Monday, June 23, 2014

According to Luke: How To Live

Luke 6:37-42   (NRSV)
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

This week saw two very controversial issues be adopted by Annual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) the largest Presbyterian denomination in North America.

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly is the largest annual gathering of the denomination. Church leaders from across the country gather to discuss matters important to the life of the church, make decisions that affect the whole denomination and the progress of the gospel.

We in the United Methodist Church do a very similar thing, but on a global scale every four years.  2016, will mark the General Conference of the United Methodist Church which will be held in Portland Oregon.

In the United Methodist Church, the General Conference is the top policy-making body. The conference can revise church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs. 

The General Conference is an international body of close to 1,000 delegates.

The delegates are elected by annual conferences (we will elect our delegates at next may/June annual conference session).
          They represent all annual conferences around the world.
          Half of the delegates are laity (non-clergy members), half are clergy.

There is no doubt in my mind but that both of these issues will be topics of discussion at our General Conference in two years.

Does anybody know what the Presbyterians did?

First, They voted to divest from three companies that they argued do business with the Israeli Defense Force --- the Israeli military.

From the New York Times:
After passionate debate over how best to help break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted on Friday at its general convention to divest from three companies that it says supply Israel with equipment used in the occupation of Palestinian territory.

The vote, by a count of 310 to 303, was watched closely in Washington and Jerusalem and by Palestinians as a sign of momentum for a movement to pressure Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to end the occupation, with a campaign known as B.D.S., for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

The measure that was passed not only called for divestment but also reaffirmed Israel’s right to exist, endorsed a two-state solution, encouraged interfaith dialogue and travel to the Holy Land, and instructed the church to undertake “positive investment” in endeavors that advance peace and improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

The companies the church has targeted for divestment are Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. The church has about $21 million invested in them, a spokeswoman said. The church says it has tried for many years to convey its concerns that the companies are profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories by selling it bulldozers, surveillance technology and other equipment.

As you can image --- there has been much reaction to this news.

The American Jewish Committee said that the vote was "driven by hatred of Israel."

And I am sure that much more rhetoric will follow in the coming weeks.

And while that issue is seen as very controversial, the second, for some, will be seen as even more controversial.

Again from the New York Times:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted at its General Assembly on Thursday to change its constitution’s definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people,” and to allow its ministers to perform same-sex marriages where it is legal.

Both measures, passed by large majorities

The Presbyterians follow other religious groups that have taken similar steps, including the United Church of Christ, which affirmed “equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender” in 2005; Quakers; the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; and the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism.

The vote giving discretion to ministers to marry gay couples takes effect on Sunday, at the close of the General Assembly.

That means, as of today, in 19 states and the District of Columbia --- Presbyterian Pastors can officiate at same sex weddings.  Indiana is not one of those states, but Illinois is.

Now I just want to stop for a minute and let you ponder how you react to either one of those issues.

Does it make you angry?
Are you screaming on the inside
·         it is about time?
·         how dare they?
·         ???

I have to admit, I am conflicted about both issues. 

And I could discuss either issue for hours.
          I think I could lay out both sides pretty well.

I have seen firsthand the failure of the peace process in Israel.
·         I have seen the devastation done by a suicide bomber
·         And I have seen the ghetto's that have been created to keep the Palestinian people in check.

Neither side is innocent --- and there are no easy solutions.

But what about the more pressing issue in our social context.

I think that there is only one other issue that is even close to being as divisive today in our society as human sexuality --- and that has to do with gun restrictions --- but that is for another day . . .

If I am honest, for as long as I can remember, I have done my best to sit on the fence on both the issue of Israel/Palestine and Human sexuality.

I hate to say this: The Israelite --- Palestinian issue would probably not be much more than a blip on my radar screen if I hadn't been to Israel and Palestine so many times. 

Even then, I was shielded from seeing the real issues for the most part.

But visiting Yad Vashem, (the Holocaust Museum) and walking out of an exhibit on the Warsaw Ghetto and seeing the (then) newly constructed security wall, was a life altering moment.
          A light bulb really lite in my head.

The issue surrounding sexuality is totally different to me --- but at the same time, I have done my best to sit on the fence.

What first brought the issue to my conscience was at Christmas time of my freshman year of college. 

The girl who I dated off and on in high school shared with me that she was gay.
I was caught totally off guard.
We were not an "item" but we were pretty close friends and I wasn't sure initially how to react.

I was forced to begin to examine the whole issue of human sexuality

Later that year, I met a professor at Northern Illinois who probably never knew what an influence he was on me.  He became a mentor and a friend as I began wrestling with my call to ministry.
          But there was NO DOUBT, but that he was gay.

          And, it never bothered me or made me question his value or advice. 

And I am standing before you today because of his encouragement

Three years ago today, my mother's brother died. 
          Roger never married

And, to be honest, I always suspected --- but we never talked about it, it was just "one of those things"

One day I decided to look up what Jesus had to say about homosexuality.

Does anybody remember what he said?


Jesus says nothing.

Two weeks ago I preached about Kingdom Values.

Jesus, according to Luke offers three values of God's kingdom.

1.    Justice
Jesus tells us clearly an attitude that was found in the Hebrew Scriptures --- and attitude that God is prejudicially cares for the poor

Blessed are you who are poor
Blessed are you who are hungry now
Blessed are you who weep now

Jesus tells us this, but his actions also demonstrate it
We find Jesus constantly associating with the outcasts of his day and chastising those who were not peasants

2.    Love your enemies
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What does that mean?
How are we to feel toward          Vladimir Putin and Russia?
                                                The Taliban?
                                                Al Qaeda?

3.    Love everybody

We are to love, not only those who are like us and who like us --- but all of God's children.

Jesus continues this theme this morning us by showing us even more clearly how we are to live in community with one another.

He tells us to quit judging each other.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; . . . for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

I don't know about you, but it is much easier for me to judge other people's behavior than it is my own.

Sometimes when I read the bible I really get the sense that it was written for a people who saw and understood the world very differently than you and I do.

They believed that weather, and disease were caused by God
          I don't think many of you believe that

But Jesus seems to understand and remind us of timeless principles

One of the reasons that the church has lost relevance in our culture is we have forgotten what Jesus said;
Do not judge, and you will not be judged;
Forgive, and you will be forgiven;

We (the church) have judged people and told them they are not welcome if:
·         they don't dress properly
·         they don't come from the "correct" social class
·         if they are not of our own race
·         if their sexuality is different than ours

We are reaping exactly what Jesus told us:
for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

And then Jesus decides he needs to move beyond just telling us about judging and illustrate it for us with a visual story.

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

I love how Peterson has translated this passage into modern English:
“It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

I don't have easy or trite answers to the difficult issues of peace in Israel/Palestine or human sexuality.

But as I have gotten older, I have TRIED (sometimes successfully and sometimes not so successfully) to quit judging others.

This spring I was given a book that has had a huge impact on me.  I assigned it to the staff to read and study and will probably use it this fall in a study group.

It is a short book of stories, written by Bob Goff, a Washington DC lawyer.  The book is simply titled LOVE DOES.

The premise of the book is quite simple --- as Christians, we need to be a people who are recognized because we love.

And I think my favorite phrase from the book and one that I am TRYING to live by is love goes first

If we want to claim the title follower of Jesus we need to quit judging and simply LOVE FIRST

Whatever the hot topic button in your life --- how would you approach it if you took that attitude and loved first?

Jesus shows us what the kingdom is like and how we are to live.

To put it quiet simply ---- It is a kingdom in which everyone tries to out-love each other!

May that kingdom reign in our hearts and lives!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

According To Luke: Kingdom Talk

Luke 6:17-36    (NRSV)
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

As the Scripture was read, I bet that the passage sounded rather familiar --- yet at the same time you recognized that something wasn't quite right about it.

These words are familiar because we have heard them time and time again from Matthew's Gospel in the section that we call The Sermon on The Mount

Pastors are much more likely to preach from Matthew's version than they are from Luke's for reasons that we will explore in just a few minutes.

But before we do that, let's look quickly at some of the differences between Matthew and Luke's versions.

In Matthew, the Sermon takes up almost three chapters for a total of 109 verses.

In Luke, it takes up only part of one chapter and is only 30 verses long

What is also interesting is the way that Luke sets up the story. 

He [Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him [Jesus] and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Luke tells us that the people who had gathered had come to HEAR Jesus --- not to test or challenge him as was so often the case.

And in these few verses, Luke reminds us once again of the universal scope of Jesus work and ministry:
·         People came from ALL of Judea
·         ALL sought to touch him
·         Jesus healed ALL those who were ill or filled with unclean spirits

According to Luke what Jesus presents is the standard for every disciple --- for every follower of Jesus.

He tells us what the Kingdom of God is going to look like.

And what will that be?  Listen again to the four opening Blessings and Woes

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

Unlike Matthew's version of this story which says that the poor in spirit are blessed --- and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness --- Luke tells that the Kingdom belongs to the poor!

But, Luke is in no way idealizing or glorifying poverty.

He is just making very clear to us that God is prejudicially committed to the poor.

Do you hear how scandalous this is?

William Barclay, the great theologian of the last century once remarked that this message from Luke was a BOMBSHELL, and that we have conditioned ourselves not to hear it.

Jesus is overturning conventional wisdom and expectation

Yet before we get too self righteous --- Luke is reminding us how this follows the Jewish expectation (from the Hewbrew Bible) that God is the protector and defender of the poor.
I could list scripture after scripture in which God is proclaiming this --- but I don't think I need too

One of the big differences between Matthew and Luke is that the author of Matthew seems to have domesticated Jesus because this message was so radical

Do you want to know why Jesus was killed?
--- Go read verses 20-22 again and it is pretty clear.

The scandal of Jesus ministry was his constant association with outcasts and his pronouncing of God's blessing upon them

Ted Turner once called Christianity a "religion for losers."  He made that statement based on Jesus' teachings in the Beatitudes. 

His thinking was that any religion that asks its followers to be meek and merciful even in the face of opposition can only be a religion for losers.

But if that isn't enough listen to what Jesus says next.
Not only is God prejudiced toward the poor --- but he excoriates all of us

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

These four woes drive home the message of the four beatitudes by following them in sequence and stating the inverse.

·         Just as the beatitudes announced God's favor --- which is an occasion of joy for the poor
·         The woes announce God's judgment --- which should be a cause for grief and remorse among the rich.  Because as Jesus says HOW TERRIBLE IT WILL BE FOR THEM! (for us?)

More than any other Gospel ---- Luke outlines the dangers of wealth

And for us living like we do they are tough words indeed.

Gustavo Guiterrez has written:
God has a preferential love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, morally or religiously, but simply because they are poor and living in an inhuman situation that is contrary to God's will.  The ultimate basis for the privileged position of the poor is not in the poor themselves but in God, in the gratuitousness and universality of God's agapeic love.

Since we are NOT the poor --- this passage either mystifies us or leaves us feeling guilt rather than joy.

Like the rich young ruler --- we hear God's word and go away sorrowful because our possessions are many

Then our text shifts a bit this morning and Jesus tells us that we must love --- not only those who are loveable --- but also our enemies.

Jesus seems to be saying that this is no place in our Christian ethic for vengeance or retaliation.

Jesus is going to tell us how to love, not once, but four times in verses 29 and 30

·         turn the other cheek
·         do not withhold your shirt
·         give to the one who ask of you
·         and if your goods are taken from you --- do not ask for them back

Jesus then goes on and shares how love has to go beyond just the loveable

Jesus says that we have to love EVERYBODY

We may not always like what they do, but we are called to love them with God's love.

We have to move beyond our comfort zones and truly be a people who live out their lives with Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors. 
Not just for those that we like and feel comfortable with, but with those who challenge us

Henri Nouwen summarizes this concept as Christian voluntary displacement:
“The gospels confront us with this persistent voice inviting us to move from where it is comfortable, from where we want to stay, from where we feel at home … voluntary displacement leads us to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings.”

Only when we join with our God in becoming prejudicially committed to the poor will we understand Jesus unconditional love for us.

Jesus is trying to help us understand what the Kingdom will look like, and to adjust our lives and our values to those of the Kingdom.

Rob Bell says this:
“True spirituality, then, isn’t about escaping this world to some other place where we will be forever … A Christian is someone who anticipates spending forever here, in a new heaven that comes to earth. The goal isn’t escaping this world but making this world the kind of place God can come to.”

An Amish man was once asked by an enthusiastic young evangelist whether he had been saved and whether he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. The gentleman replied, "Why do you ask me such a thing? I could tell you anything. Here is the name of my banker, my grocer and my farm hands. Ask THEM if I am saved."

According To Luke: New Wine (I Did That!)

Luke 5:33-39    (NRSV)
Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.” Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”

Today we celebrate seven students who have completed their high school requirements, and are ready and anxious to begin the next chapter of their lives --- and while my sermon is geared toward them, my hunch is that there are plenty of life lessons for each of us.

While our graduates are coming to what quite possibly is the biggest transition in their young lives --- the truth is we all face transitions and we choose to either learn from them or be controlled by them.

Lindsey, our 23 year old daughter, graduated from Indiana University in December decided that before she completely joined the workforce that she wanted to take some time and travel.  When she shared this idea with me, she came to me and said --- “If I don’t do this now, before I begin working full time, when will I ever have the opportunity?”  Both of her sisters had spent a semester abroad during their college years --- Lindsey never did because she participated in the LITTLE 500 all four years, and could not do that and miss a semester on campus.

Lindsey is probably our most frugal daughter and she had saved thousands of dollars over the years so that she could do just that.

Six weeks ago she embarked on a two month backpacking tour of Europe (by herself).  As she prepared to leave, I really only had two requests of her.  First that she contact me regularly --- my hope was I would hear from her at least weekly.  My second request was that she journal daily about her adventure.

Much to my surprise she texts with me virtually every day.  It has been a joy to be a part of her adventure.

About three weeks into her trip she told me that she had to go out and find another notebook, because she had filled the one up already.  I have to admit --- that made me smile.

Asking her to journal about her trip reminded me of a story I once heard about a family that had gone to visit the Grand Canyon to celebrate a son’s graduation from High School.

The father before the trip had given each of the children a small moleskin book so that they could record their insights and observations on during the trip.  His hope was he could help them begin a new journey in being more intentional in noticing what was happening in their lives and the accomplishments along the way.

As they finally got to the Grand Canyon the son was thrilled.  He seemed overwhelmed by the experience of standing at the edge of that huge expanse and just taking it all in.

That night --- he sat down and wrote in his journal.

The father, later that evening, after the kids had gone to bed, found his son’s journal sitting out and he could not withstand the temptation to look and see that his son had written about the experience.

He opened the journal and read what he wrote:
          “Today I spit two miles!”

The father had to chuckle --- he had asked his son to write about HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS --- and spitting two miles is a pretty impressive accomplishment.

One of our traditions here at Ridge Church is that during the breakfast for the graduating seniors and their families that we show a short video created from the wonderful Dr. Seuss book: OH THE PLACES YOU WILL GO.

If you have never seen the video or read the book DO IT. 

Dr. Seuss nailed it and is an inspiration for us all!

What Dr. Seuss reminds us is that life is an adventure, and that it is filled with ups and downs, but the key is to GO.  Don’t sit in the waiting rooms of life expecting somebody else to make you happy, to provide you fulfillment.  Go, despite the times of failure --- because today is your day and your destiny awaits.

The thing I love about Dr. Seuss is that he isn’t talking to just 18 year olds.

Right before sitting down to watch the video I had been bemoaning to Nancy all the challenges that I am currently having to deal with at Ridge Church.

I even made myself a list of the biggest challenges and I came up with 8 of them.  And as I stared at the list --- I found myself in one of Dr. Seuss’ waiting rooms --- waiting for somebody or something to fix the problems for me.

Then as I watched the video I got inspired.

As Dr. Seuss writes:

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted.  But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out?  Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right...
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place...

Dr. Seuss’ advice for us is to escape THE WAITING PLACE because there are so many places for us to go.

Yogi Berra has been quoted as saying:
          “When you come to a fork in the road --- take it!”

Which fork should you take?

That’s a tough question --- and in my opinion --- sitting still should not be an option--- because that becomes the WAITING PLACE.

Let me offer 4 pieces of advice --- nothing too original --- but helpful where we are on our journey.

First, recognize that Graduation is not an end, but only a new and awesome beginning.

Did you note the advice from Arie Pencovici from the front of the bulletin?
Graduation is only a concept. In real life every day you graduate. Graduation is a process that goes on until the last day of your life. If you can grasp that, you’ll make a difference

Every other year we offer a confirmation class for our students who are in middle school. 

There is a part of me that wishes we never needed to do one because there seems to be this attitude that once you have been confirmed that the church is no longer necessary.
          Confirmation almost has the feel of graduating from church.

But our religious life, and the rest of our life are never done.
          We should always be growing
                   Always changing

The second piece of advice I would tell you is to develop your own values

My hope, not just for our graduating seniors, but for each of you is to take the values that you have been given and test them, challenge them, turn them over by looking at them critically.

Take a course in world religions.

Find out what Buddhism has to offer, understand Islam, and critique your own religious heritage vis-à-vis other religious traditions and sometimes they will win.

Hinduism, you will discover, has more tolerance for other traditions built into its very fabric than any other practiced faith today.
That is a good challenge for Christians.

Understand Freud’s critique of religion.

Read Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity and Western bourgeois culture.

Read Machiavelli’s cynical advice on how to advance power through personal duplicity.
Understand and critique.

Someone once told me that when they were at Vanderbilt, one philosophy professor said in a lecture that when you go to college you take all your inherited values and you blow them up like balloons and put them on a board.

          And your job is to throw darts at them and pop them.

You have to throw from a pretty good distance and most of us are not all that skilled at throwing. He said, you will hit a few and burst them, but not many.

Remember, the purpose of education is that you make your values your own, not because someone else told you that was what you should treasure or believe.

Understanding all the alternatives,
understanding the deficits,
you treasure them as your own because YOU have decided to keep them.

Third, remember that every day is a new beginning.

Don’t ever believe that you have arrived --- life is a journey and every day is a new beginning.

When you fail --- see it as a growth opportunity.
          Learn and move forward

Finally --- Be proud of what you accomplish.

When Jessica was in High School, the Munster Theatre Company put on a play that I was not familiar with.  I was familiar with the book that it was based on, but I had never heard of the production.  I am talking about WORKING based on Studs Terkel’s book and brought to the stage by Stephen Schwartz.

The closing number of the show is a moving song called Something to Point To

The song is a reminder that we all have things that we can point to --- things that we are proud ---- places where we made a difference.

What reminded me of the song is this house.

Does anybody know what this house is?

I sure do, this house is owned by a niece of Gloria Banjura and was destroyed by the flood of 2008.

LARRI, Lakeshore Area Regional Recovery of Indiana rebuilt this house.  I can point to it and say I DID THAT.

Celebrate those things that you accomplish.

Today, to our graduates we celebrate with you as you point to that diploma and say: I DID THAT.

According To Luke: Which Is Easier?

Luke 5:17-26    (NRSV)
One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the one who was paralyzed—“I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”

How many times does Jesus tell us that we must forgive somebody?
          1 time?
          2 times?
          7 times?

That’s what Jesus says in Luke
Luke 17:4 (The Message)
“Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive him.”

But in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says we should forgive not seven times but seventy times seven.

That’s a lot of forgiveness!

Hardly a day goes by without us having the question of forgiveness coming up
          Should we forgive?
          Is it worth it?

How does one measure or value forgiveness?
          What is it that makes forgiving somebody worth it?

Is forgiveness based on the response of the person who hurt you?
And if their remorse and tears and admission of guilt are sufficient, do we then feel that our forgiveness is deserved and justifiable?

Or is forgiveness based on how much you and I value the person who hurt us?
If so, then what is the basis of that value?

Or is it even worth forgiving somebody?
"It isn't worth it, forgiving her.  She betrayed my love and trust, it is finished between us!"
You could fell the deep pain and anger in the bitter story of his partner's infidelity.
"It's not the first time.  It's not worth it at all and what's done is done, it can't be fixed.”

Is it worth it when the offender doesn't accept responsibility or doesn't show remorse or respond the way we think they should?

Or is forgiveness not worth it if the offender is a "dirty rotten scoundrel?"
--- and when it's certainly not close to being their first offense.

Tough questions --- that for certain.

What worth did Pope John Paul II see in Mehmet Ali Agca to forgive him for his brazen assassination attempt?

What worth did Elie Wiesel and so many others see in the Nazi prison guards to forgive them for their cruel captivity and treatment in the concentration camp?

What worth did Jesus see in the soldiers to forgive them for humiliating, mistreating and crucifying him?

What worth does God see in you and me to forgive us for the wrong we do time and time again?

The big question today --- and every day is: What is required for forgiveness?

I have been taught my whole life that the only way that God will forgive me is if I repent.
          Isn’t that what you have been taught?

          Only if I am contrite and admit my sin --- my failure

          Only then will God forgive me

Our passage this morning was one of those that I had to read two or three times.

Did you listen carefully as it was read?

One day while Jesus was in the Galilee, by the sea, some of the Religious leaders came to hear and see what he was doing.

Some people brought a friend of theirs who was paralyzed --- hoping to get close to Jesus so that he might be healed.

Because there were so many people --- they could not get close to Jesus.  So they climbed up on a roof and let him down to where Jesus was

When Jesus sees what they have done he says:
          “Friend, I forgive your sins.”

WAIT A MINUTE . . . Something is missing here

That’s not how forgiveness works!!!

Forgiveness requires us to confess first --- this man never confessed --- never was sorry --- never even asked for forgiveness.
All he wanted was to be healed --- and he got even more than he hoped for!

You see in God’s understanding forgiveness is not a reasonable calculation or equation based on any personal merit or measure of response.

Forgiveness is always an act of undeserved grace based only on who we are as human beings, individuals valued by God who made us in God’s image.

God’s forgiveness is ridiculous.

But it is exactly what Jesus taught us.

Remember when Peter suggested to Jesus that seven times should be more than generous in forgiveness.
Seven being a perfect number in God’s economy --- that seemed more than enough

Jesus response went way beyond anything even Peter could imagine
          Way beyond what seemed to be a perfect level of forgiveness

Jesus said that God’s forgiveness has NO LIMITS and our story this morning tell us that it is offered unconditionally

And if God so generously forgives his errant creatures who are we to act as if those who offend us are not worthy of our forgiveness even though God will forgive them.

There is a great story about Dr Wilson, a Christian Physician and once head of the psychiatric department at Duke University.

One of his patients was a Vietnam veteran who had been non-functioning for years.
While serving in Vietnam he had been responsible for the deaths of many people

A number of people on the staff believed that much of his illness rested in his inability to forgive himself.

One day Dr Wilson came in to see the man, as he sat on his bed Dr Wilson said: “I want to tell you that your sins are forgiven.”

“What did you say?” the patient asked.

“I have the authority to tell you through Jesus Christ that your sins are forgiven.” Dr Wilson proclaimed.

Following that exchange the man began to get better and later returned to live a normal and healthy life.

So which is easier?

To heal somebody or to forgive their sins?

The truth is neither is easy --- but most of us do not have the ability to physically heal somebody --- but what we do have --- it is ability to forgive!

In the name of Jesus Christ ---- I tell you --- Your sins are forgiven!

Forgive me now, 'cause I,
Have been unfaithful;
Don't ask me why, 'cause I don't know;
So many times I've tried,
But was unable ...
Now I'm in our secret place,
Alone in Your embrace,
Where all my wrongs have been erased;
You have forgiven,
All the promises and lies,
All the times I compromised,
All the times You were denied...
(From "Forgiveness" by Skillet)

According To Luke: Whatcha Fishin For?

Luke 5:1-11    (NRSV)
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

You have to love fishing stories.

What is great about them is that the more they are told, the large the catch of fish!

There is a great story about a woman who went on a fishing trip with her husband.

She was sharing about the trip with a friend and said:
“I did everything wrong.
I was too noisy
I used the wrong bait
I reeled it in too soon
and I caught more fish than he did!”

As many of you know, we have been busy interviewing candidates for our Education/Youth position.  This is a critical position in the church --- maybe the most important.

So we have been trying to take out time and try to find the right person.  We have received over 20 applications and we have conducted first interviews with about 10.  Yesterday we did a second interview with a candidate and tomorrow we have two more.

I am telling you this for two reasons.

First, I would like you to keep this in your prayers!
Pray that we find the right person who can lead our youth and organize our education program.

The second reason I wanted to tell you about this process is because while working on this sermon, and going through this process of trying to find the right person I have been struck by the reality that how a person looks can influence your perception of them.

I came across an interesting version of our scripture this morning.  I am not sure who the translator is. 

Pay attention to how the story is told, as compared to the New Revised Standard Version that was read earlier.

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear him, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake. Noting that one of the boat owners was a homely, shriveled man, Jesus then looked at the owner of the other boat. This man was Simon, He was a strapping and fine-looking young man. So Jesus got into the boat belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, another boat containing Simon’s fishing partners, James and John, came near, and Jesus said to the men in both boats, “I need someone to put out into the deep water and catch some fish.” Simon immediately put up his hand, waved it eagerly and said, “I’ll do it! Please, pick me!” Whereupon Jesus selected Simon and told him to let down his nets and commence fishing for the Lord.

It sounds like it came from the Revised Fractured Version and it is a fish story in a lot of ways.

I don’t think this is how Jesus selected his disciples!

Listen again to what it says:
{Jesus} saw two boats there at the shore of the lake. Noting that one of the boat owners was a homely, shriveled man, Jesus then looked at the owner of the other boat. This man was Simon, He was a strapping and fine-looking young man. So Jesus got into the boat belonging to Simon

Nowhere do I find in the Gospels that Jesus picks a person because they are better looking or because he is impressed with their stuff.

What struck me, however, is how often we are impressed by people's stuff and how good looking a person is.

Can you think of an unattractive TV evangelist?

What is really scary is if you do a little research on this idea, you find all kind of studies that suggest that good-looking people are more likely to receive preferential treatment and are subconsciously assumed to be smarter than others.

And if you dig some more, you will come across a very provocative study that suggests that these preferences are found even in our parenting.

The study was conducted by Dr. Andrew Harrell, executive director of the Population Research Lab at Canada’s University of Alberta.

His initial research was actually in shopping cart safety

But in the midst of that research, he began to notice that the appearance of the children in the carts seemed to have a correlation to the matter of safety, and so he set up a study involving 14 different supermarkets.

In those stores, he placed teams of researchers to observe parents and their 2- to 5-year-old children for 10 minutes each.
Independently of each other, the observers were first to grade each child’s attractiveness on a scale of one to 10, and then were to note if the child was buckled into the grocery-cart seat and how often the child wandered more than 10 feet away.
In total, his teams observed 426 parent-child pairs.

The study revealed that while 13.3 percent of the most attractive kids were buckled in, only 1.2 percent of the least attractive children were. What’s more, the less attractive children were allowed to wander farther away from their parents and to do so more often.

Harrell speculates that these results are based on a parent’s instinctive Darwinian response.

He suggests that we are more likely to pay closer attention to attractive children because on a subconscious level, we perceive them as our best genetic material.

He goes on to say,
“Most parents will react to these results with shock and dismay. They’ll say, ‘I love all my kids, and I don’t discriminate on the basis of attractiveness.’ The whole point of our research is that people do.”


If the bible suggest anything it is that this is NOT how Jesus chose his disciples.

Think about the 12 men who would come to be called Disciples.
We don’t know what they particularly looked like --- although nicknaming Simon --- “Rocky” probably tells us something about him.


James the less

Thomas --- the Twin --- some believe Twin of Jesus

Matthew (Levi) Tax collector


Jesus didn’t seem too interested in qualifications, or looks, ---- what Jesus was interested in was the heart!

The other startling problem with our Fractured Version of this story is it seems to imply that Jesus was looking for volunteers.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Um, [cough] who’d be interested in following me?”


“You, maybe?”

Jesus uses the imperative, and it’s directed at people who aren’t expecting it,

and often, they seem to be extremely unlikely candidates
tax collectors,
political zealots
not the first people to come to mind if you were to choose disciples for Jesus.

And the people Jesus calls are usually in the midst of doing something else, totally unrelated
like making a living as professional fishermen.
They generally aren’t the ones wildly waving their hands saying,
“Pick me, Jesus!”

Those few places in the Bible where it appears that somebody might be volunteering to join up with Jesus --- while Jesus doesn’t turn them away ---- he usually lays out rather succinctly what it means to follow and most seem to fade away.

In Johns’ Gospel Jesus tells us:
          “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16).

There is one other thing that is missing in our Fractured Version.

All Jesus asks of Simon and his fishing buddies James and John is simply to continue doing what they were already doing.

Now it is true that in the story according to Luke ---- Jesus does tell them to cast their nets into the sea, and when they do, they haul in a huge catch, which was remarkable since they had just fished all night and caught absolutely nothing.

But the point of that exercise seems to be to prepare the three men to hear the call Jesus was about to issue to them.

The catch opened these fishermen’s hearts to respond when Jesus asked them to do something they had never done:
“From now on you will be catching people.”

I believe Jesus still calls people to follow him today
So maybe what we need to do is look carefully at what Luke tells us

It seems that Jesus call comes to the most unlikely people who were busy in the midst of other things (LIFE) and seemed to have no particular thought of volunteering.

And then, when Jesus makes his wishes known, it is for real work in new fields that furthered God’s kingdom.

It’s important to understand all of this because it helps us to recognize what is going on when Jesus calls us.

The story reminds us that Jesus is not impressed by our natural abilities, appearance,
          or what we’ve made of ourselves.

His call does not await the completion of our education or the completion of our work time and the advent of retirement, or the size of the nest egg we’ve put away.

Jesus' call comes on his time schedule, not ours.

We might actually be the ugly kid in the grocery cart but Jesus sees beyond all of that.

What Jesus asks us to do may or may not be in line with some skill we’re already comfortable with.

It may be an extension of some talent we’ve already developed, but it may just as likely be a use of a talent we didn’t know we had.

According to Luke this story also reminds us that Jesus may use significant force to overcome our reluctance.

Apparently the only reason for the huge catch of fish was to open the hearts of these men who had not previously considered themselves disciple material.

And it worked, too, because as soon as Peter saw the size of the catch, it knocked him off his feet.

He prostrated himself before Jesus and said:
“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Sheila Cassidy is a British doctor who went to Chile during the rule of Augusto Pinochet to use her medical skills to minister in the name of Jesus.

Because she treated any who requested her help, including one who was an opponent of the dictator, she was arrested and spent several weeks in detention, where she was tortured.

Eventually she was expelled from the country.

Today she ministers to the terminally ill in England.

In her autobiography, Audacity to Believe, she tells of the time when she accepted the call of God. She writes:
“How can one convey the agony and the ecstasy of being called by God? At one moment one is overawed by the immensity of the honor ... and in the same breath one screams, ‘No! No! Please, not me, I can’t take it!’ That which seconds ago was a privilege becomes an outrageously unfair demand ....”

But then she adds,
“I thought about it, and I knew that I did not want to say no and that, however much it hurt, I could only humbly accept.”

Cassidy’s experience may not be our own.

I have to admit --- my call was nothing like hers.
Yours may not be either.

My call came in a very gradual way ---- others knew it before I did.

But there came to be a moment when I realized that God had been calling to me.

And when Jesus called me --- all I had to do was look around and I knew I wasn’t the best for the task.

Jesus didn’t call me because I had some talent that I had honed to perfection.

The challenge for each of us in our story this morning is to be like the fisherman that Jesus called that day.
Responding with trust to leave what we were in the middle of and to go and fish where Jesus tells us to.

To do so is not easy.

We are all busy with LIFE

But Jesus calls to each of us


According To Luke: Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35    (NRSV)
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Movies are a funny thing --- or at least movie releases are.

Ideas seem to run in cycles and Hollywood proceeds to run that cycle to death.

Right now we seem to be in another Superhero cycle.

Superhero's seem to be the rage with the new Spiderman movie being released this weekend.

And who is not intrigued by supernatural powers?

Children and adults are fascinated with the idea of tapping into something beyond ourselves ---
          something greater
          something more powerful
          something beyond the ordinary

For some of you --- who are a little older than me --- it was Little Orphan Annie's secret decoder ring

For me it was Star Trek and then Star Wars

And even as adults --- we seem to want to believe that there is more --- maybe something hidden --- in life and if we can just tap into it --- it will help us fulfill our destiny.

Think of the things that fascinate us
          The ability to communicate with our deceased loved ones

Who of us can't claim to have some experience where we are able to communicate with someone mysteriously?

My mother has told the story of waking up one night and being visited by Jim King --- the name means nothing to you --- but Jim was the friend of my parents who --- when my dad was debating whether to marry my mom, sat him down and told him to do it.

My mother says she was awoken one night and Jim was there.  He said he came to say goodbye --- the strange thing was --- my parents got a call the next morning that Jim had died that evening.

Around the time my brother died I had numerous bizarre --- yet comforting experiences.

Experiences that strengthened my trust in God and God's goodness --- but they were clearly experiences that were supernatural.

There is a great story about a man who had asked his wife to balance the checkbook ---- He came home after she had worked all day making sure everything was in order in the check register.

Everything was neatly recorded
          Grocery story
          Church tithe
          and many, many others
But what caught his attention was one entry that was listed simply as ESP $24.21

He asked her what ESP was
          "Error some place" she replied

I am sure that we all have a hope that there is something out there
          a force
          a power
something that is there that is trying to help improve our lives.

Isn't that one of the main reasons that we participate in a church?

But unfortunately ---- I think that for most of the world today they see the church as the last place to find that mysterious power.
So instead they turn to "Palm Readers", Tarot Cards or other spiritualists who will guide them on their journey.

But Easter is the story that there is something more.

That is the message of the Emmaus Road story.

I find all of the resurrection stories difficult and perplexing --- when I try to understand it rationally --- I get stuck.

Think about the stories for a second

Shari did a great job last week sharing the story of the first Easter according to John.

In John's Gospel
          Mary & women come to tomb --- don't recognize Jesus
          Jesus shows himself to all the disciples (but Thomas is not there)
          Thomas won't believe Jesus is alive until he sees the holes in his body
          Disciples go back to the Galilee
                   Out fishing all night
                             stranger appears on shore
                   None of the disciples recognize Jesus

I am saying to myself --- they just SAW him in Jerusalem --- how in the world could they not recognize him when he meets them on the shore.

I don't understand??

Our story in Luke is equally perplexing.

Two weeks ago we shared the story of Easter morning According to Luke.

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women came to the tomb early in the morning to prepare the body for proper burial --- because in their minds --- JESUS WAS DEAD

When they get to the tomb they find that they tomb was open --- the stone blocking the entrance had been rolled away.

But they did not find the body of Jesus.

Instead they encountered "two men in dazzling clothes".

They have no idea who the men are --- angels? maybe?

And they tell the women:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

Remembering what Jesus had told them about his death and resurrection they ran back to tell all the others --- but Luke tells us that they thought that they women were crazy.

Right after this we get our story this morning.

Two people --- obviously followers of Jesus --- are walking away from Jerusalem --- but we do not know who they are. 

One of them is named: Cleopas --- the other is often presumed to be his wife ---- but we really don't know.

They were involved in a very serious conversation about all that had been taking place the last few days.
The Greek word implies that it was a rather hot conversation.

And in the middle of this conversation suddenly a stranger appears.
And to me this is the curious thing --- they have NO IDEA who it is

The conversation continues with this stranger and they share with him all that has taken place --- even saying that there are rumors that Jesus might be alive

Then this stranger begins to interpret the Hebrew Scriptures to show how Jesus had to suffer before he could enter into his glory.

They invite the stranger to stay with them and eat the evening meal.

And as they share in table hospitality the recognize Jesus --- and as soon as he does he vanishes from them.

If that isn't a weird story --- I don't know what is

But the question is ---- what is the point?

Why do we have this story in our Bible?

A couple of things come to mind

1.       Easter cannot be reduced to a creed or philosophy (despite the fact that we try desperately to do just that)

The church for 2,000 years has told us to just believe --- but that is not the point of this encounter with Jesus

Easter isn't something that we are just supposed to BELIEVE.

Easter is an invitation for us to meet the resurrected Jesus.

We move from saying I believe in Jesus to saying I have met the risen Jesus and he is STILL ALIVE!

The second thing this story wants us to do is to move our faith into the present tense.

Two persons were walking along the road sharing all that had just happened.  They are saying to themselves: "We HAD hoped . . ."

But Jesus comes to them in the present.

Do you remember the 1990's fad bracelets among youth that featured prominately the initials W.W.J.D.

It stood for What Would Jesus Do and the phrase actually comes from Charles Sheldon's 1896 novel In His Steps.

The novel was based on a series of sermons that Sheldon had delivered to his Congregationalist Church in Topeka Kansas.

It is the story of a church transformed when people began to ask: "What would Jesus do?" because the people wanted to do what they believed Jesus would do if he were there.

It's an interesting question --- but it is the wrong question.

The question should not be: "What would Jesus do IF he were here?"

We are an Easter people --- we have met the risen Christ and we KNOW that he is here!

Jesus is that guiding force in our lives if only we would pay attention and listen.

The question that we need to be asking today is: WHAT ARE YOU DOING JESUS?, AND HOW CAN I BE A PART OF IT?"

If we began asking that question --- and were willing to live accordingly it would change the world --- it surely would change each of us!