Synopsis: In one of the two most popular, beloved, and convicting stories Jesus tells (the Prodigal Son being the other), we hear Jesus’ response to a young lawyer wanting to clarify his question and justify himself: the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This scandalous story’s hero is a representative of one of the most hated people groups to Jesus’ Jewish audience. Samaritans are the ancestors of the remnants in the land of Israel after the Assyrian conquest. Their religion, blood, and cultural was a mix of surrounding people groups which was abhorrent to the national purification project in Judea during Roman occupation. The challenge Jesus offers is not only to be a good neighbor to those we might dislike, distrust, or even hate, but the real twist is wondering what happens to the human heart when you have to count on the kindness of a stranger? As Paul says about God, becomes true of our neighbors, “kindness leads us to repentance,” and human hearts are transformed by love.
Proclaimer: Rev. Dr. Bob I. Johnson
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.
In a biographical look at the life of Saul-turned-Paul, we see a life of violence, hate, and bigotry transformed on the road to Damascus in an encounter with the Living, Risen Christ. After this, Paul’s hatred of the Jesus-follower’s inclusion of Gentiles into their community becomes his life calling. In a world where we label, divide, and polarize, Brother Paul is still preaching today that we are all not just citizens in the Kingdom of God, but kinfolk and siblings in the family of God.
Synopsis: On Trinity Sunday, we hear two distinct images from Proverbs and John bubbling up from the scriptures to spark our imaginations about the invisible, ineffable, eternal Trinitarian family. The image of the woman as the feminine “sophia” wisdom incarnate, begotten before Creation, and eternally dancing in communion with the Creator, sounds mysteriously like the masculine “logos” word in the Gospel of John. The biblical vocabulary describing the eternally mysterious Trinity is illuminated by these images of feminine wisdom and masculine word, to remind us that God is neither male nor female, but gender identity finds it’s genesis in God, who exists eternally in loving, familial-like relationships. The traditional Trinitarian formula of Father - Son - Holy Spirit is not about the gender of God (God is not male, and men are not more like God), but to the nature of the relationships which exist within the Trinity. We use the language of family to describe the Trinity because there is no more intimate, complex, and enmeshed relationship than the connect of the family system (for good or ill). As members of the “household of faith,” we are called to participant in the great family circle of the Holy Trinity by being church family to one another. The metaphors are not meant to hinder, but help us reframe family membership in God’s New Family where everyone is welcome regardless of status, identity, or lineage. This is why the biblical mandate is repeated so often to protect orphans (those without parents), widows (those without spouses or children), the poor (those without a support system), and immigrants (those without a homeland). We are call to be the new human family God is creating through Trinitarian love and Resurrection life.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrives in tongues of fire to set hearts and lives ablaze. The real miracle of Pentecost is that thousands of people were able to understand the Good News Story without miscommunication or mistrust. Peter stands to address the crowd, who would have most likely been the very same mob who just six weeks or so earlier would have cried, “Crucify!” Peter tells them that death could not hold Jesus anymore than violence would not solve their problems. They cried out for blood, because they wanted to blame somebody for their situation. Despite their rage, death was swallowed up by life and the Resurrection of Jesus proves that love and life will always find a way. In that miraculous moment, they ask Peter what they are supposed to do. Peter invites them to repent (think different) and be baptized (walk into a newness of life) through the miraculous power of God’s universal language of love. While rage and bitterness seem cathartic, the path of peace offered by Jesus is the path of grace, love, and forgiveness.
To hear the moving story of a father’s forgiveness referenced at the end of the sermon, click here.
Jesus gathers his disciples before ascending back into full, spiritual communion with the Trinity and before sending the Holy Spirit. Once the Holy Spirit arrives, they will become his witnesses of salt and light in Jerusalem, all throughout the countryside in Judea and Samaria (two regions segregated by ethnic and cultural tension), and to the ends of the earth. Although, we are not told exactly when Jesus was culminate this work and exact where we are to go. The Infinite God is not bound by time or space. In God’s infinity of time, we are called to live and love each day like it’s our last and lean into the eternal present in each moment. In God’s infinity of space, we are called to bear witness to God’s love and Christ’s Resurrected Life in lands far away from our hometowns or even in our own backyard as God’s agents of peace and reconciliation. Wherever God sends us, we have an opportunity to lay roots and bloom where we are planted.
Psalm 23 is arguably the most familiar passage of scripture next to John 3:16. The pastoral, rural imagery of God as shepherd evokes emotions of comfort and safety, even though the life of a shepherd was hardly safe or comfortable. Traditionally attributed to David, the Psalm speaks of God’s parental care for God’s children (particularly poignant on Mother’s Day) which provides and protects us all the days of our life. Although, God does not promise to fix all of our problems, but promises to be present, responsive, and always pursing us with goodness and mercy. This promise is not made exclusively to the initiated, but the Good Shepherd even makes a table for us in the presence of our enemies, and through the power of Jesus’ resurrection, God continues make all things new and fulfill the old, familiar promise to Father Abraham and Mother Sarah to make one family out of all Creation. The promise of the Good Shepherd is we are not alone, and there is no far away with the God in whom we live and move and have our being.
Psalms offers surprising twists and turns and a picture of the world where circumstance is constantly moving through seasonal transitions. Today will not look like tomorrow. Psalm 30 sings a song which moves from darkness to light, as the Psalmist is surprised by joy as God fulfills promises of faithfulness. If we hold our circumstance up to the light of God’s love, our sorrow creates the space for deep joy in the midst of struggle.
As Kahlil Gibran writes in The Prophet, “Then a woman said, ‘Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.’ And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable.”
The women, who go to grieve and tend the corpse of Jesus, become the first preachers in the Christian faith. Their news is too good to be true, so the disciples ignore and silence them, but Peter has to see for himself. When he gets to the tomb to see whether or not their news was too good to be true, he sees an empty tomb and old burial linens and his hope springs eternal. Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead inaugurates God’s Kingdom reality of all things becoming new. Even though we see crucifixion all around us, “Despite appearances, it is an Easter world.”
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, poking fun at earthly powers like Herod and Caesar who ride on great, white steeds in glorious parades to celebrate themselves and assert their power. The broader way of Lent liberates us to fearlessly laugh and find joy in the freedom our King Jesus brings. In the light of God’s love we are invited to not take ourselves and our faults so seriously, but rather experience grace by embracing laughter, joy, and our shared humanity.
Mary pours a ridiculously expensive perfume on Jesus as an act of love, devotion, and preparation for his imminent death. Judas, who John does not give any grace, grumbles about how she should have sold it and given the proceeds away to the poor (with the possibility that Judas wanted to take a cut). Jesus speaks the cringe-worthy words which have justified so many careless, callous Christians to ignore the God-given social contract of care for the poor. Jesus, who reads the Isaiah scroll declaring himself to be a champion for the marginalized, honors Mary’s gift and shames Judas, because there will always be more work to do, more care to give, more needs to meet, and more justice to seek. Life is not just about doing or accomplishing or fixing, but also about resting in the lavish love and peace of God. Sabbath means we work six days and then we rest, and Judas tried to embarrass Mary by taking the seventh day to celebrate that Jesus was still with them, even if only for a little while longer. The broader way of Lent is not just about suffering and self-denials but also taking the opportunity to soak in Christ’s love and presence in extravagant ways.
Art by Julia Stankova of Bulgaria
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate. ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’
Keywords: Lent, Jesus, welcome, home, love, grace, family, forgiveness, belonging
Jesus tells them a parable about a tree given new fresh manure on it’s roots, and that stuff, as gross, tragic, and terrible, as it is, will make or break that tree. And, if fruit is not bearing, sometimes we have to let fields lay fallow with enough time and distance before we can go back and plant again. Grow is not rapid or forced; it is gradual and incremental. The broader way of Lent reminds us how in our life journey it’s the manure of life that makes you grow.
Leaving the mountaintop experience of the Transfiguration, Jesus is faced with reality down in the valley. His disciples, who he commissioned at the beginning of Luke 9, cannot heal a lonely boy suffering from a spirit of sabotage and self-harm–the only son of a father who brings his boy to Jesus. Jesus comes to set humans free from the destructive cycles of self-destruction and oppression. The broader way we travel this Lent invites us to not be shackled by our past pain but discover hope and healing in God’s light.
Keywords: Lent, Jesus, healing, loneliness, unclean spirits, miracles, family systems theory, power, courage, trust, love, advocacy
Jesus is lured into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the satan, the prosecutorial powers and principalities of darkness, who tempts Jesus in three ways: to abuse his power for his own self-satisfaction (stones into bread); to abuse his power for his own self-promotion and popularity (dazzle the crowds by diving off the Temple); and to abused his own power to bring his Kingdom with immediacy and force (to kneel to the Powers and rule the nations). The earthly Jesus remains faithful to his heavenly Father by trusting the promises of God through scripture and the Spirit. As we travel the broader way in Lent, we learn that even in times of trial God is worthy of our trust.
Jesus is transfigured before his inner circle disciples’ eyes and is met by Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, the story and witness of scripture. In Jesus’ preparation for his darkest hour, he chose to surround himself with the great story of God’s Promises in Scripture and with his closest friends. Even in our moments of fear or vulnerability, Jesus models the importance of surrounding yourself with Good News and good friends to support you, instead of going it alone. We are the stories we tell ourselves and we become the people with whom we surround ourselves.
"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. 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."
Text: Luke 2:41-52
Synopsis: Jesus’ parents lose sight of the young savior on a routine journey to Jerusalem for Passover. Jesus startles and surprises his parents and the rabbis who are amazed by his precocious questions. As those who search for Jesus today, perhaps we can begin this new year with a renewal of spiritual practices like prayer, scripture reading, and taking time at the end of our days to remember all of the places where we found Jesus.
Keywords: Christmastide, Jesus, searching for Jesus, seeing Jesus in neighbors, spiritual formation, discipleship, New Year