What to Wear

It’s Sunday morning! Time to get all spiffy and ready to go to church. What to wear? What lies at the heart of that question? Who are we dressing for? Have you ever felt like putting on church clothes is about more than clothes? Dress up to get those complements so they won’t notice the pain lurking behind your eyes. Keep things superficial so we don’t have to think about our life or lack of life. Sunday morning clothes that can be stripped off as we prepare to be every other day people. And sometimes I wonder if Sunday isn’t just something we put on for the day. I’m not saying that wearing nice clothes on Sunday is wrong. I am saying that playing dress-up on Sunday fails to get us where Christ wants us.

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Who Are You Slaving For

Imagine all that can be done with money. I am guessing here but I imagine that wealth can become something you tend to trust in; to rely upon for meeting all of life’s needs. The truth seems to be, again I’m guessing here, money makes life easier; less worrisome. Actually, I am not guessing, really. I am not wealthy by this country’s standards, but I am wealthy in comparison to a vast sea of humanity. I may bemoan my rising co-pays, but I have brothers and sisters who live in places where if you don’t have the money up front you don’t see a doctor or go to the hospital. Period. And maybe that is why this country has slipped into a post-Christian culture. We don’t need God. We have money; money for food; money for medical care; money for education; money for transportation; money for housing; money for, well, just about everything. Does money bow to your wishes, or do you do the bowing?

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Vantage Point

From which vantage point you are viewing Jesus. Are you looking in from the vantage point of the Pharisees and the scribes; the sons of light? Well, then Jesus seems to be a downright sin monger, or, at the very least, a defender of the wretched and a harsh critic of the righteous. And one of those criticisms was their self-view; their self-righteousness; their view that they were the sons of light and therefore so much better than the wretched sinners, other wise known as the sons of this present age. And these two vantage points: the view of Jesus through Pharisaical eyes; and the view of the religious elite through Jesus’ eyes, may be at the heart of the parable of the unjust steward.

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The Lost Older Son

There once was this person who was a pillar in their church. They never missed a worship; a Bible study; a gathering of any kind. This person attached themselves to as many ministry teams as humanly possible. Others looked up to them. Others wondered at their stamina and drive. But somewhere along the way all of this serving had been reduced to mere duty. And somehow all of this serving had darkened their heart towards others who didn’t serve, or didn’t serve as much, or didn’t serve in the right way. But at least they go to church; at least they are actively involved in good ministries. Right? But this person may be just as lost as the person who never darkens the doorway of a church.

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The Lost Younger Son

Let me ask you; have you ever been prodigal? Truth be told, I had to look the word up. I assumed all of these years that it meant something like “lost” or “wandering away from.” But instead, it means “wasteful, reckless,” and it is connected to spending habits. So, is it the Parable of the Reckless Spender or the Parable of the Lost Son? It may be just me, but I think “lost son” emphasizes that the story is within a series of stories. You had your lost sheep and your lost coin and your . . . uh . . . prodigal son. Nah, he was lost; in many ways he was lost. So, let me ask you; have you ever been lost? Being lost may lead to prodigal living, but I think the story is about lostness. And I think the main thing this young man lost was relationship; relationship that he carelessly discarded for a reckless adventure. So, let me ask you; have you ever been lost?

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The Woman’s Drachma

There is a part of this Jewish prayer that is thanking God that they are not women. If a household had no slaves, the women of the house were expected to do the demeaning task of washing the feet of guests before a meal. The temple of God was built to emphasize that Jewish men were closer to God than Jewish women. By the way, this is not God’s design. Solomon’s temple had one court. But man does what man does and twists God’s will to his own wants and impressions. Women in Jesus day, therefore, were used to being second class citizens, reduced to baby factories and cooks and housemaids. Boys were often taught to read so that they could read and understand Torah. Women were often illiterate. Why would they need to read? They were not allowed to discuss Torah in the synagogues. Produce babies and meals. You don’t need to read for that!

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All About Mission

It is all about mission. If you are a believer in God, whatever you determine to be the mission of God becomes your mission. How does the God you place your hope in view people? Does he save the good ones by stomping into the dust the scoundrels? Or does he do everything he can to get the scoundrels to follow his ways? Is it a seek and destroy mission or is it a seek and save mission? And if God has slotted a group of people for destruction, what would our treatment of them be? At the very least it would be avoidance and at the worst we would see ourselves as working for God by annihilating them ourselves. You know, like Paul did with the early Christians.

              Luke 15:1-7 is the first of three parables that make a similar point. God’s mission is saving not destroying. Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself. There is a setting scene: the Pharisees and the scribes grumble about how all the tax collectors and sinners approaching Jesus. The word “all” is most likely meant to be hyperbole. You know like when Mark tells us that all the country of Judea was going out into the wilderness to see this wild man named John. It is also most likely an assessment of his ministry and not merely a reference to a certain time frame. At issue was the fact that Jesus received sinners and ate with them. For the Pharisees and the Scribes, these people were going to be sought and destroyed by God. They were to be avoided. The righteous should stay with the righteous and leave the scoundrels to their own devices. It is important to keep this setting scene in mind as we go through the following parables.

              So, let’s say you have a hundred sheep. It misses the point to question whether or not it was likely that any of these Pharisees or Scribes would have been shepherds. They were familiar with the shepherd passages in Zechariah 34 and Psalm 23. And the reality of shepherds would not be too far out of their understanding. That’s why Jesus begins with, “What man among you if he had a hundred sheep.” Okay, if you are wealthy and you have one hundred sheep and one of them is lost, what would you do? The good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine behind to go search for the lost one. The emphasis is that in this moment the need of the one lost sheep is far more important than the need of the ninety-nine. Even though it is not in the story, it is likely to be understood that the not-lost sheep are not just left without protection. But the emphasis of the story is on the concern over the lost one.

              When this shepherd finds the lost sheep, he drapes it over his shoulders and carries it back to the flock. A lost sheep will most likely be scared and confused and carrying it is going to be more effective than leading it. And there is a lesson here isn’t there. Regardless of bluster, the lost are scared and confused, and the good shepherd is willing and able to carry them back to the flock. After securing the lost to the flock, the man goes home and calls together his friends and neighbors and invites them to rejoice with him. The implication is probably that he was asking for more than a “I am sure glad you found your lost sheep.” It is an invitation to celebrate with; to join the party.

              And then Jesus drives home the point. When a lost soul repents heaven breaks out in party mode. Some critics have questioned the whole repent thing, claiming that the reason the Pharisees and Scribes were scandalized by Jesus is that he didn’t call the sinners to repentance. When Jesus told the people to love their enemies, this is a call to repentance. Not to mention that 10:13 is a scathing rebuke because they have seen and heard Jesus and did not repent. And the implication of this verse is that the goal of seeking the lost is to bring them back to the flock. This, of necessity, calls for repentance; a sorrow for the path that has led away from God and changing direction to come back to God. And again, when that happens, heaven bursts forth with celebration. And isn’t that nice?

              Most sources will take a moment to point out that Jesus’ point is not that the Pharisees are saved; that they are not lost and therefore don’t need the seeking attention of God. They may have believed that of themselves, but that is not the reality. We all need to be found. We all need to be draped across the shoulders of Jesus. We all need to be carried back to the flock. The mission of God is seek and save. This is extremely important because the parable invites us to rejoice with all of heaven when a lost soul is found and brought back. But we will miss the party if we, like the Pharisees and Scribes, think God should just wipe these unrighteous folk out for being lost. And we miss the truth of our own lostness and need. Peace.

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Commitment

So, you are eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. And you ask yourself, “Who was more committed to providing breakfast for me; the chicken or the pig?” The chicken? Well, the chicken made a donation. The pig? Now, that pig was committed to providing savory breakfast meat. Jesus said that if we want to follow him, we have ourselves a cross to pick up. And picking up a cross is all about dying; all about being committed to following Christ. We are not talking about making a donation here.

              Luke 14:25-35 is all about what it means to be a disciple. We are reminded again of the journey narrative. There is this large crowd traveling along with Jesus along the journey. There may have been a buzz of excitement; a can this be the time and can this Jesus be the one buzz. Along the way Jesus tells them, “If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Okay, what the what? At this point many will compare this to Matthew 10:37. But again there are enough differences to allow a similar statement uttered at a different time for a different reason. It seems likely that this is an example of Hebrew hyperbole, and translating it with something like “love less” may slightly diminish what Jesus is saying. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should have more of a hold on you than following Jesus. So much so that you hate, despise, anything that hinders, hampers, deters, discourages, or anyway gets in the way of your commitment to follow. So, if a wife or a child or even your own self, stands in the way of Jesus, you push past and follow Jesus. This will, no doubt, feel like hatred. And to many a family member it did and does. And then he uttered another traveling saying: whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me be my disciple. Following Jesus is about carrying a cross around; being ready to die. Just as Jesus was on his way – ready – to die on his cross.

              And since following Jesus is about ready to die commitment, one really should seriously consider the cost before setting foot on the journey. Jesus tells two parables to illustrate this concept. If you are going to build a tower (probably a watchtower for a vineyard or garden), you will want to sit down and calculate whether or not you can afford to finish the project. I mean how embarrassing would it be to lay the foundation and run out of funds? This failure to consider the cost would be a public blunder and open to ridicule. Or, think of a king who sets out to meet another king in battle. If he marches his army out and then realizes he cannot win this battle, he will have to negotiate terms, and most likely to his detriment. How much better would it be to consider everything before setting out to fight only to realize you have no stomach for what is before you. Jesus’ point here is not avoiding overwhelming odds. His point is being aware of the odds and committing to the battle. I think many an evangelist fails to see the significance of these words. We excitedly speak of the benefits of following Christ and we naively or purposely fail to mention the cross; the dying to self; the putting Jesus before all other entanglements. And this includes possessions. Following Jesus is not about getting more money or things. It is about subjecting those things to his service. Giving up possessions means you own nothing. It all belongs to God and is for God.

              And how does the discussion of salt fit in here? As a seasoning, salt flavors food by giving up of itself. But if that saltiness is leached out before it is put on the food, the salt serves no purpose. It can now add nothing to food. And it doesn’t matter whether salt can lose its saltiness or not. I’ve heard it both ways. Maybe Jesus is touching on a truth here. Merely dying to self is not the lesson. Some people die to themselves in an unhealthy way that has nothing to do with following Jesus. They hate themselves and the world. They have lost their ability to add flavor. The dying to yourself that Jesus calls us to is a dying that holds onto your essence, but uses it to add flavor to the world; to follow Jesus.

              Following Jesus is about commitment; the pig kind of commitment; the kind of commitment that is willing to be used by Jesus to add flavor to the world; to have your abilities – your saltiness – as a seasoning for the benefit, not of yourself, but for others. Don’t get me wrong, following Jesus is the best life; the only life really. But before you go around spouting that you are a disciple, count the cost. It will cost you everything. You should know that before you set foot on the journey. Because it will not do anyone any good for you to quit along the way. Ah, but if you commit to Jesus, the benefits our out of this world. Peace.

Belonging

Have you ever felt out of place; like you don’t belong? A long time ago, I found myself in the house of a heart surgeon. His daughter and mine were in the same Brownie troop. I felt very much like I did not belong in this house. It had nothing to do with how we were treated. The owners of the house were very friendly. But at the time I didn’t really know them. And It was the fanciest house I had ever been in that wasn’t a museum. I kept thinking that I might bump into something and break it; something that was worth more than I could ever begin to hope to replace. Would I have to sell one of my children? This house represented people who ran in different circles than I do; people who were comfortable speaking of country clubs and traveling to the Caiman Islands or whatever else it is that wealthy people do. As it turns out, the heart surgeon and his wife became good friends of ours. We often met for coffee at Panera Bread. And I discovered, much to my surprise, that I did indeed belong in his presence. And it had nothing to do with my wealth or familiarity with country club speak.

              Luke 14:15-24 is the parable of the great supper. The setting scene is a dinner in which Jesus had given instructions about who you should invite to a banquet. One of the invited guests who was reclining with them blurted out with a “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” This was most likely an invitation for Jesus to give his opinion on a centuries old conversation. In Isaiah 25 there is a banquet prepared by God on the mountain of God and all nations are invited. Many Jewish sources give commentary on this passage. The Qumran community just flat out denies that the nations are invited. Other sources say something along the line of, “Well, yes they will be invited, but only in order for God to judge and slay them.” There is also most likely an assumption on the fellow invited guest’s part. I am blessed because I am sure I will eat bread in the kingdom of God. It was an elitist statement.

              So, Jesus responds with a parable about a certain man (not a king) who does, makes, creates a mega meal. Many were invited and the implication is that they accepted the invitation. In the Middle East the invitation would have been sent out early and the size of the meal was determined by how many accepted. This is important because some have tried to suggest that the excuses were valid. Not in this culture and not when you consider them. The hour of the feast arrives and he sends out the standard notice: “Come; everything is now ready.” The wording implies that the three excuses are representative of many and that it was an orchestrated refusal. The first one says that he has bought a piece of land and needs to look at it. The day of the feast was set. And no one in this culture would buy land sight unseen. Such a refusal would be an insult; an intended insult. The second is similar. No one would buy a team of oxen without first taking them for a test drive. These first two excuses indicate wealth. The third reason is blunt and would have been considered rude. Remember, the day of the feast had been set. The invitation had been accepted. Most likely this excuse maker is saying that he had recently married and that he is busy thank you very much and cannot be bothered with going to a feast. Luke, more so than the other gospel writers, emphasizes the danger of putting spouses before service to God (14:26; 18:29).

              The creator of the feast becomes angry. Again, this was an orchestrated insult. In his anger he responds with grace. He tells his slave to search out the streets and lanes of the city and bring the poor, crippled, blind, and lame people to the mega banquet. This is done but the tables are not quite full. So, the servant is sent outside of the city to invite those there. Is this about the Gentiles being included? Since Jesus was being invited to comment on Isaiah 25, yes, this is about the Gentiles being invited. It is also about Jesus’ ministry to the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame – to the forgotten dregs of society. There is much discussion about the slave being told to “compel” this out of the city group to come. It is true that the word can mean “force,” but in this context it is more the idea of convince. This group is going to find it hard to believe that they are truly being invited. Compel them. Convince them.

              You! You are invited to the banquet of God. Right now! The word has been sent, “Come; for everything is ready now.” You belong. It may be hard to feel the truth of this. Satan whispers doubts that worm their way into your brain and sometimes you don’t feel as if you truly belong sitting down to this elaborate feast. You! You are invited to the banquet of God. Believe it! Live it! Feast up. Peace.

Who to Invite

There is this saying out there: The Lord helps those who help themselves. Sometimes this is said sardonically. It becomes an indictment against God’s involvement in one’s life. It is the prayer of Jimmy Stewart’s character in Shenandoah: “Thank you Lord for this food, even though we tilled the ground; we planted the seed; we harvested; we did all the work.” Not a word for word account, but it captures the general essence of the prayer. Or “the Lord helps those who help themselves” may be a ward against lazy Christians; an encouragement to hinder a Lazyboy faith. God will only help you if you put in the effort. And if we are talking about praying that God will help you get a job, then I agree, you should get out there and fill out applications and put effort into the prayer. If you ask God to bless your crop, for goodness sake, get out there and work the ground; plant the seeds; kill yourself some weeds; and harvest. But what about salvation? Jesus swooped in and said things like “it is the sick who need a physician,” and “I came to seek and save the lost.” This doesn’t sound like “the Lord helps those who help themselves” to me.

              Luke 14:12-14 is a continuation of the banquet theme. Jesus had been invited to a dinner and he had already given them instructions about seeking the place of honor. In our passage the message is to the inviter. When you give or do a luncheon or dinner . . . The word “give” has the idea of “do, make, create,” and the emphasis may be that a banquet is an event that you work; you do. It is more than giving. It is a lot of effort. The Jewish people, as well as the Romans, had two main meals; one in the late morning and one in the late afternoon. The second was the most important of the two and the most likely target meal of a banquet. Although the emphasis here may be the daily meals. So, whatever time of day you invite others to dine with you, do not invite your friends, or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors. What? Are you saying that having a meal with family and friends is wrong Jesus? There was a common way of teaching in Jesus day; an understood emphasis. You could throw a “merely” in at the beginning of the statement and that would hit Jesus point. Don’t merely invite this group of people. This group is most likely going to reciprocate and invite you to a meal they are working. And if you merely invite those who are likely to invite you, are you working a meal so that you can be repaid in kind?

              Jesus gives instructions of whom you should invite to a banquet. The word used here replaces the two words for daily meals in verse 12. It refers to a banquet or feast. It is not a daily event; it is a special occasion or a special guests event. In effect, Jesus is saying you work harder for these guests. And who are they? The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. This is the same group Jesus mentions in his parable of the dinner guests (verse 21). The parable is about who God invites to the great feast. So, one of the reasons we are instructed to invite this group is because they are who God invites. Interestingly, the crippled, lame and blind descendants of Aaron were not allowed to minister in the temple (cf. Leviticus 21:17-23). The passage makes it very clear that these men were allowed to eat the priests’ portion. Through the years, people began to think the commandment was about who was excluded from the kingdom. They began to view these physical handicaps as punishments from God. And the poor? A good pious Pharisee would give to the poor because it was commanded, but his view of the poor would have been that the blessings of God – the favor of God – were being withheld from them and for a good reason. For the religious elite this is about more than people who you would never consider inviting to a banquet; this is about who God would never invite; this is about avoiding those cursed by God.

              And Jesus wraps this section up by stating that if you invite these people who do not possess the means of working a feast for you, you will be blessed. You will be happy. You will be the recipient of divine favor. And this blessing comes from the very fact that they cannot reciprocate. Instead, you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous. You are blessed now and you will be repaid – invited to the great feast worked by God – when the resurrection happens. Well, that’s alright then.

              God helps those who are not able to help themselves; those who can in no way pay for the favor of being invited. You know, the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. We want to think this does not apply to us, but compared to God we are all of us poor, crippled, lame, and blind. God invites us even though we can not work up any kind of return. So, be like God and help those who cannot help themselves. Peace.