grace

Luke 14:1, 7-14 - "An Honorable Mention"

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Synopsis: Jesus is invited to his third dinner party in the Gospel of Luke, and has two important bits of wisdom to share with the guests (who scramble for seats of honor) and the hosts (who only invite people who can provide a quid pro quo of power, access, or position to them). Honor/Shame matrices are foreign to us as Americans, but this teaching from Jesus is saturated in his cultural situation. To rise above your station on your own without an invitation from a higher-up, is a bold, risky move that usually ends with a shameful dismissal. Although, God is God who lifts up the lowly and bestows honor to those who otherwise might be ignored by most folks in society.

Keywords: Jesus, honor, hospitality, justice, compassion, love, grace, inclusion, Kingdom of God

Luke 13:10-17 - "Closed 'Til Sunday"

Synopsis: Jesus gets in a dispute over whether or not it was ethical to heal this woman on the Sabbath. The leader in the synagogue chimes in, angry and worried about the precedent set by Jesus’ violation of sabbath rules. Jesus dresses the crowd down by saying they are more compassionate with their pets than their own sister in the family of God through Abraham. Jesus always chooses rules over relationships even when we want every issue and situation to be cut and dry.

Keywords: Jesus, compassion, sabbath, rules vs. relationships, law, grace, love, legalism, ambiguity

“Pentecost: Tongues on Fire” - Acts 2:1-39

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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.

"A Kingly Cartoonist" - Luke 19:28-40

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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.

“A Worthy Investment” - John 12:1-8

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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

"Welcome Home" - Luke 15:11b-32

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

"Upside Down" - Luke 6:27-38

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"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."

"Stranger Gifts" - Matthew 2:1-12

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Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Synopsis: Epiphany is a season of discover and illumination. In Epiphany people begin to realize who Jesus is and God became flesh. These strangers from the East arrive with even stranger gifts for the newborn king. The gifts perhaps symbolize the trifold calling of Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. Gold fit for a king; frankincense offered by priests; myrrh to embalm the body of a slain prophet; strange, but illuminating gifts for the little king offered by strangers from a strange land.

Keywords: Epiphany, calling, vocation, ministry, grace, surprises, strangers.