How to Be an Unjust Vessel of Grace

Our epistle today from 2 Timothy tells us that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

That does sound like Paul, doesn’t it?  Bless his heart.

You can practically hear him harrumph at the end of that.  Paul can be a great theologian when he’s not getting too hung up on gender roles, but he does get a wee bit stuffy and uptight-sounding from time to time.

The word “inspired” comes from roots connected to the word “breath.”  The breath of God, the wind of the Holy Spirit, can blow through any verse of scripture and breathe new life into it, but it is up to us to open our hearts and minds to that inspiration by applying our holy gifts of creativity and imagination to these old stories that we have heard a thousand times before.

Take for example our gospel lesson, the story of the widow and the unjust judge that Luke tells us Jesus related to teach us about the need to pray always and not give up heart.

The widow convinces the unjust judge to change his mind and grant her justice because of her annoying persistence.

Whom do we usually cast in the role of the unjust judge?

God. Continue reading

Build a House Inside The Problem

Last week we talked about when Jesus was having a bad day.  Today we begin with the Israelites in the Book of Jeremiah, who are having a bad century.

Jeremiah is speaking to a people who have been utterly decimated by Babylon.  They have been invaded, lost the war, and been carted off to exile in a foreign land.

They have lost friends and family members in the siege of Jerusalem.  Their last memory of their homeland is of their beautiful temple lying in smoking ruins, fading slowly into the distance behind them as they are dragged away.

They are beaten, humiliated, devoid of hope.

Now Jeremiah writes to them, and he’s writing to everyone, from whomever is still alive among the leadership down to the common people: “These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.”

This is a people hurting and embittered.  They are desperate to hear that even now God is stirring up God’s wrath, ready to rain down fire and destruction on Babylon and rescue God’s beloved people to bring them home.

What they hear is totally shocking and jarring. Continue reading

When Jesus Has a Bad Day

Today’s gospel is always a nice little putting on of the brakes for my ego.  Whenever I start to get too proud of myself for my work and my efforts and my ministry, I can remember what Jesus says here, which is basically, well, that’s just your job.  And I don’t mean the job for which I get a paycheck.  That’s our job as Christians.

To be faithful servants.

Jesus says in our gospel today that we are not to expect any thanks for that good and faithful service, but I wonder about that when I take a look at the very next part of Luke, the part we will in fact read next week.  Let’s put both of them side by side and see what we can discern about where Jesus is in this moment.

First we read: “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

The very next verses in the text that we will read next week, say this: “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.””

Now think about that for a moment.  First, Jesus says, rather vehemently I may add, don’t expect any thanks for what you do in ministry.  Then, not five minutes later, he complains, rightly of course, about not getting thanked for his ministry.

Do you know what I think is happening here? Continue reading