Luke 6:37-38

January 26, 2021

“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.” Luke 6:37-38

Intellectually, we all have heard that there is a difference between shame and guilt. As the old cliché puts it – guilt says that “I have done something wrong” and shame says that “I AM wrong.” Both shame and guilt are powerful forces in human community and both are connected to what Jesus lists as judging, condemning, and forgiving.

What happens when we judge someone? We draw conclusions about them, or make distinctions among them, based on their actions, their appearance, or their social position. By definition, such judgments are divisive. We make judgments to defend ourselves or our community standards.

What happens when we condemn someone? We issue the ultimate judgment. There is no going back. There are no more chances for redemption. It’s over.

Every culture, including our own, is a dance between a shame/honor way of life (with it’s large set of mainly unwritten rules) and a law/guilt way of life (with it’s official list of rules and regulations.}

Jesus grew up in a culture dominated by shame/honor. Everyone had a place, and everyone knew their place. Honor was social capital. Such cultures clearly define people according to the groups they represent. You know you are talking about a shame/honor culture when you use words like “pecking order” or “climbing the ladder” or “What will the neighbors think?”

Challenging his hearers (and us) to leave judging and condemning in the past, and to strive toward forgiveness as the best path forward, Jesus opens life back up. No longer judged, for good or ill, no longer condemned, by family lineage or social position, we are free to build a new way of being in the world.

But then our so-called sense of reality raises its ugly head and reminds us of the this-worldly power and influence of shame and guilt. We can use both shame and guilt as weapons against others. Whether it be the cancel culture of the left or the utter shamelessness of the right, we cling to judgment and condemnation like lead lifeboats.

And we do both to ourselves as well. Even as a child in grade school, I knew there was social status in getting good grades, being the fastest runner, etc. Getting a B was unthinkable. Losing a race was to be exposed as “less than”. I remember how disappointed I was to learn my blood type was B+. I even remember my thoughts as I waited for the nurse to give my first-born child her Apgar score. That is the power of shame. You can’t confess that away, it needs to be healed instead.

The reality is, we can know about the difference between shame and guilt in our heads…but such knowledge alone cannot free us to confess our guilt or liberate us from the power of our shame. For that we need a power greater than ourselves.

We need a God who invites us to freely confess what we have done wrong (as painful and humiliating as that is), and who defines us as beloved children, created in the image of God, and who names us good from the very beginning (as freeing and healing as that is.) Jesus brings us both…and challenges us to live as though that were so.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you know the power of guilt and shame in our lives for you created within us the capacity to feel both of them. And we know full well that there are times when it is good for us to feel each of them. But they can also bind us, and divide us, from ourselves and one another. Instill in us a deeper trust in your love, your mercy, and your love for all that we might be slower to judge and quicker to understand, slower to condemn and quicker to forgive. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 6:27-36

January 22, 2021

“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. Luke 6:27-36

Do you remember kids getting into fights in grade school or middle school? Word would pass like wildfire that a fight was brewing. Somewhere on the property two kids would square off. One kid was usually a bully. All the other kids would surround them. They’d yell, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” The adrenaline would flow. And then it would be over, one kid would give up or a teacher would come and finish it for them. A trip to the principal’s office and life would go on.

Is that really any different than the constant din of division we live with these days?

Do we really believe that “if they hit me, I hit them back twice as hard” holds the promise of a better life?

Maybe we do. If so, it is time to grow up. Because there is another way of being that is better for everyone. It is right here in the words of Jesus. Love your enemies. Do good. Share what you have. Hold your stuff lightly and show your love deeply, regardless of personal cost, regardless of the fear that you’ll be left with nothing. That is the Jesus way and it is how he lived his life.

Imbedded in Jesus’ words is what we have come to call the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This is very different than “Might Makes Right”or the Gold Rule, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”

To do unto others as we would have them do unto us” is not a uniquely Christian concept just as there is nothing uniquely Christian about the call to love our neighbor. These are universal concepts because they are rooted in how God creates the world to be. Every call to unity, to cooperation, to striving toward better lives for all, is rooted in this simple – though difficult – God-given principle.

Bahá’í Faith – Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.

Buddhism – Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

Confucianism – One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct….loving-kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.

Hinduism – This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.

Islam – Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.

Jainism – One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.

Judaism – What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you have laid out a way for us to be in the world with one another – to love those with whom we disagree, to share what we have, to let go. Help us practice what your preach, that the light of your love might shine through us in a dark and divided world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 6:20-26

January 21, 2021

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. Luke 6:20-26

In the gospel of Matthew, like Moses, Jesus teaches the crowds from a high place. We call it the “Sermon on the Mount.” But here in Luke, Jesus stands before the assembled crowd in a low place. A level place. “The Sermon on the Plain.”

Martin Luther famously said that “we are all beggars standing at the foot of the cross.” Yes, we are, and we will always be. That doesn’t mean we will look the same or talk the same or dress the same or live in the same kind of homes or do the same daily work in the world. It is diversity, not uniformity, that defines the wonders of God’s creation. But remembering that our diversity is a manifestation of God’s love means that justice is the hallmark of our shared lives and love, sacrifice, and service is how we get to where we ought to go.

Jesus speaks words of hope to those who find themselves poor, hungry, weeping, and defamed. He tells them there is a brighter future for them. This is good news for people who live with the fear that God had forgotten or abandoned them.

Jesus speaks words of warning to those who are rich, full, laughing, and lauded. This challenges the humanly created idea that our unique abundance is a sign of how special we are in God’s lives. Putting price tags on God’s blessings is a slippery slope to caring more about holding on to what we have instead of helping others get what they need.

We hear much today about economic inequities in our country. It is true, the richest of the rich have gotten even richer while the poor struggle to survive. But these inequities don’t come anywhere near the stark divide between the peasants of Jesus’ day and those who benefited from positions of power and influence. We might not be where we want to be but we are certainly farther along that we used to be. And everyone has the opportunity to better their own lives if they take full advantage of the opportunities available to them. That, in the course of human history, is still a new idea.

As broken as it appears, life is better today, even for the poorest of the poor, than in Jesus’ day. Why? Because enough people took Jesus’ words seriously to act on them. The values implicit in Jesus’ words became imbedded in a new way of imagining the world. Without those implicit values guiding one’s imagination, without the concept of accountability to God for how we live our lives, no one could have conceived of the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

We are all beggars before the foot of the cross. No one is better than anyone else. The path forward is always hopeful, and always dependent on love, sacrifice, and service.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, as we hear again your words from that level place, we do so mindful of the realities of life and the continued economic disparities that divide us. May we so order our common lives that we recognize, repudiate, and replace systems of oppression with pathways toward opportunity for all. Especially today, we pray for those living in economic uncertainty, those grieving the death of loved ones, and those we elect to positions of leadership, give them the wisdom to use their power for good. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

Luke 6:12-19

January 20, 2021

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Luke 6:12-19

Every day is a good day to pray. Today is a good day to pray. Why do we pray? What IS prayer?

Everyone knows that communication is the key to every healthy relationship. And everyone knows that God gives us two ears and one mouth and therefore we ought to remember that ratio when communicating with others.

Unlike the gospel of John which casts whole chapters as the content of Jesus’ prayers, the synoptic gospels usually tell us only that Jesus made time to go off, by himself, to pray. In today’s reading, Jesus prayed all night long. Clearly his next move, identifying his key disciples, was a consequential moment. We can trust his prayers were for guidance, wisdom, and clarity.

I can’t imagine a day in our lives – as individuals, family members, workers, friends, citizens – where we don’t need such guidance, wisdom, and clarity. So prayer is about seeking, knocking, asking. We intercede on the behalf of others. We pray for health and wholeness.

But there is much more to relationships than negotiating our needs. Even more than helping one another. Sometimes it is simply about being together, enjoying one another’s company, sharing life’s ups and downs. Prayer is that too.

Jesus identified a core group within his followers to walk closest to him. The disciples were apprentices, learning by watching, and soon, learning by doing. That is how a person became a rabbi in Jesus’ day – studying under a master.

But the disciples were also something more. They provided Jesus with companionship. With friendship. Imagine that. They walked wherever they went. They ate meals together. They talked and talked and talked and talked. They got to know one another. And sometimes they fought amongst themselves.

I don’t know who first said this but they’re right, “A leader without followers is just taking a walk.” Followers do more than reflect their leaders, they define their leaders. The disciples were essential to the ministry of Jesus – their relationship with Jesus participated in the essence of what Jesus was all about. Freedom, liberation, mercy, healing, inclusion (even including Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.)

Even Simon the Zealot made the team. Think of the party of the Zealots as the Tea Party of Jesus’ day. Barabbas – on this day when we all have pardons on our minds – was a Zealot. Christianity is a team sport and Jesus built a leadership team around himself.

He still does.

Today we welcome a new President of the United States as our national leader. He’s not a savior or messiah or God’s anointed leader for these times – we already have one of those and his name is Jesus. He will become our president because a majority of voters voted for him. We hired him to work for us. May God bless him in his work and may God guide those who work with him for the good of our country and the world.

When Jesus came down the mountain, the crowds were waiting for him. The crowds will always gather. The crowds will always have expectations and needs and desires. Some were there to get what they wanted. Some were there to criticize and destroy everything good that Jesus would do. Once gathered, Jesus taught them. He communicated with them. And he showed them the actions of love and healing that made what he taught real in their lives.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you have made yourself known to us. You have laid claim on our lives. You called us in our baptism to be your followers through all the chances and changes of life. Today, a day of great transition of leadership, remind us of the ties that bind us and the good work that you have called us to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 6:6-11

January 19, 2021

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him.

Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored.

But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. Luke 6:6-11

Let’s begin by reminding ourselves why there is a synagogue (which actually refers to people gathered for worship, not a physical building), and why it is that people actually gather together on a particular day of the week? To answer that, we have to go back to the very beginning.

In the beginning, Genesis tells us, God creates the natural world, including human beings. God doesn’t build buildings. God creates interconnected relationships which mirror the interconnected relationship that is God (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer or however you wish to describe the Trinity.) From a human point of view, those interconnected relationships include our relationship with God, with one another, and with the world around us.

And there is a godly intention behind each of those relationships. We are created to obey God, to live in harmony with other people, and to be caretakers of the world (which, in turn, takes care of us.)

And then, after a busy six days of activity, God takes a day off. The Sabbath day. A day of rest. Which always looks in both directions – back with gratitude for what has happened in the past week, and forward with determination to re-enter life focused on living within God’s intentions for life. It isn’t as simplistic as saying that Jews worship on the last day of the week to remember creation, and Christians worship on the first day of the week to remember the resurrection…but it is close.

So there they are. The people of God in a small village. Gathered around Jesus who has taken his place as a teacher of the faith. In that gathering there is a guy with a withered right hand. We don’t know if he was born with that condition or if it was the result of some tragic accident in his life. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he suffered from a withered hand.

And in that same holy space, the religious leaders are watching like hawks to catch Jesus in the act of doing something they can hold against him. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him.

You know where this is going. The man’s hand is restored and the Pharisees, rather than rejoicing at the miracle they just witnessed, want to get rid of Jesus. So it goes.

Every day of our lives, we all suffer from the brokenness of creation. Sin drives us to disobedience toward God, disharmony among people, and wanton disregard for the care of the world around us. We are all, always, both perpetuators and victims of sin. We know it. We sense it. We see it. And some of us heed God’s invitation to gather weekly to remember that. To confess that. To acknowledge that. To be forgiven of that. God intends worship to be both a resolution of the past and a resolve to do better next time.

The Pharisees are stuck in the past. They are stuck in a worldview where they are special, they are chosen, they are at the top of the food chain, and they have the power to enforce the rules which keep it that way. If that means opposing Jesus at every step of the way, even to taking his life, they will do it.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, until we see how we are withered, we don’t see our own need of healing. May we always bring what is broken before you, open to your healing touch. And may we fight against the temptation to put ourselves in your place, to cast our faith in concrete rather than in radical openness to being constantly surprised by your grace. May we remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, as our gathering around you, who make us whole. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 6:1-5

January 18, 2021

One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”

Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”  Luke 6:1-5

As I read the text for this morning, I realized something that had never really occurred to me before. It has to do with the “lens” that I bring to reading the Bible. I’ve written before about the power of such “lenses” and this morning’s realization confirms it. I have been blind to my own lens. (Which is often how such lenses work.) Here’s what I mean.

Every time I read a reference to the religious leaders in Jesus’ day – the Pharisees, Sadducees, the scribes, the teachers of the law – I draw parallels from them to present day organized religion. I’m not sure everyone sees it like this.

Maybe those Christian cousins who feel under constant assault from the society at large see the Pharisees, not as reflections of themselves, but as reflections of all the modern day forces they fear are “out to get them.” Maybe they only see themselves in the disciples. I don’t know. I’ve never thought about this before.

But as I read this text, imagining the shock on the faces of the Pharisees (who now look like disciple stalkers) to see the disciples grab a little snack as they walk, it reminds me of how ridiculous it is to see church leaders making theological mountains out of behavioral molehills.

It reminds me of a pastor friend of mine who once told me about how he was severely criticized as a seminary student because he didn’t hold his hands right during Holy Communion. Or the big deal some people still make about how to dress appropriately for Sunday worship. Or how any particular church picks which social issues to rally around.

Jesus says that “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” In other words, maybe without realizing it, the Pharisees have usurped the power and authority that belongs only to God. In part they do so because that is their tradition and that is what they believe the Bible tells them to do. They have cast the faith in concrete, and they only see what God is up to based on their own interpretations of what they have seen from God in the past they choose to remember.

They have forgotten the meaning of the Sabbath. We’ll hear more about that tomorrow.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, life is complex and that is difficult for us to negotiate. So we, all to quickly, trade complexity for conformity, without realizing what we lose in so doing. We are blind to ourselves just as the Pharisees proved blind to how strongly they clung to power. Help us discern what really matters, to see the reality behind the reality, and to let love always be our guide. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 5:36-39

January 15, 2021

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’” Luke 5:36-39

Still sitting at Levi’s table, Jesus tells a parable about wine. It really is a parable about life.

Change is inevitable. Some changes make life better, some make life worse. Some look good, at first, but unintended consequences get in the way and things turn out much differently.

I don’t often use the words “bell curve” but, when it comes to changes, it makes sense. People generally find themselves along a continuum that stretches from innovators to early adopters to early majority to late majority to laggards. I learned what that meant in my first year of ministry as the congregation wrestled with what it would look like to launch a major remodeling of their sanctuary. Who knew Jesus died for the color of the new carpet?

From our point of view, Jesus represents both the culmination and the continuation of what God had been doing in the world since the very beginning. But, for both the comfortable and the powerful, Jesus represented a new order (new wine) that would destroy everything they believed in, benefited from, and wanted to preserve (old wine).

Jesus understood the power and influence of the “good old days.” Old wine, I guess, since I don’t know much of a difference, tastes better than new wine. IF that old wine is carefully stored and tended in a very precise manner. Or else it just spoils. And if it spoils, it still leaves behind the ever-increasingly powerful memories of how good it used to be.

Jesus is also clear, “But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.” And that takes work. It takes everything that goes into wine-making and wineskin-making. It means starting over but it doesn’t mean re-inventing the wheel. It means getting back to the basics while moving forward.

This really is a parable about life. It teaches us everything we need to know about growing up and growing through all the chances and changes of life. It teaches us about moving on.

So much has changed in our lives over the past year of the pandemic, the economic crisis, the racial reckonings, the political turmoil. Where do we go from here? How do we pick up the pieces? What lessons will we learn? What will change forever?

Some resisted the new wine that Jesus brought – eventually to the point of crucifying him. But others, having tasted that wine, having welcomed the new wineskins, moved forward. They reached down through history to us. Now it is our turn.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we always grapple and wrestle with change. We struggle with recognizing when traditions devolve into traditionalism. We clash with those who see the world so differently than we do. Help us rely on your guidance as we seek to be good wine, whether new or old. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 5:27-35

January 14, 2021

After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink. Jesus said to them, “You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”  Luke 5:27-35

I don’t know what it is but Americans have a fascination with mobster movies. The “Godfather” and “Goodfellas” make all the lists of the best movies of all times. Because of this, everyone recognizes what an extortionist shakedown looks like.

One or two “muscle guys” walk into a little business. The owner looks up with fear on his face. He goes to the cash register or he pulls out an envelope and hands the money to the muscle. If he doesn’t pay, horrific things happen to him. Organized crime calls this “protection money.”

That is what tax collectors did. Once they got their position, they had the backing of Roman muscle. And once they met the quota Rome expected, they could change whatever they could get away with on the top. They were hated.

Jesus left the crowded room after healing the lame guy only to notice Levi sitting at his tax collection booth. That wasn’t unusual; there were tax collectors in every village. What was shocking was what Jesus did. He invited Levi to follow him. And he did.

Imagine the looks from the crowd that followed Jesus and Levi as they headed toward Levi’s  house. Imagine how confusing that would be. Imagine that Jesus now had, not only the Pharisees and teachers of the law against him, but everyone who despised Levi. Yet, off they went.

Levi threw a party. He could afford it. He invited all of his friends – and, being a tax collector himself, those friends were mostly other tax collectors. Can you imagine Jesus eating Italian food at the same table as the characters from Goodfellas?

Well, we better, because that is what he did.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Again, the religious leaders miss the point.

Pass the spaghetti, please?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you invite us to join you at a table where all are welcome. But we’re picky eaters. Picky not only about the food but about who gets to sit at the table. Help us, in our daily lives and our common interactions with people, to treat others as you have treated us. With a gracious welcome, a merciful embrace, and an open heart. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 5:21-26

January 13, 2021

Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the one who was paralyzed—”I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God.

Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.” Luke 5:21-26

We have seen strange things today.” For many reasons, that line has never been more applicable to our lives.

We are edging ever closer to 400,000 people losing their lives to a disease that we didn’t even know existed a year ago. And yet, millions of people still argue that the coronavirus is a hoax. In fact, when the Texas legislature opened for business this week, all the members of one political party wore masks while the vast majority of members of the other party refused.

For the first time in our lifetimes, we have watched our president lose his bid for re-election and not only refuse to admit it, he concocted a litany of fantasies about fraud that convinced millions of people to believe re-election was stolen from him. Today, for the second time, he will be impeached, just days before his term in office ends, because of the role he played in inciting a riot inside our nation’s capital that resulted in the deaths of five people.

What ties these current events to today’s Bible reading? The power of pre-conceived ideas. The power of our world view.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were right there in the midst of the crowd when they saw Jesus in action. But they didn’t see Jesus as a leader, as a teacher, as a healer. All they saw in looking at Jesus was a threat to their own standing, their own influence, their own power. And because that was their worldview, they were blind to what was happening before their very eyes.

The obvious answer to Jesus’ question is this: Of course it is easier to say “your sins are forgiven” than it is to tell a lame man to stand up and walk! Anyone can say “your sins are forgiven.” Talk is cheap but words matter. But the Pharisees wanted the religious establishment, their own source of power and prestige, to corner the market on forgiveness. Jesus wouldn’t have it.

So he told the man to take up his pallet and walk. And he did! Right before their very eyes! And they didn’t even see it! It didn’t change anything for them. It didn’t shake their pre-conceived ideas. It didn’t change their hearts, their minds, or their intentions to be rid of Jesus forever. It actually fueled those intentions.

Jesus backed up his words with an action that was healing, loving, amazing. As they say, “The proof is in the pudding.”

And so it is in today’s current events. Words matter. They inspire action that reveals character. The proof of the constant lying, exaggeration, hyperbole, incompetence, and race-baiting we have seen over the past four years is now being revealed in vivid color for the entire world to see.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, in these tumultuous days, we pray that you continue to open blind eyes, shake up pre-conceived notions, even as you work through those who would bring healing to the hurting and hope to the discouraged. See us through this time, that we might together for more clearly see you for who you are and continue to be – our Savior, our Lord, our Hope. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 5:17-20

January 12, 2021

One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal.

Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.

When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Luke 5:17-20

Many years ago there was a television show called “The Muppet Show.” I’m remembering that show now because, whatever Kermit the Frog and his friends were doing on the stages, there were two grouchy old men sitting in the wings criticizing everything. Their roles today are played by the Pharisees and teachers of the law.

You and I know that they were there with one eye on Jesus and the other eye on the crowd. And their primary concern wasn’t the rightness/wrongness of what Jesus was up to but it was their desire to maintain their control and influence over the crowd. They only cared about power and they masked that true desire with feigned concern over the purity of the law.

They might have been religious leaders but their hypocrisy is symptomatic of every shrewd leader who learns how to manipulate their followers to keep their Dear Leader in power.

At this point, Jesus ignores them. His attention is drawn to the commotion above his head as some men dig through the roof to let their paralyzed friend down into Jesus’ midst.

Those men aren’t mindful of the Pharisees or teachers of the law either. They are hoping against hope that Jesus might be the answer to their friend’s pain. The disruption they bring isn’t violent or coercive, but it is desperate.

When Jesus sees what they are doing he says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”

WHAT? Their SINS are FORGIVEN??? Without a trip to the temple? Without the scapegoat of Yom Kippur? Without a carefully crafted speech begging for mercy? Without the blessing of the Pharisees or any other purveyor of God’s gracious love?

Yes, without any of that.

All the Jesus saw in them was their faith that Jesus could help as they sought to love their neighbor. Welcome to the kindom of God.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, in these days of division and disease, we need both the centered principles of your love and the healing touch of your hand. Bless all those who work tirelessly in the healing ministries of life. Encourage us to ignore the critics and those who lust only for power. And, when we are the ones who are hurting, bring friends into our midst who can help. In Jesus’ name. Amen.