READING: Luke 16:19-31
[Jesus said:] 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He 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.’ 25But 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. 26Besides 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.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He 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.’ ”
When I was in grade school, they showed us a movie I will never forget. To the best of my recollection, it was called “Zero.” The movie tells the story of a young boy, probably about 10 or 11, who is on his way to school one day on the bus, when he suddenly stands up and desperately asks to be let off. He stumbles down the stairs, takes a couple of steps, and collapses in the snow. With no warning, he is gone. And one of his previous teachers, who happened to be following the bus to school that day, as he runs to help after the boy falls, realizes he doesn’t remember who he is. The bus driver and the students on the bus don’t know his name, or anything about him. It’s as if he had been invisible, right in plain sight. A zero.
So begins a journey of transformation for the teacher, who gets to know the boy’s parents, and through their stories gets to know the boy who nobody seemed to really see. His mother loved him, but was distracted by the challenges of her own life. His stepfather barely used his name, and talked to him only to tell him he was doing something wrong. He had no friends. His teachers forgot him as soon as he passed through their class—he was quiet, did at least the minimum, and caused no trouble.
A look at the boy’s school records showed that he had been quite different when had been younger—engaging, outgoing, positive, contributing energy to the classroom. And slowly, bit by bit, year by year, he had withdrawn, to the point where he became almost invisible.
Who are we willing to see? Who are we unwilling to see? Listen to the language we use to talk about those in our world who we wish would just go away. When politicians and business leaders talk about the challenge of homelessness in the city, so often I hear them say things like, “’It’ prevents people from wanting to come downtown.” Them being there makes tourists afraid. The homeless bring crime, and are always asking for things. Isn’t there somewhere else for them to go, where they wouldn’t be in the way? People who spend time on the street, because they have no where else to go, will often talk of the pain of being invisible, as people passing by intentionally look the other way.
We talk about refugees seeking asylum at our borders as if the violence, poverty, oppression they are facing doesn’t matter. As if the hopes and dreams and dignity and gifts and resources they bring don’t exist. As if they are not our problem. They need to go somewhere else. There is a chasm between us and these children of God, just as deep and wide as the invisible chasm between the rich man and Lazarus, a chasm that, Jesus tells us, we are called to cross while we still can.
And as the school year begins, and we all settle into our fall routines of class and work and activities and family, this comes much closer to home. We can probably all look around our cafeterias or classrooms or workplaces and find them—the invisible ones. The ones whose clothes are a bit too shabby, or the ones who don’t have “cool” or “interesting” things to say, or the ones who haven’t “bothered to learn our language well enough,” or the ones who are too fat or too skinny . . . the ones who are just too different from us for us to understand, too different to be welcomed. We don’t use their names, most of the time, have you noticed that?
Jesus is different. We have seen that before! And today, as we listen to our Gospel story, we are reminded of how very differently Jesus sees things. To start with, Jesus gives the poor man—the one without, the one who doesn’t have decent clothes, the one who begs, the one covered with sores—Jesus gives him a name. Lazarus. Say that with me. Lazarus.
In contrast, the rich man in Jesus’ story does not have a name. Not because the rich man doesn’t matter, or because God doesn’t love him, but because Jesus wants us to get it that this story is about seeing Lazarus. Seeing the one who everyone else was so intent on ignoring.
Lazarus, who spent his life desperately hoping for crumbs from the table, finds that in God’s eyes, he is seen. He has a name. He has dignity, and worth, and is welcome, and has a place, whether his fellow children of God have granted it to him or not.
This is such a challenging message, for we human beings, who, just like the rich man in the story, are prone to separate ourselves from those not like us, especially those whose suffering disturbs or frightens us. Jesus make it clear, over and over we fail to see the human dignity and worth of those right in front of us. And Jesus makes it clear, we are called to see them. Called to know their names, and their stories.
This is not an easy task. But there is good news, too. When we are at our most vulnerable, our most wounded, our most exhausted, when we have been rejected or discounted, God sees us. God knows our name. God cares about our pain, and sees us in all of our humanity. We are never invisible to God.
Knowing that, we are sent out to see those around us, especially the invisible ones. Those who are different, who don’t quite fit in. The student who always sits alone in the cafeteria, or has no one to play with on the playground. The co-worker who avoids the water cooler or coffee room. The family living in their car until they can afford to get an apartment again.
Who, in your world, is invisible? Who, this week, can you choose to see the way God sees each one of us—with love, compassion, dignity, and worth?
READING: Luke 16:1-13
1Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
A young couple raising a family are working on their budget for the month. They look at the bills they know are coming, the income from the jobs they both work, and as is typical in the best of months, things are really tight. But this isn’t a typical month. Their oldest daughter had been ill, and even with insurance they owe over a thousand dollars to the doctors and hospital. Although they had managed to pay the minimum for several months running, they had to do repair work on their car, and now they are in trouble. They have used every resource they can think of.
In the end, not having the collateral to support getting a standard loan, they decide to get a payday loan. It seems like a good idea at the time, but once committed, the couple realizes that the situation they are in had just grown immeasurably worse. There are only two options with a payday loan—payment in full, which they don’t have, or paying the set monthly amount which is almost all interest. By the time they have paid off the loan, they will have paid the lender 10 times the original amount they borrowed. And making the monthly budget balance is going to be nearly impossible until they do. Inevitably, they are compelled to seek a second payday loan. And a third. And the ditch grows only deeper.
Our economy in so many ways is designed to make it easy to make money if you already have it. Those with extra funds can invest in a variety of ways. Loans are most available to those who already have minimum wealth and sufficient income. Education which can enable a person to move forward is available—if you have the tuition money on hand, or are willing to amass considerable debt. And our criminal justice system allows people charged with crimes who have money to pay their bail and continue to work and earn income while awaiting trial, whereas those who can’t pay bail lose weeks and even months in jail waiting for trial, unable to work while the debts pile up.
It is just these kinds of systems that Jesus challenges with the story of the “dishonest steward.” Jesus tells a story of a manager responsible for his master’s wealth who is accused of squandering his master’s money. When the manager realizes the jig is up, he goes to all his master’s debtors, and decreases what they owe. The truth is, just like a payday lender, the interest charged on the loans was far beyond just, and made it almost impossible for someone who owed money to ever pay off the loan in full.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, upon seeing a payday lender move in less than a block away a few years ago, knew they needed to do something to challenge this system. And so, in partnership with others in the community, they started Exodus Lending, a program that works with those stuck in payday lending debt by paying off their loan in full, and then allowing them to repay the loan over a set period of time with no interest.
At the same time, they work with them to help navigate the challenges that led to seeking a payday loan in the first place. The lender gets their money back, no more no less. And the person who sought the loan is no longer stuck in a trap from which there is no escape.
So, turning back to our Gospel story, because of the manager, the debtors have less to pay. The debtors are then under obligation to the manager, rather than the master. The master has cash he didn’t have, as the debtors have paid what they owe. AND, the power the master had over his debtors—the means to put them in prison if they didn’t pay, the opportunity to collect additional exorbitant interest—are gone. The whole system that was built for the benefit of the master has been dismantled. So, why is the master happy?
So often in Luke, we have twists like these. Jesus loves to challenge us to see things differently, to let go of our preconceived notions of who is worthy, and what we are called to do. Like in the story of the Good Samaritan, when we realize that the person who actually served their neighbor and followed God’s call to love was an outcast, an undesirable person, a foreigner. And for those listening to Jesus tell this story, he surprises us again, as he shows the manager, who would have been as loathed as a tax collector who supports and benefits from this unjust system, challenging that system and taking it down!
And the master praises him for what he has done. Now, I would suggest that most of the time, those in positions of power benefiting from systems like these are not likely to be happy when they are exposed and dismantled, their power taken away. It is part of the surprise twist typical in Luke that has the master be the one to affirm what the manager has done.
Our whole way of seeing the world is turned upside down when we take the Gospel to heart. And today, we are invited to realize a couple of things that should transform how we relate in the world. The first thing is that this life we live here is not meant to be a completely separate existence from the kin-dom of God. What we do here, how we relate to each other, what we choose to do with the resources and wealth we have, matters. God cares how we steward the gifts that we are given.
The second is that unjust systems that put the wealth of a few ahead of the well-being and dignity of others are meant to be dismantled. When we benefit at the expense of others, we are putting mammon before God. In the end, we can only serve God and our fellows, OR power and money, but we cannot serve both. What we do here, in this life, with the gifts and resources we have, matters. Who will you serve?
READING: Luke 14:25-33
25Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus;] and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
This morning, after I got up, I picked out clothes to wear, decided on some Cheerios and almonds for breakfast, and got into the car to drive to church. On the way, I tried to figure out which route would be best to avoid the construction, and chose to take a way I had never taken before. Turns out, I made a bad choice—Google Maps failed me, and I ended up getting here much later than I had planned. Choices have consequences!
Every day, we have choices to make. Sometimes it’s as simple as deciding what to have for breakfast, or whether to mow the lawn today, or tomorrow. Other times, it’s much more complicated—we are presented with decisions about medical treatments, or employment opportunities, or relationships . . . decisions that have very high stakes. Whether big or little, the decisions we make have an impact on our lives. Choices have consequences.
Sometimes, I just want the decisions to be made for me. Have you ever had this conversation in your house? “What do you want for dinner?” “I dunno, what do you want?” “I don’t know, food?” “But what KIND of food?” “I don’t know . . . . “ And sometimes, when the unknown of the future looms large, I just want to look up at the sky and read a big neon billboard, telling me what I am supposed to do, and what will happen next . . . but so far, God has not come through on that one!
If we ever had any illusion that living a life of faith would be easy, clearly laid out, no confusion or wondering what is the right thing to do, this week’s readings show us the truth: following Jesus is hard! For one thing, far from providing us with a clear singular path to follow, our scriptures tell us, there are and will continue to be choices for us to make on the journey. Our reading from Deuteronomy tells us that God invites us to choose life—to follow the way of God’s love and mercy and justice. And in our humanness, sometimes we do choose life, and sometimes we get lost and put other things ahead of God. None of us are perfect. We will make mistakes. And our choices have consequences!
Jesus makes it clear in today’s Gospel, this is not an easy life that is free from trouble and conflict. Jesus spoke difficult truths—today he tells his followers, “hate your family,” meaning that we are to be willing to face ridicule even from those closest to us for doing what we know is right. Following God’s lead, putting God first, requires us to be willing to sacrifice our own agenda and comfort, for the sake of living out God’s call in our lives. It requires us to stand for the highest ideal of love and mercy even when it’s hard.
Following God, much as we wish it were clear and free of confusion and conflict, is hard! It would be so much easier if there would be a neon sign in the sky telling us what to do next, and what to expect, so we could all plainly see the plan laid out in front of us. But as our scriptures tell us today, this life of faith isn’t about certainty or guarantees.
Jesus tells those listening that as we walk this road together, we are to weigh the cost of the choices we make. I couldn’t help, as Jesus described the person being ridiculed for building a tower, but think of the ridicule Noah faced for building the arc in the middle of the desert. In spite of the cost, he built it anyway. Noah chose to follow God, in spite of the fact that almost everyone thought he was making a huge mistake, and in doing so Noah chose life.
As you move forward together as a community, God invites you to start from where you are today and choose life. To explore the options and weigh the costs, knowing that following God’s call in our lives is not easy. Choices have consequences. The path forward may feel confusing and frightening, and uncertain, and truthfully, it is! But there is one thing we can count on: God’s love and mercy knows no limits. We can trust God in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, knowing that when we put God first, we are being led to a life full of abundance and promise. Thanks be to God!
READING: Luke 13:10-17
10Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. We often think of Jesus being one who brings peace. Lifts our burdens. Brings order to chaos. Brings us together. But in the last few weeks, we have heard a series of gospels where Jesus has a somewhat different message. We have heard Jesus talk about bringing division, not peace. Coming with a fire of justice. He always seems to be crossing one line or another, and today is no exception. Jesus is teaching in the temple one day, and he heals a woman who has been crippled, bent over and unable to stand up or look anyone in the eyes, for years. So he heals her, which is all good and well, but this time, Jesus has healed on the Sabbath. Right in the temple.
And here comes the Synagogue leader. We aren’t told how other people responded to the healing, but we can guess from the reaction of the Synagogue leader what the scene looked like. It says he kept telling people to wait to be healed, to come back when it was not the Sabbath. Jesus healed one woman, and he might have gotten away with it, but the need was great. Hearing the story, people came, and more people came, and the Synagogue leader was beside himself, trying to control the chaos that erupted. “There are six days you can come to be healed, come back when it isn’t the Sabbath.” Over and over, sending people away, telling them it wasn’t the right time. Come back tomorrow, wait in line, it will be your turn eventually.
Now, I have always been a fan of order. “There is a place for everything, and everything in its place” probably should have been my motto in my high school year book! So I confess some sympathy with the Synagogue leader here. After all, he is responsible for what happens there. Responsible to be sure things happen in good order. To see that the traditions and practices of the faith are observed. And healing was not allowed on the Sabbath. It was only right to have people come at the proper time, in the proper way, wasn’t it?
Jesus saw it differently, as you might imagine. And today, he is not mincing any words. “You hypocrites! You feed and water your animals on the Sabbath, don’t you? Doesn’t this daughter of Abraham deserve as much?” And in those few words, Jesus put the worth and dignity of a child of God over and above strict interpretation of the law. This beloved of God is crippled, and deserves to be healed—and isn’t setting a bound person free a fulfillment of the Sabbath?
I can’t help but hear echoes of this conversation between Jesus and the Synagogue leader as I follow the news from our border. People coming fleeing violence and threat of death, starvation, oppression, doing the only thing they can to find hope and life for themselves and their children. And so many people, responding in different ways, some insisting on feeding and sheltering and clothing those seeking asylum even if they are quite literally risking arrest for feeding a hungry person. Others convinced that the only way to maintain safety and order is defend the law, tell those coming to wait in the line, even though they may die before their turn comes. Do you hear them too? What does this story mean for us, in light of all that is happening today, in our own country?
You may have heard by now that at Churchwide Assembly a couple weeks ago, the ELCA voted to become a Sanctuary Denomination. There has been a lot of talk in the news and social media about this decision and what it means, and a lot of misinformation and confusion as well, and it feels like today’s Gospel, this argument between Jesus and the Synagogue leader, almost compels us to reflect on this for just a few minutes together. First, I want to let you know, from Presiding Bishop Eaton and from Bishop Tom of our Synod, what this decision to be a Sanctuary Denomination doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean all ELCA churches are required to host immigrants in our buildings. Of course, it doesn’t! It doesn’t mean that ELCA members are being directed to break the law. It doesn’t mean all ELCA members are expected to agree on the legal and political solution to the brokenness of our immigration system.
So what does it mean? I propose that we consider that question in light of our Gospel today. I think there are a few things in Jesus’ words that can help us as we wrestle with this. First and foremost, when Jesus saw the woman, his first concern was not order or law, but the person in need in front of him. She was crippled, and he healed her. He found a way to meet her need, and did that, even knowing that others might think he was wrong for doing so. Jesus called her daughter of Abraham, reminding those around that she was a human being, worthy of dignity and respect as a child of God. These things came first, for Jesus.
So, as we each for ourselves think about what the decision to be a Sanctuary Denomination means, perhaps we can take this as a starting place, a common ground from which to begin a thoughtful response to what we all know is a very complex, complicated, situation. We can commit first and foremost, to see the need of the person in front of us, as Jesus did. And, we can choose our words carefully, as Jesus did, so that in the midst of our wrestling and debating we will never forget that we are talking about beloved children of God.
This doesn’t give us any answers. It doesn’t offer a political or legal solution. But it does give us as people of faith living in a broken world a place to start.
These conversations are not easy. We live in complicated times and there is so much division and brokenness and chaos in our country, in our community. It can feel at times that we don’t know we don’t know which way to go, that everything we thought we could count on is somehow slipping away. Like the Synagogue leader, we can feel as if it is our job to hold on and protect what we know as best we can. And it can be terrifying, frankly, to encounter situations that we cannot control, can’t manage. And we are reminded again today, as we have been before, that Jesus didn’t come to make things easy. Or stable. Or sure. Or familiar. Quite the opposite—sometimes, he calls us out of our comfort zone, calls us to let go of what is familiar and safe. And that is why, I think, so often, Jesus tells us to not be afraid—God knows we humans do feel fear and anxiety when we look to a future that is unknown to us. Our reading from Hebrews today is written to a community that felt like everything was falling apart. Their communities, their families, even their growing and changing faith, all felt chaotic.
And the writer of Hebrews gets it, and speaks words of promise to them. The writer acknowledges the fear and uncertainty, the anxiety they feel as the world they knew crumbles around them. And reminds them that God cannot be shaken. The promise we claim in baptism, that God created us and loves us and that God’s love and mercy abound for us, will not fail, no matter what else may fall. In the midst of conflicts and confusion and fear, we can trust in that which cannot be shaken. God’s love and mercy, claimed in baptism, can handle anything life presents. And in the midst of our chaotic world, and of the transition you are walking through as Bethel community and the decisions you are making together, it is so important to remember that, to ground ourselves in the promise of God.
There are pens and paper coming around to you. I invite you to take a moment to write down a fear that weighs on you today. It may be a fear about things happening in the world. It may be a situation in your family, work life, or school. And I invite you to particularly think about fears you hold for your Bethel family as you move forward together.
During the Hymn of the Day, come forward and place your fear for yourselves, your community, our world, and especially for our Bethel family as we move with hope toward the future, in the baptismal font as a symbol that God’s promise to be present in love and mercy will never fail. After you place it in the water, watch for moment as the water of our baptism absorbs the fear. God can handle all our fears.
READING: Luke 12:32-40
[Jesus said:] 32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
I am a planner. I always have been, since birth! I loved to read Nancy Drew mystery books, and when I read the Tale of the Twister, it offered a list of things to include in an “emergency kit” and I was all over it. I assembled the most complete backpack of supplies I could manage at the age of 9—water, flashlight, batteries, granola bar, duct tape, toothpaste. My brothers got a lot of mileage teasing me when I insisted on bringing the kit on a boat ride one day—until the lights on the boat went out, after dark. And, my kit, if you recall, included a flashlight, which we were able to use to aid our way home. I have rarely felt more vindicated in my passion for preparing than in that moment!
This desire to plan ahead has followed me into adulthood, and when we were heading out to be with my mother-in-law in her final days in a Wisconsin hospital and weren’t sure how long we would be gone, I made a list of over 30 things to do before we left so we would be ready for an extended absence. And, I got them done in a day!
Part of me, when I read today’s gospel about preparing for God’s coming, immediately wants to get out a piece of paper and pen and begin making my checklist of things to do! Fellow planners, back me up here, isn’t this what Jesus is telling us? To be prepared? To get everything ready, so we aren’t taken by surprise when God shows up?
As much as my check-list-making, deadline-keeping, expectation-meeting self would like to think so, I am quite certain that being perfectly prepared, having all things ready, is NOT what God has in mind for us after all! All of our readings today, rather than giving us a list of things to do to prepare or an absolute description of what is going to happen, seem to be telling us—even warning us—that whatever is coming, will be exactly the opposite of what we might expect.
Abraham and Sarah, faithful believers in God, were given a promise by God that seemed so outrageous, that both of them, at different times, laughed out loud. Two people, beyond child-bearing age, have enough family to number the stars? They believed, and they struggled to believe, until God’s promise to them was finally fulfilled in God’s own way and time. We are told in the letter to the Hebrews that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things unknown. And Abraham and Sarah certainly modelled trusting in things that were completely unknown—their story, we are reminded, starts with them leaving everything, and setting out on a journey having no idea where they were going.
In our Gospel from Luke, which seems to tell us to prepare, prepare, prepare, in the end, Jesus shows us that no matter how much we prepare, God will always surprise us. What servants, after all, would expect their employer to come home, sit them down, and serve them a meal? Who could prepare for something so completely unexpected?
We live in a world full of beauty and hope, that is also very broken in many ways. The realities of racism, discrimination against LGBTQ people, poverty, stories of those fleeing to our borders for their very lives, damage to the earth, and so much other brokenness and even evil are present in this world. We have heard just in the last week of two more mass shootings killing almost 50 people, in El Paso and Dayton, and experience grief and anger and despair with those communities and for ourselves one more time. The fear and division we live with only seems to grow.
God is inviting us to look beyond what can be perceived today, and trust in the promises of a yet unknown future. As a denomination, we as members of the ELCA are being invited into big dreams and hopes for our future. At the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly this week, the Assembly members and the African Descent Lutheran Association—an association of black ELCA Lutheran clergy and lay members—dared to embrace a yet unrealized dream of a church healed of the violent sin of racism. The Churchwide Assembly of one of the whitest denominations in the country presented a statement of apology for centuries of complicity in the way people of African descent have been oppressed from the beginning of slavery through the current day, fully recognizing the work yet to be done. It ends by saying, “An apology is only empty words and promises unless it is accompanied by action, which is grounded in prayer, education, and soul-searching repentance. We trust that God can make all things new.”
In his response to this statement, the president of the African Descent Lutheran Association, Reverend Lamont Wells, said, “I recommend we rush boldly to the throne of grace, and ask the Lord to help and guide us. Jesus is our North Star of Hope. In fact he is The Bright and Morning Star who is able to keep us from falling back into this bondage of sin. This apology is received because Jesus has shown us the way towards reconciliation.” Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not yet perceived.
A lot closer to home, you, Bethel family, and I, are invited to trust in the promise of God as we continue to discern where God is leading you, me, us. And here’s the really good news, in all our scriptures for today: God will surprise us, as we journey. That is guaranteed. We don’t know what to expect, or how God’s promises will be revealed, because just as the servants in Jesus’ story were surprised when their employer served them, our expectations are likely to fall far short of the abundance God has in store for us.
What would it look like if we lived as if God’s promises to us were guaranteed to come true? What decisions might we each make, if we trusted that not only is God with us on our journeys, and not only will God provide for us, but that—like Jesus tells his disciples in our Gospel today—it is God’s GOOD PLEASURE to give us the kingdom?
Today, we are invited to claim the promises of God, both those we have experienced already, and those yet to come. We can claim a world in which racism no longer exists—and because of that, have the courage to speak boldly with love and hope God’s truth that all people have value and are worthy of love. We can believe and trust that a world in which no one will ever again die in a mass shooting in our country is possible—and not be afraid to do what we can in this moment to contribute to that reality, even when it seems as if it will never happen.
What promise from God do you want to claim today? For the world, for our country, for this community, for your own life? How will you live, claiming that promise that is yet unrealized? Be not afraid, little flock. It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kin-dom. Thanks be to God!
Meagan McLaughlin, SAM at Bethel Lutheran Church
Meagan is our interim SAM. Please enjoy her blog on her sermons.