Archives: Proper 25

1549: Who Will Finish Our Journey?

How do you think Moses felt when he realized that he would not get to enter the Promised Land?

What heartbreaking and crushing moment!

He has poured out over forty years of tough, uphill leadership of the people of Israel, and God is now telling him that the goal will be forever out of his reach. He will die without entering the Promised Land.

It seems even more cruel that he will actually see it, but not enter it.

In our lesson from Deuteronomy today, Moses is led up to the top of a mountain, “and the Lord showed him the whole land…The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants”; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.’ Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command.”

At first it seems like a pretty poor reward for such long and dedicated service.

But like so many things in the Bible, we realize that it is meticulously faithful to the way things happen in real life.

Many times we have a dearly held and longed-for goal for ourselves, our family, or our community, and despite the years of work we put into it, we never see it accomplished.

That’s in fact almost guaranteed for the biggest and most important goals of transformation.

Consider Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech—he said it explicitly, that he had seen the Promised Land, but he did not know if he would enter it.

But he did not speak those words with despair.

His voice rang with hope and even joy.

This is the difference between people who have been transformed by God’s work in their lives and those who haven’t. Continue reading

Heavenly Sweepstakes Cancelled Due to Lack of Interest

One of the things I love best about Jesus is how tricky he is.

Jesus is a sneaky, tricky person!

How do I know that?

Well, he’s laid a trap for us in this gospel parable, and ten bucks say every last one of us fell right into it.

Let me explain.

So we begin with the tax collector and the Pharisee.

This is not a subtle parable; we know whose side we’re supposed to be on.

In fact, Jesus tips his hand with the opening explanation from Luke: “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”

Uh-oh. That doesn’t sound good. I hope I don’t end up in that group.

And the Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

“What a dirtbag!” we think. “Seriously, does anyone pray like that? Thank God I’m not that arrogant! Thank you, God, that I am not a self-righteous jerk like this Pharisee! Thank you that I know that I am an unrighteous sinner like the tax collector. Thank you for making me more humble than anyone else!”

Oh. Wait a minute.

I think I just accidentally prayed a prayer identical to the Pharisee’s.

Jesus, you got me!

I fell right into the trap! Continue reading

What Jesus Is Really Asking Us

Who doesn’t love blind Bartimaeus?

Here is a man who knows what he wants and goes after it no matter how much he embarrasses everyone else.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he shouts.

His fellow townspeople are mortified.

“Shut up!” they say. “Be quiet, you hollering maniac! The one celebrity we get in this town and you yell at him like a yokel!”

Bartimaeus doesn’t care.

He knows Jesus has what he needs and he is going after it.

He will not be silenced.

We could learn a lot about boldness in prayer from Bartimaeus. We could learn a lot about asking for what we need.

But even more important than Bartimaeus’ persistence in this gospel is Jesus’ response to him.

Bartimaeus is hollering and causing a ruckus, and “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’”

This is one of the most important moments in the entirety of the gospels for telling us about who Jesus is and how he behaves in relationship with us.

Jesus does not assume that Bartimaeus wants to be made able to see.

He does not assume that Bartimaeus sees his blindness as a disability.

Furthermore, although Jesus undoubtedly knows what is best for Bartimaeus, Jesus does not force it on him.

Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Neither does Jesus impose his will on us, or make any assumptions about what we need or want.

He asks us as openly as he asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?”

The ball is in our court, just as it was for Bartimaeus.

We can’t rely on God to solve our problems for us.

We have to answer the question Jesus asks.

What do we want him to do for us? Continue reading

The Law and the Prophets Depend on Us

At first it seems as though there are very few surprises for us in our gospel today.

The scene is familiar to us: the Pharisees and Sadducees are stirring up trouble with Jesus, as usual, and Jesus masterfully handles them with a mixture of kindness, authority, and flawless command of the scriptures.

And, of course, Jesus’ answer to their question, what is the greatest commandment, is very familiar to us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

It’s hard to preach on this passage, because essentially, Jesus has wrapped up the substance and goals of our entire Christian life in a few short sentences.

Love God and love your neighbor. That pretty much covers it.

Simple, straightforward, easy to remember, and the work of a lifetime.

But the wonderful thing about Jesus is that every word he speaks is so rich with multilayered meaning that we can mine it for years and be struck by new revelation every time we open the gospel.

What intrigues me, as I study these familiar words this time around, is his final sentence: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Continue reading

Are You Worth It?

Today Paul writes to us in 2 Timothy: “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” And the lion we find stalking us in our gospel story today is pride.

Pride is such a sticky trap that I for one am always struggling with, or rather the pride-humility polarity that is so hard to balance.

We all know that being overly impressed with ourselves like the Pharisee in our story is not the way to go. But a humility that becomes twisted with self-hatred, a self-esteem crushed to the point that we believe we are worthless, does nothing to please God either.

Today we must look at our scriptures and ask the question: what is our true worthiness?

We begin with the two characters in our gospel story, the Pharisee and the tax collector. Their respective worths are even labeled by how they are named—the Pharisee is capitalized in the text and the tax collector is lower case. You can see the capitalized Pharisee and lower-case tax collector in the temple in your mind’s eye: the one standing tall and proud, the other diminished and sinking low in his grief and shame.

But consider on what the Pharisee builds his self-worth. First, it is by comparing himself to others.

The first words out of his mouth are, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”

He places himself in a hierarchy against other people and gives thanks that he ranks higher by virtue of not having committed these notorious sins.

And then he values himself for the deeds he has done. He proclaims before God and all the other people in the temple praying, “I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” The Pharisee can point to a list of the sins he is not guilty of and the good works he has accomplished and count himself on solid ground before God.

Except it is not solid ground at all. Continue reading

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