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Archive for October, 2016

Being Short

Zacchaeus . . . was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.  Luke 19:3 (CEB)

I know what it’s like to have trouble seeing over the crowd.  Even though I’m not exceptionally short – average 5’5″ – there are a lot of people taller than me.  So I can understand Zacchaeus’ frustration in wanting to see this famous rabbi who was passing through Jericho.

Some might say that Zach didn’t have the right to be around Jesus since he was a tax collector and had cheated so many people.  It’s doubtful that he even had friends, especially not Jewish friends.  Tax Collectors were considered some of the worst sinners because they collected the taxes for the Roman government and over charged the citizens so they could keep the rest.

Rome didn’t care how much they charged as long as the government got their share.  So, even in his “outcast” and “shunned” state, Zach still wanted to see this man named Jesus about whom everyone was talking.  He climbed a tree.

When my younger brother was around nine or ten years old, he was always climbing trees, and we finally asked him why he kept climbing them.  His answer was that he could see so much more – it was a “cool view.”  Zach climbed so he could see more – actually so he could SEE Jesus.  There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to have a glimpse of a famous person!

Yet, Zach got more than he bargained for because Jesus stopped right below the tree and called Zach down.  His day had started out so normal, ordinary, and common but his life totally changed when Jesus encountered him.  Jesus even knew his name – we don’t know why he knew it, but he did.  Think about what that meant to someone who had been scorned and even hated!

Zach changed his way of living by returning four times what he had taken to those he defrauded and gave half his possessions to the poor.  The indication from the Greek is that it was not a one time thing, but an on-going commitment.  Zach went from being a nobody who was trying to be noticed to a somebody who really didn’t care anymore if he was noticed.  Meeting Jesus changed him and his life.

When was the last time you recognized Jesus speaking to you?

How have you changed since welcoming Jesus into your life?

In what ways have your priorities changed?

How will you carry on that change?

Arrogance and Humility

. . . all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Luke 18:14b CEB

So there were these two guys who had gone to church one morning.  The first one was well-known in the community as an upstanding citizen who paid his taxes fully, attended church regularly, and tithed from his healthy income.

The second man was also well-known in the community, but he was known for his dishonestly in bilking people out of more money than his goods were worth.  He cheated them and wouldn’t make things right when he was caught.  Everyone knew what a jerk he was.  He hardly ever attended church, even though he had been brought up to believe that it was important in his life.

One day, they both showed up to pray when no one else was around.  The upstanding man stood in front of the altar and began a litany of all the wonderful things he had done in the community and how he KNEW that he was not like other people who were the scum of the earth.  He spouted that he was far more righteous than THOSE people, especially the man in the back of the sanctuary who was a known liar and thief.

Way in the back of the sanctuary, the other man fell on his knees, keeping his eyes to the floor, beating his chest and quietly praying for God’s mercy.  He recognized his sinfulness, and he asked God to forgive him and have mercy on him.

Hmmm.  Arrogance and humility.  I suspect most of us would have immediately turned to the first man as a shining example of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ in the world.  He was successful, generous to a fault, and at least outwardly set a great example for people to follow.

On the other hand, the man who asked for God’s mercy would not seem to be the best example of a life in Christ since he clearly ignored all Jesus’ teachings about loving others as we love ourselves, and even more than that, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Yet, the first man had fallen into the trap of arrogance, believing that he was better than the other man (and probably many other people).  He didn’t even bow his head or sit down quietly, but expounded on his wonderful qualities rather than thanking God for his blessings and asking God for guidance.

The other man recognized his unworthiness and asked for God to help him.  He didn’t try to build himself up, but admitted his faults and error of his ways, giving God the credit for being more powerful than himself.

In Luke 18:14a, Jesus says, “I tell you, this man [the second one] went down to him home justified rather than the other.”  When we worship God, it is not WE who are the most important, but God.  When Jesus asks us to give our lives to him, we give all of who we are, including our attitudes and assumptions.  It is not for us to judge another, but it is our responsibility to care for others and about others in the name of Christ.

How do we pass judgment on others every day?

In what ways are we arrogant, even though it’s hard to admit it?

In what ways do we turn our lives over to God’s guidance and leading?

The Celebration of Laity

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  1 Peter 2:9 (NRSV)

This week we are celebrating the  ministry of the laity in our churches.  The laity lead the entire worship service, and the focus is on their call to ministry, not just as people who are able to lead worship, but as those who are given gifts to share as the church in the world.

Every so often when I approach someone to lead the service, I have these terrified “deer in the headlights” looks and a lot of hesitation.  However, over the last two years, the people who have been asked have readily answered, “Sure!”

This year, in one of the churches I serve, a woman who is a good writer of skits and plays, and who was a lay speaker in her previous church, told me she had a sermon in her that she wanted to share.  I offered Laity Sunday, and she immediately said “yes” and recruited several other parishioners to help in leading the service.

In the other church, we have this amazing, terrific, and marvelous youth group who also make up the Senior Sunday school class.  I found a skit that I thought they might like, wrote up a bulletin to fit it, and asked the teacher to approach them.  Without hesitation, they said “yes” and immediately began to edit the script to fit their style and understanding.  Woo hoo!

Having been a lay person for many years before I began serving churches as a pastor, I can appreciate the work that so many of them do in sharing God’s love to the world.  I celebrate their ministry as “the priesthood of all believers.”  They take their calling seriously.  Think of the many gifts that lay people share!

Here is a list of only SOME of the gifts they share:  leading worship, preaching, teaching Sunday school, serving on Finance and Trustees, serving on the Staff Parish Relations Committee, serving on the Mission Committee and Worship Committee (and many others), setting up altar decorations, baking and cooking, running fund raisers, volunteering in the church office or around the grounds, organizing women’s and men’s groups, leading Bible studies, witnessing to their faith in the workplace, at home, at school, in the marketplace, or wherever they are, and this certainly doesn’t cover all of what they do.

The Laity are in partnership with the clergy to share the love of God in the world, in their communities, and with their families and friends.  It’s a calling that we all have together as we ARE the church in the world.  I often tell the congregations that they go out the door of the church through the servants entrance into their mission field.  Worship is where we regroup, re-energize, and find support and nurture that helps us to do what we are called to do for Christ.

Let us celebrated the laity!

 

Thanks, I think

[The healed leper] prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.  And he was a Samaritan.  Luke 17:16 (CEB)

Well, of course the healed leper thanked Jesus!  Wouldn’t any of us do the same in similar circumstances?  Probably.  Oh – wait a minute – he was a Samaritan.  Does that mean he really wasn’t worthy of being healed by Jesus?  Did he just catch some of the wind blowing his way as he left with the nine others?  Did Jesus make a mistake by healing someone who was of a different race than he was?

No, no, and no.  Jesus wasn’t looking at him as unworthy because he saw everyone as worthy of God’s grace. Everyone was included in God’s kingdom.  Luke points out that this was a Samaritan because the nine others (whom we presume to be Jews, like Jesus) went on their way and did what Jesus had told them to do – go show themselves to the priests.

But this Samaritan couldn’t even contain himself!  He was so thankful that he turned around and fell on his knees before the one who had healed him of his disease.  Not only was he healed physically, but he was also healed spiritually.

One of my best friends and I used to have a discussion about who deserved God’s grace.  She would ask if someone who repented and turned his or her life over to Jesus on their deathbed, would that person be forgiven and find salvation.  I always said yes, but she would argue that it wasn’t fair.  If they had spent their entire life doing things that were against Jesus’ teachings, breaking the Ten Commandments knowingly and willfully, they shouldn’t be able to just say, “Forgive me” and it’s done.

Well, it isn’t quite that simple, and it certainly isn’t cheap grace.  Grace is offered to those who genuinely have a change of heart and turn their lives around, even if it’s on their deathbed.  I would also tell her that it isn’t ours to judge, and only God knows what is on that person’s heart.  It’s ultimately between that person and God.

Whatever race, gender, ethnicity, or age we are, grace is offered to us every moment of every day.  Jesus offered someone who was considered “less than,” an enemy of Jerusalem, and someone with whom the Jews didn’t want to associate healing and grace.  He received it with joy and praise and let Jesus know how grateful he was.

What about us?  How much grace do we offer others, even those who are different from us?

How do we praise even when it seems like things are lousy?

In what ways do we fall on our knees every day, regardless of our circumstances to give thanks to the one who offers grace, healing, and life?

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