didn’t work out for the long run. She remarried a man and through the wonders of electronic media, anyone could see how close they were and she spoke of him with respect and love, sounding grateful to have found her life partner.
A few months ago, tragedy struck this family and her dear husband of not enough years long passed away unexpectedly. As these things happen, I found out from our mutual friends who were posting condolence messages which prompted me to investigate this mystery loss from across the country. I learned he died and was very sad for her, a tragedy and loss that is inexplicable to those of us standing by on the sidelines. But in true form, she began posting status updates that read like chapters in a “Surviving Grief through Faith” book, baring open her soul about her love for her husband and the devastating loss. She told of her husband’s life of finding and living in Christ, alluding to pretty rocky places before giving his life to God. It is touching to read her posts – they are raw, painful to read and yet always filled with the faith that has kept her afloat during this incredibly difficult time.
When I read today’s Gospel reading from Luke about the lost sheep and the lost coin, I immediately thought of her stories about her husband’s journey to faith. A constant thread in her posts has been about how grateful she is that she is able to be confident in her husband’s presence fully with Christ now. She has actually been able to write about that as a celebration, which has been remarkable when you consider how incredibly sad she must be every day without her best friend. But he has been united with God, was lost and then found, and she finds strength in that because his destiny has been fulfilled. She has shared this story with her friends and neighbors (virtual and in the vicinity) to give all the Glory to God. God wants nothing more from us than to walk with him in our lives as a constant companion. These parables make the same point in two different ways. The first is to celebrate the repentance of a sinner – in the presence of some previously identified sinners in the Pharisees. The second is to celebrate the loss of something less important than a human, but something that we ourselves can find. I see these two parables as showing us that God mourns for each lost soul and we should do the same, as if each person is as precious as our belongings and “stuff.” God charges us to go do everything we can, sweep all the hidden corners, shine light into their darkness and keep searching until we find the ones who need to be found. God values us more than any amount of money, but the second parable hits home because we don’t always have the same value of human life as our Lord does, and Jesus’ story brings it to our simple level of human trappings.
My high school friend is celebrating the joyful reunion of her husband with Christ. Can we all do the same under her circumstances? Can we celebrate when we ourselves repent and return to him, knowing that we are bringing joy to our Lord by fulfilling our end of the covenant? How hard are we looking for ways to bring others to Christ?
Forgiving Lord, thank you for celebrating our return to you when we are found and repent. Help us as your followers to bring more people to Christ and to not stop looking until all are found. Help us tell out the Good News in your world. AMEN.