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Luke 6:46-49

February 10, 2021

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.

But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.” Luke 6:46-49

Until I moved to Houston I never heard of anyone spending thousands of dollars on repairing the foundation of their house. But Houston is different than where I grew up. I grew up on the banks of a river but the ground underneath was solid. Houston was built in marshland. We actually have to water our houses. Like many others, when the doors no longer closed and the cracks appeared in the bedroom walls, I also had to spend thousands of dollars on foundation repairs.

Foundations matter.

What are the foundations of the solid rock life that comes with truly following Jesus? He tells us. “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.”

What are the words that he tells us? We could quickly summarize them as Jesus does – to love God and to love our neighbor. Fleshing out what that means takes many forms. Tell the truth. Act justly. Do your best. Be generous. Be merciful. Forgive as you have been forgiven. Reject violence, vengeance, and vindictiveness. Feed the hungry. Help the hurting. Seek the common good. The list could go on and on. We know this.

To follow Jesus is to do more than to give lip service. Words matter but words have consequences because words lead to action. Or inaction. But the love that Jesus speaks of runs much deeper than our feelings or emotions – Jesus speaks of agape love, the choice to love, the decision to love, regardless of personal cost or consequence. This love would take him to the cross.

And what about a life built on shifting sands? A life built without a solid foundation? This too could take many forms but it starts by putting ourselves at the center of the universe. Everything becomes about me – what I want, what I need, what’s in it for me? It is a life of idolatry, of falling prey to personality cults and tribalism. It is a life that seeks little beyond fame, fortune, and whatever other worldly standards allow us to “feel good about ourselves.”

Fixing the foundation of a house is a difficult, costly, endeavor. It means drilling holes throughout the interior. Digging deeply along the exterior. It means shoring up the weak areas and reestablishing a new level. Then it means fixing all the cosmetic damage that the repair itself has created.

I firmly believe that Jesus always wants the best for us, and the best from us. To come in faith to Jesus, to pay close attention to what he said and what he did, to discern what that means for us in our own lives, and then to act in ways that demonstrate the leadership of Jesus – this is the foundation for our best possible lives. As individuals, as families, as citizens.

We need some foundation work. That starts by admitting that the cracks we see reach far deeper than a few cosmetic repairs.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, we sing of you as the solid rock on which we stand. Be more than that for us. We need, not only your guidance, we need your leadership. We need the power of your Spirit working in us that we might have the humility and the courage to back up what we say with what we do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 6:43-45

February 9, 2021

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.

The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45

If we have learned anything in the past several years, we have learned that words matter. Leadership matters. Today Jesus reminds us that our words reveal our character. And that our character flows forth in our actions. But, while we have always known that, we don’t always remember it.

We look back at our own lives and we see how deeply we have been impacted by the words and actions of others, for both good and ill. From our personal lives (the families, teachers, coaches, friends) who shaped us, to our public lives (the impact of elected leaders), we become the people we are.

It seems particularly timely that today’s reading comes on the first day of the second impeachment trial of our former president. He has been accused of inciting the storming of the United States capital building on January 6th even as the electoral votes were tallied for our new president. Five people died that day. Will he be held accountable or will he be protected?

Jesus says that “it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” Because of Twitter and YouTube, we have heard more words spoken by our former president than any other president in our lifetimes. Than any other president in history. While I can appreciate how many people applauded him for being plain-spoken, for “telling it like it is”, the simple fact of the matter is that he didn’t tell it like it is. He lied constantly and increasingly. Even his much spouted laundry list of accomplishments was largely hyperbole and exaggeration.

We all learned in Parenting 101 that it isn’t helpful to tell our children, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It just doesn’t work that way. We teach, and children learn, by modeling, based both on what we say and what we do. Our words, and subsequently our actions, reveal who we are.

It is clear that Jesus wants to set us up for success in our lives. In his entire Sermon on the Plain, he lifts up what it looks like to be good people for ourselves and for others. He lifts up a value system, and a way of being, that is deeply at odds with what people could characterize as “just the way the world really works.”

Jesus isn’t interested in apologizing for the world, he seeks to transform it. And that starts with winning hearts and minds over to a different sense of the common good.

When Jesus changes our hearts, our words and actions change as well. Bottom line – they will know we are Christians by our love.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you know our hearts. You know how easy it is for us to say one thing yet do another. Continue to hold up the mirror of your way of being to our own lives. Help us align our words and actions to more clearly reveal your love to the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 6:39-42

February 8, 2021

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Luke 6:39-42

I got stuck when we got to this passage. I’ve had to think long and hard about what to say. It is a timeless message but has never been as timely than it is in this moment of our history.

Clearly, Jesus’ question is rhetorical. The obvious answers are, “No, a blind person cannot guide another blind person. Yes, both will fall into the pit.” Therefore, and here’s the point, we all need to see clearly, with open eyes, noticing, before anything else, how our own personal vision is distorted. Only then can we see clearly enough to guide others, even to remove the speck we might see in their eyes.

Having said that, there is a big difference between someone who is blind (which comes via birth, a disease, or a horrible accident) and someone who refuses to see. There might not be a difference in degree – whether blind or obstinately keeping your eyes closed – you still fall into the pit. But there is certainly a difference in kind – we can open our eyes anytime we want to.

I wonder, in the age in which we now live, if people are at all conscious about how tightly they keep their eyes shut.

The breathtaking changes we have seen in the last 40 years – the birth, then utter dominance, of the internet, the ubiquity of talk radio, tribal television, changing moral norms, increased diversity, increased gap between the richest of the rich and everybody else, constant war, the fading influence of mainline Christianity and the rise of partisan Christianity – have blinded us. We feel their corrosive effects not only in labeling and name calling, tribalism, fake news, alternative facts, and whataboutism, but in the full-throated insistence from far too many people to protect and defend those who profit from such corrosion.

We seem to have arrived at a point in time that has rendered so many of us with the inability, or the stubborn refusal, to engage in the kind of healthy self-reflection which is required if we have any hope of seeing the log in our own eyes. Our civil discourse has sunk to such childish depths that it is no wonder that all that divides us appears to be winning the day.

Jesus’ admonition to check the log in our own eye is the absolute opposite of the “whataboutism” that has characterized our public lives for the past several years. When any effort to hold someone accountable is met with “Yeah, but what about…..”, there is only offensive defensiveness and continued blindness.

What does it look like to check the log in our own eyes? Read the 2nd chapter of Philippians – seriously, look it up today and read the whole thing. We can pray until the cows come home that Jesus heal our blindness, but only we can open our own eyes.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, grant us the courage, the wisdom, and the willingness to seek truth in ourselves, in our lives, in our world, lest we fall into pits that we should have seen coming. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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.