09-29-19 THE CASE OF POOR MAN LAZARUS


Luke 16:19-31

Writers, playwrights, and filmmakers have, over the years, described and offered social commentary on those who have means, or money; and those who have little, or are poor. For example, Alan Jay Lerner in the musical “Camelot” couched the differences subtly in the whimsical song “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” Listen to the lyrics between King Arthur and Guenevere:
GUENEVERE
What do the simple folk do
To help them escape when they\’re blue?
The shepherd who is ailing, the milkmaid who is glum
The cobbler who is wailing from nailing his thumb
When they\’re beset and besieged
The folk not noblessly obliged
However do they manage to shed their weary lot?
Oh, what do simple folk do we do not?
ARTHUR
I have been informed by those who know them well
They find relief in quite a clever way
When they\’re sorely pressed, they whistle for a spell
And whistling seems to brighten up their day
And that\’s what simple folk do
So they say
GUENEVERE
They whistle?
ARTHUR
So they say
Then they conclude that they sing.
Then they conclude that they dance.
Finally, Guenevere asks:
GUENEVERE
What else do the simple folk do
To help them escape when they\’re blue?
And ARTHUR replies:
They sit around and wonder what royal folk would do
And that\’s what simple folk do

That’s an entertaining look at the poor by the rich. That was in 1960.
In 1983, I first enjoyed a Dan Ackroyd/Eddie Murphy comedy called “Trading Places.” It featured classic actors Ralph Belamy and Don Ameche as two brothers; one thinks rich people have superior intellect and skills and poor people don’t. The other brother bets him that he can turn a poor petty thief into a stock trader and a stock trader into a poor petty thief. Watch the film to see what happens!

When we come to the story Jesus uses, some have suggested that he did not make the story up of poor man Lazarus but had heard it over his life and used it to illustrate his point. In the story only the poor man is given a name—Lazarus—while the rich man has no name. Tradition has called him “Dives” (DI-vees) but that is actual the word for rich man in the old Latin Bible. One thing’s for sure: That story has been sited time and time again in literature. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Summoner says that “Dives and Lazarus lived differently, and their rewards were different.” In Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1, John Falstaff alludes to the story when he says to Bardolph, “I never see thy face, but I think upon hell-fire and Dives that lived in purple, for there he is in his robes, burning, burning.” In the Victorian Era, Elizabeth Gaskell and Mary Barton said “Workers and masters are separate as Dives and Lazarus.” And even though his Christmas Book with Ebenezer Scrooge called A Christmas Carol does not specifically allude to Dives and Lazarus, the introduction to the Oxford edition does. Two other examples of the influence of this New Testament story: Herman Melville, in his novel Moby Dick, has Ishmael describe a freezing and windy night saying “Poor Lazarus, chattering his teeth against the curbstone,” and Dives “the privilege of making my own summer with my own coals.” One could afford to build a fire, the other could not. And American poet T. S. Eliot, in The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock says: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all” referencing Lazarus returning from the dead to tell the brothers of the rich man their fate.

This is not a heaven and hell story primarily, although it has been used that way. This is a story about those who have and those who don’t. Jesus has just finished saying “You can’t love God and money in chapter 16:13. Then we read in verse 14: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they scoffed at [Jesus.]” But Jesus knows how to tell a story, and how to make it effective. He includes details. See, the rich man “feasted sumptuously” every day, while the poor man lay at his place of homelessness, a gate of the city, and he did not have the strength to stop the dogs coming to lick his sores. That is excruciating detail. This coming year, 2020 ,our government once again will be taking a census. Censuses matter regarding the population of a community and the money our government allows for each of them. Yes, the census takers can count how many people have a house, a condo, or an apartment, but smart community leaders also lead them into the woods at night to count the heads of those who are called homeless. They are called that because they have no address, but try to move them from their spot, or at a gate, or a bridge, or a bench and they will resist. A census taker in 2010, said he was not surprised to find many homeless people in the woods in the exact same spot where he found them the last time! Everyone wants a home, even if society calls them “homeless.” If Jesus returned today, I think he would want to take me, and you, and many others to Halifax Urban Ministries to show how many ordinary people, who’ve gotten behind on rent, or had an accident or an illness that kept them from returning to work, come by each day for a hot meal. Jesus would want us to see, and hear, and smell what hunger is like. He would also want us to show hospitality and kindness to one Lazarus, and to another Lazarus. From Confirmation Classes to youth groups to adults groups, congregation members have gone with Jesus (metaphorically speaking) and have seen Lazarus. You can see Lazarus 7 days a week at the hot meal program. You can also see Lazarus under those bridges and in the woods. Jesus wants us to see them, and know they too are human beings. Jesus would want us to see the 150 men at our ministry for those recently addicted or incarcerated at “Solutions By-The-Sea” too. Jesus would want us to know we too might be one pill, or one injection, one drink, or one snort away from addiction, which leads to a pit of poverty, a hell on earth. If you would like to join Tobias Caskey for one of his Sunday afternoon services as I have, you’ll find Lazarus there recovering. You’ll find kind, welcoming, and hopeful people. It is a deep chasm from poverty to sustainability, or from addiction to sobriety. But people are crossing the chasm with the help of congregations like ours. It takes a lot of time from an ordinary person, to make a connection that matters. Time matters to build trust with those like Lazarus.

But also money matters to people like Lazarus. What is a gift, and what is a sacrifice to a poor man or a rich man? It’s like the story of the chicken and the pig. A pig and a chicken were walking down a road. As they passed a church, they noticed a charity potluck brunch being held. The chicken suggested to the pig that they each make a contribution to the cause. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!” the chicken suggested. “Not so fast,” the pig replied. “What you’d give would be a contribution, but what I’d have to give is a total commitment!” For a pauper, giving 10% of one’s income could be a genuine sacrifice. But for a prince, giving 10% would be a contribution. Our world is helped by generous gifts. Daytona Beach, for example, has had some significant gifts given for the good of the community. Some people of means have caused the levels of income to rise, because they have invested greatly in this area. Good for them! We are helped by such philanthropy.

There is, of course, the story of Robin Hood, who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. This is not that story. This is a story about a nameless rich man (Dives, Latin for “rich man”) and about a poor man with a name. This is a story about not living or dying with regrets. This is a story reminding us: “you can’t take it with you.” And it’s a story that suggests that honoring God, by finding people who can use a leg up, is more honorable than loving your money as you love yourself. People and organizations I’ve learned about have been so pleased to provide a school lunch for those who can’t afford them, or buy new shoes for those sticking cardboard in the soles of their existing shoes. One online sock company says that for every pair of socks you buy from them, they will give another pair to a homeless shelter. They learned that new socks are one of the most requested commodities in homeless shelters.

Can you imagine such poverty where a man sits in a spot next to a gate, and dogs lick his wounds? We need not look overseas for that. We can see it even in this county. Jesus message to the Pharisees is “open your eyes and your hearts to your neighbors!” And he invites us to do the same.

Jeffrey A. Sumner September 29, 2019

09-22-19 THE CASE OF THE DISHONEST STEWARD

THE CASE OF THE DISHONEST STEWARD
Luke 16: 1-9

One time growing up I visited a tilt house at a carnival. In it, I found a mirror that distorted my image, walls that were not straight, floors that were not level, and ceilings that were not parallel to the floor. As I went around a corner, I knew I was in a strange place as water appeared to be flowing uphill! So many things played tricks on my mind. When I left the tilt house, I was glad to be able to again tell up from down, and see that water flowed downhill.

As we head into the end of September, Halloween themed nights at theme parks and Halloween types of television shows are starting to appear; they again mess with my mind and my sense of right and wrong. Clowns that used to delight children at circuses or a rodeos are destructive and horrifying this time of the year. Thanks to the macabre mind of Stephen King and his book It, that film about a demented clown had the top grossing box office last week.
Next week a new television show called “Preacher” will air on AMC network. At first I thought a show about a preacher might be interesting for me to see. Then in our tilt house world I read the synopsis: “Jesse Custer is a hard-drinking, chain smoking preacher who becomes infused with an extraordinary power. He embarks on a quest to literally find God alongside his trigger-happy ex-girlfriend, Tulip, and new vampire friend, Cassidy.” (Promotional material) The title to a 1963 film came to my mind: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” And so it is.

Sometimes, I wonder if I am still in a tilt house.
Lies are called truth, and true statements are called lies.
Is there global warming or not?

Are the leaders of Russia and North Korea our friends or our enemies?
Should children be vaccinated or not?
What I used to think was north, south, east or west has been brought into question. So I have tried grounding myself in someone to trust, and something I can trust. I turn to God, and to my Bible. But sometimes, like today, when I open my Bible, I get a story like the one we find in Luke 16: a head scrambler. Then I feel like I’m still in a tilt-house. Who is the good guy in this parable? Who is the bad guy? What is the moral of the story? Is it really that the listeners should make friends with unrighteous mammon, or in common language, with dirty money? Is the moral really that we have to watch our own back because no one else will do it for us? Am I still reading from “The Good Book?” Help me decide.

A rich man had a manager, and someone told the rich man that the manager was wasting his money. There was no inquiry; there was just a rhetorical question to the manager: “What is this that I hear about you?” By definition, that’s hearsay. But on that basis, and that basis alone according the premise, the manager is fired. So that makes the rich man the bad guy, right? Since he fires a man with a snap judgment and no evidence, is he the bad guy? Then I think, “perhaps the manager is the good guy!” So I latch on to him and listen in to him talk to himself saying: “I am not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg.” I too know some who would not be strong enough to dig if they were fired without notice. Do you know someone who would be too ashamed to beg? I understand this man’s reflection. But then, his thinking takes a worldly turn instead of a Godly turn. He does something that, to me, seems unethical. But what do I know? I still wonder if I’m in a tilt house! He calls the buyers of his boss’s goods and makes a deal that completely lines his own pockets with money rightfully intended for his boss. Now he’s become a thief!

To the man who owed his boss 100 measures of oil, he says make it fifty; and to the one who owes 100 hundred measures of wheat, he says to make it eighty. We are left to our own assumptions about whether the man took the adjusted amount for himself or gave the lower amount to his boss. I’m inclined to think he kept it, (which is wrong in my world,) but if the boss commends him for what he did, I’m wondering: did he give the lowered amounts to his boss? But then, almost like a conversation between two mobsters, the boss commends the manager for his quick thinking. It is an odd story that fails to give a plumb line to my tilt house. “Jesus, why did you share this story?” I ask.

In his book Parables as Subversive Speech, William R. Herzog, II who was Professor of New Testament at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, wrote this: “The parable of the unjust steward has long been considered one of the most puzzling parables of Jesus. Yet interpreters have not been at a loss to propose possible meanings.” [Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994, p. 233. Herzog then goes into more than two and a half pages of theories which is why this parable feels tilted to me. Not one theory was completely helpful. So I have drawn my own conclusion: this particular parable was especially aimed at the disenfranchised workers listening to Jesus, especially the ones who felt cheated by management. Was the story told from their perspective? Jesus said the owner of the business was rich, (the perception of the workers?). Then, perhaps, the manager of the business was crooked too, so the story is told as if he stole or worked deals for his own gain.

Finally, we come to what Jesus says about the parable: “Make friends with unrighteous mammon” (or money). What? What does that mean? Listen to expert Herbert Lockyer: “Christ did not commend the cunning deceit, but the astuteness of this steward, (or manager). [All the Parables of the Bible Zondervan, 1963, p.290. Even that doesn’t lead me to a good reason for this story being in the Bible.

In many corners of our world today, we look in vain for paragons of virtue. This story certainly had no one above the fray of deceit. But what did Jesus expect his hearers to glean from it? I’ve heard someone say about a mastermind criminal: “If only he used his vast talents for good!” That means they admired his skill, or thinking, or shrewdness. Jesus does not need Christian nitwits.
What can we learn from felons who continue to escape from maximum security prisons? They seem to have some amazing influence, or intelligence, or both that is misguided. Jesus, it seems, needs people working for the Kingdom of God who are as smart as they are are about making money, or moving money. We need to learn from the best. We can learn from people who lie, or cheat, or steal—not copying their deceit, or their dishonesty, but learning from their shrewdness. How many non-Christians in our world make more money or are more productive than some Christians are? That’s the major lesson, the food for thought, of this strange story. We should learn from the best.

After unpacking the likely meaning of this parable, it feels just a little less disorienting when I read it. But when I look at our world today?
Sometimes it still… seems … tilted.

Jeffrey A. Sumner September 22, 2019

09-15-19 Rejoice in God’s Presence

“Rejoice in God’s Presence”
Gospel Luke 15:1-10
God hears us when we speak; God hears us when we think; God hears us when we pray. There is nothing that God doesn’t know about us; there is nothing that God isn’t a part of. God is the constant that is the world. Sometimes that is a cloudy reality as we go through the days trying to figure out maybe why things happen; or the greatest question at any Sunday school class, why bad things happen to good people or vice versa. We try to grasp things that may be out of our control like a family member that is suffering with an addiction or a friend that won’t go the doctors or someone that just won’t do it our way. LOL A friend who I attended Discipleship classes with here by the name of Lou Jacobs; who recently passed away; once told me a story about a hat. She said, I was looking for this hat one day to cover my head to go outside and I couldn’t find it in my house. She continued, I looked all over for it; In every room I looked for this hat everywhere, but to no avail I couldn’t find it. I looked again; I got frustrated; I looked in the closets where I thought it was; and then in the closets where I didn’t think it was; I looked all over for this hat and it was nowhere to be found. She said you know, I finally stopped looking for the hat as I just decided to chalk it up to a loss. As I was walking through the house a little later, I walked into the bedroom and there it was; on the edge of the bed; there was the hat; sitting there waiting to be found. Do we get in our own way sometimes? Do we get in our way thinking too much into something rather than letting God help us and guide us; trying to do things our way; not God’s, as God is the reason, we are alive; as God is the reason we are; The last time I checked I am not the one that makes my heart beat. Thomas Merton, the great theologian and writer wrote “A Sacrifice is an action which is objectively sacred and primarily of a social character, and what is important is not so much the pain or difficulty attached to it as the meaning, the sacred significance which not only conveys an idea but effects a divine and religious transformation in the worshipper, thus consecrating and uniting them more closely to God.” The action of the Holy Spirit.
I fight this a lot; me getting in my own way. I am always trying to think of new ways to write, or not write a sermon; I over think the sermon whether to write part of it down or all of it down; I hear all the clichés of sermon writing; better to have a script in front of you; The worst thing to happen to someone is for them to go blank and then silence; not to know what to say in a situation; not to know how to live out their lives; not to know were to turn who to turn to. Silence. By the time I get done thinking this all out, I’m either writing the sermon the night before, or I am telling it cold with no script so to speak. Of course, times have and will come when I speak a sermon without a script; that is not written down; not knowing what to say; not knowing the answer. Much like life; living on faith; Predestined maybe; as I steal a quote from Francis of Assisi, using words when necessary; that our decisions in life are just simple sermons to live out. That as much as we think we are alone we are not; that everything is and was written down for us to live out easily; for us just to walk through life living out our sermons preaching the Gospel in all our actions. The living action in the life of the Christ. The reality of the Holy Spirit.

Recently I visited the beautiful town of Dubuque Iowa. I have the honor of going there once a year for Seminary as I am an online student at the university of Dubuque, a Presbyterian Seminary, in their Master of Divinity program. Classes start there for the two weeks at eight o’clock in the morning and end at five; hence the word intensive; there is usually a retreat of sorts depending on the class your enrolled in and the year you are attending. For me the class I was enrolled in this year was “The Gospel in Context,” where we studied a community; their likes, dislikes; their practices; what they ate how they ate; what they did for fun; their culture and how scripture lives out in that culture. As Jesus did when he preached and taught, he used the cultural practices of the people for the people to better relate to what he was trying to say to them; much like the scripture today or As when Jesus used the Samaritan as “the Good Samaritan when the Samaritans were actually a hated people. When he preached of the Sheep and the Good shepherd; when he used Manna and other realities of the Jewish faith as these were all well-known parts of these people’s cultures. He used who they were and what they were all about; to show them who they truly were; men and women of God. So, on a Thursday morning at about seven thirty the Gospel in Context class took off on what the Professors called an immersion trip. This was to immerse the students in the cultures of a small town and a growing suburban area which if you read the structure of a suburban area; growth is a subjective word as growth is actually based on movement which has to do with declining numbers in the community as well as increasing; as this was what was happening in the city we visited. We went to Wisconsin and what a beautiful place it was. As it seemed such a faraway place much like in the Bible; it really was much the same life as ours here, much the same people; going through the same problems; fighting the same life changes. As was in our first reading.
What was used as a congregational reading of God’s wrath shifts to a prayer of God’s grace. The purported author of the Psalm 51, David; actually wrote the psalm to repent of sins he had committed at one time in his life; much like the people of Wisconsin; maybe much like us. As the prayer is not repeated for the same reasons as David used it; as we all say the same prayers to be of different meanings in our lives when we pray; to repent or intercede; to ask for or to give away different things; things of the heart; either what we need or don’t need, this prayer; this reading; this reality of life becomes a universal call for all of us to say to God together in one voice as it was meant to be. To be used in our daily lives as Martin Luther calls us to do as his voice wrings out from the depths of the protestant reformation; “We cannot attain to the understanding of Scripture either by study or by the intellect. Your first duty is to begin by prayer. Entreat the Lord to grant you, of His great mercy, the true understanding of His Word. There is no other interpreter of the Word of God than the Author of this Word, as He Himself has said, “They shall be all taught of God” (John 6:45). Hope for nothing from your own labors, from your own understanding: trust solely in God, and in the influence of His Spirit. Believe this on the word of a man who has experience.” (Martin Luther) As much as the Bible is a living word; the living word of God this prayer; this first reading is spoken to us and for us as much as it is spoken by us and through us that we may pray along with all the rest of history; all the rest of time in a prayer that means what it means in our lives; in the lives of the people of Wisconsin; in the lives of the people everywhere. The living word of God; the; living word of prayer; that as we pray with those in the Bahamas; as we pray with those across the sea as we pray with the Church; that we say this scripture together; not at the same time but with the same meaning; with the same reverence to God; for each other; for God; of God.

One of my other Seminary classes this semester is Early and Medieval Church History. As we walk through the thoughts and minds of theologians from Tertullian to Irenaeus to Clement, we walk through the history of the Church and all that it was at the time. This of course is based on the reality of The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and how the one and three and the three in one works and lives and how our lives play apart in the Church of God. I read a great quote that brings to light a reality of history, “That history is crucial for understanding not only the life of Jesus, but also the entire Biblical message.” (Gonzales) In the same manner the Church thrives through the Church knowing and living what the Church was and is now. Learning the past that we may see the present that we may thrive in the future. That we may live the Christian life in a wholeness that is of God. Divine love. As I love to quote Martin Luther; he states “ God is not a God of sadness, death, etc.,Christ is a God of joy, and so the Scriptures often say that we should rejoice … A Christian should and must be a cheerful person. (Martin Luther) To learn to live to love as Jesus shows us as the Christ lives through us; we are called to live; to rejoice; to smile; to love; to be Christian. To know our pasts that we can change our futures. This is for everyone as we all live a theology; as we are all called to bask in the loving grace that is God.
Jesus lives this for us as we walk through the scripture reading of the Gospel of Luke; called by some as “the heart of the Gospel,” As William Barclay portrays it as being called the Gospel in the Gospel, as if it contains the very distilled essence of the Good news which Jesus came to tell.” (William Barclay) When the lost are recovered from Jesus’s call for repentance and conversion a strong note of joy is struck; As this Gospel shows God’s love and mercy for the sinful person. Let us look a little deeper into the scripture. First is the Shephard, someone, weathered, tired leaning on a staff looking out to a flock across a barren landscape of treacherous pitfalls and small fields of joy. Looking out to the flock; all of them the shepherd knows; every hair on their head; Every one of the flock on his heart; concerned for all of them. He knows them all. He lives for them; he goes over hill over valley to save just one of them; just one of the flock, to save them; to bring them home. To save them all. As the women that is looking through her house to find the lost coins; to find the lost that cannot be found; to seek what might not ever come back; looking for the lost that they may be found again.
But as the Shephard sees one of his flock going a stray as he counts and there is one gone from view lost from his heart he strives to save them; he seeks to find the lost one; he lives to bring back the one that has gone astray. In the same manner the women in her house searches with the consistency of a loving God to find the lost coins that have left that have gone away. As the Pharisees attacked Jesus for everything he is, trying to discredit him for the love that he is; as they were standing there watching this man Jesus they said to each other,” This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them,” Why do people resist God’s searching love? The Pharisees and scribes despised the tax collectors and sinners that came to Jesus. Tax collectors worked for the roman government and were considered traitors who sold themselves to the Romans. The sinners might have committed a serious crime, but the term was also applied to those who had broken ritual purity laws and to women who husbands divorced them. Tax collectors and sinners were considered part of the unacceptable because they did not believe and behave properly or look like them or act like them or dress like them. The scribes and Pharisees were quick to condemn but slow to recognize the hollowness of their own righteous behavior; the log in their own eye.

Jesus comes again from the upside-down reality that is God. That we are to seek the lost; that we are to leave no one behind; that the love of God is endless, and we are to live that love in all that we are.
But how do we do it when we don’t have a script; how do we know the answer in the silence of our everyday; well the script is there as it has been all along; The Bible. It’s written out tested by so many; to show us as it has shown the history of the Church in the same way; the way to live; the way to live out our scripts in our predestined paths in the living Christ. To live out that sermon we have been given; not to over think it or maybe even write it down but to live it faithfully predestined in God; That we see not so much the indifference of others but the sameness in all of us. That in looking at our own gospels in context that we are all fighting the same fight; that we all come from the same place; from the same history; from the same day to day silence. And as Jesus springs to action in this silence to bring us all in from the fields; to bring the lost lambs back to the fold he calls the church to rejoice. As God is the active participant in seeking to save the lost; this gives the parables their urgency and power as expressions of the nature of God enacted in the midst of everyday human life. he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And 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.’ 7Just 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.
This is our calling not to be the one to whom repentance is made but to be the ones who rejoice in the vastness of his glory. That when one of the lost comes home that we rejoice as with the angels in heaven; that we rejoice with God as he says rejoice with me for, I have found my sheep that was lost. That we live happy lives as Martin Luther spoke of; That as our scripts play out; as we live out our sermons for God and others; that our faith grows; that our simplicity of action becomes the simplicity of a Child; that we let go of over thinking; doing it our way and that we seek the companionship of the living God to show us how to live; that as we pray those prayers of history; of our history; those prayers of many that they are answered as they always have been. That we celebrate life with God; as God celebrates life through us. that we don’t try to figure out why; that we don’t try figure out who; but just celebrate with God; life as it is right here right now. Our lives in God’s living loving world.
As John puts it, “He will show the world how wrong it was about sin, about who was really in the right, and about true judgment” (16:8). This is what Jesus exposed and defeated on the cross. He did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God—and about ourselves—and about where goodness and evil really lie. God’s way of work is to seek and save through merciful love. John Knox wrote: I sought neither preeminence, glory, nor riches; my honor was that Jesus Christ should reign; let us join together in that reign; let us celebrate in the history of the Church; that we may live out today; that we may rely on God with the faith and simplicity of Children; Let us bask in that glory and beauty; in the celebration of life our lives in God’s. God’s life in ours.

sought neither preeminence, glory, nor riches; my honor was that Jesus Christ should reign.”
— John Knox
“I sought neither preeminence, glory, nor riches; my Gospel Luke 15:1-10
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So 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? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And 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.’ 7Just 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.
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? 9When 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.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

09-08-19 THE THRILL OF VICTORY AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT

THE THRILL OF VICTORY AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT

Luke 14:1; 7-14

Be honest. How many of you have heard the sermon title before? Are you old enough to remember ABS’s Wide World of Sports, and the phrase “the agony of defeat” being declared as a skier misses his jump and crashes down the snowy mountain? That was an excellent introduction to the show each week because to this day, I have not forgotten it.  Then again I have also had heard it said that “people learn more from mistakes than perfection.”  For example, Mary Ann learned to not wear dress shoes with the heel worn out when she slipped last February and spent four months in a shoe boot. Radford and I, along with other preachers, must be founts of wisdom from the mistakes we have made leading worship over the years!  But of course, there are more profound examples too. Gymnast Simone Biles took plenty of falls before she finally mastered two moves named after her: a double layout half out on the floor exercise, and the Yurchenko half on with two twists on the vault. Wow. Elon Musk had several false starts with his Space X Starhopper rocket prototype before he sent it up and had it land softly upright on August 27th. Those blast-offs and landings are marvels to see. And it took lots of tries to make them happen. When it comes to storms, when Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead Florida, it devastated the area. But building codes all over Florida were strengthened. With subsequent storms, structure have been made safer. Now our church’s roofs and our steeple have been constructed to the highest codes in our history. Many in the area actually survived the glancing blow of Hurricane Dorian this past week. Live and learn; trial and error. Embarrassment and dignity. These events are part of life.

Jesus had such as sense of wisdom regarding human nature; it is almost as if he could see our foibles and missteps long into the future.  Here’s an example:

When he noticed that guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit in the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host…. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher,’ then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.  (Luke 14: 7-10)

These words were said at the time of a special journey to Jerusalem, perhaps for a special holy day, when relatives and friends opened their homes to family members, friends, and dignitaries. Their literally was “no room in the inns” on those weekends. Don’t picture parable just as a banquet for wealthy people. Many in that crowd could have been poor, and opening their home to guests would have been at an enormous cost, when a goat or fatted calf—perhaps supplemented with hummus, breads, and vegetables—was prepared to feed a large crowd,. The gathering might have included people who thought they were “somebody special” back home, but here, all ended up on an equal footing. If you have ever had a guest in your home presume to choose where to sit when you already have a seating chart in mind, you know how stressful that can be. In in the midst of hurricane Dorian, devoted leaders opened shelters to whoever needed them. They were all in a safe place together; there was no VIP section! Even neighbors took in neighbors, and relatives invited family members or friends to cross or leave the state to gain safety. Some stayed here and shared their home with someone who would have been alone. What a great time to have shown humility and thankfulness! Did you receive gratefully? Did you offer graciously? This is what Jesus certainly learned as a boy from Scripture: Proverbs 16:5 says: “Every haughty person is an abomination to the Lord.”  Proverbs 16:18 says: “Pride goes before ruin; arrogance before failure.” And this one nails it, Proverbs 25: 6-7: “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence; do not stand in the place of nobles.  For it is better to be told, ‘Step up here,’ than to be degraded in the presence of the great.” A bit of hyperbole makes Solomon’s point in those Proverbs.  In situations such as Jesus’ parable, and in the situations we faced over the last week, people certainly felt tensions. Some may have cried, some may have stress snacked constantly, and some may have forgotten their manners as they stood in lines for food or sat in line for gas. Some shared a shelter with people they did not know well. So tensions may have risen. Nothing is helped by short tempers, words hotly exchanged, or kindness forgotten. Hopefully with acts of hospitality, some here were able to receive or offer hospitality, reframing this story into one of grace and kindness. We will still run into people who feel special or entitled. But as Mark Twain once observed: “A self-made man is like a self-made egg.”

 Remember: you are a child of God who, like everyone else, needs nourishment, wants safety, and at times, remembers to do unto others as we would like to have done unto us. After the storm, many people got to know their neighbors even better. This week and beyond, we can show not only our Christianity, but also our simple humanity, and our willingness to be a neighbor to others. “What would Jesus do?” He taught us part of what he would do in the parable today. Go and do likewise.

Let us pray:

Holy God, in the storms of life, calm us. Help us to use our resources wisely, to show kindness unselfishly, and always, to walk humbly, following the example of Jesus. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                 September 8, 2019