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Luke 15:1-10 The Message

1-3By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.

4-7″Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

8-10″Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”

We worship a scandalous God! I for one am grateful. God became human, took on flesh and blood, for us. God did not come into this world as a king’s child, the son of a religious scholar or celebrated priest.

No, God became the child of an unwed teenage girl. He came into this world in the messiest of situations, was born in the lowest of places—a cave or a barn where the animals were kept.

The message was announced to shepherds of bad reputation, foreigners whose ways and methods were strikingly different from the Jewish people. Nothing was as we might expect.

God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ, ate with the sinners, the outcasts, the lowlifes. Jesus the Christ describes the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of ill-reputed shepherds and dumb sheep, a lowly woman searching for a minute piece of money. Nothing extraordinary, down-right ordinary, below ordinary, available for each and every one of us.

So how did our churches become places where people feel too dirty to enter? Where people are afraid to go in for fear of being judged harshly?

Our church is for people who are broken and want to be healed. Our church is for those who have lost their way or perhaps never had a clue where to go in the first place. Our church is for lowlifes and sinners…just like us.

Praise be to our Living God!

Incarnate Living God, thank you for becoming one of us. For accepting us as we are but loving us enough to lead us into your Kingdom. Let us always remember that we are broken and sin-filled, so that we do not begin to believe that we are better than those who dare not darken our doors. Help us to have courage to be like you and go out and find those who are scared to walk into our church on their own. Help us to reach out to them, listening, becoming their friend, just like you did, without judgment, without holding back, showing and sharing with them your splendid love. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we pray, amen.

Don’t forget, we are starting on the Advent Conspiracy, today/Wednesday at 6:30pm. It’s going to be interesting, educational, and great fun. Please join us!

Luke 14:25-33 The Message

25-27One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

28-30″Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

31-32″Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

33″Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.

This isn’t a very good recruitment spiel. “Be willing to lose everything you hold dear; be ready to give it up if you want to follow me.” If growing numerically was Jesus’ plan, he sure didn’t show it!

Jesus wanted, and continues to want disciples who are willing to give everything to following him. It’s one thing to say that we are willing to go along with God’s plans and make whatever sacrifices are necessary and another to actually do it.

In some countries people risk their very lives to be Christians. They know what it means to be disciples, to sacrifice for God, for their faith. What about us? To call ourselves Christians in the United States is not a risky proposition.

However, to live as Christians is risky in all places and all times. To live as Christians means to care for the needy, to eat with the homeless, to reach out and bring into our families and circles of friends those who the world says are trash. It means that we become personally involved with people who may not “measure up” by the world’s standards. It means that we pay attention to the injustices of the world and do what we can with what we have to make a stand for justice—in the small things and in the larger things.

Holy One, help us to stand up for justice, to do what is right. Help us to recognize our cross when it comes before us. Let us have enough courage to pick it up and carry it as we follow you. Bless your little ones who’ve been pushed down, ran over, abused, and oppressed—let us be a blessing to them as well. Amen.

Luke 14:15-24   The Message

15That triggered a response from one of the guests: “How fortunate the one who gets to eat dinner in God’s kingdom!”

16-17Jesus followed up. “Yes. For there was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited many. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, ‘Come on in; the food’s on the table.’

 18″Then they all began to beg off, one after another making excuses. The first said, ‘I bought a piece of property and need to look it over. Send my regrets.’

19″Another said, ‘I just bought five teams of oxen, and I really need to check them out. Send my regrets.’

20″And yet another said, ‘I just got married and need to get home to my wife.’

21″The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged and told the servant, ‘Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.’

22″The servant reported back, ‘Master, I did what you commanded— and there’s still room.’

 23-24″The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full! Let me tell you, not one of those originally invited is going to get so much as a bite at my dinner party.’”

In the previous scripture Jesus was telling the people at the dinner that they should invite the nobodies, the homeless, and the people who could never possibly repay the hospitality, to their parties.

So now he offers a story about a man who did just that. He had invited all the “right” people but they were busy, had more important things to do. What else do you do? Of course you find others who will gladly come to your party. Why waste the food, the decorations, and the music when you can simply find more people?

In addition, the people who will be arriving—those who need a rest, need a good meal—they will appreciate it even more than the snoots that had better things to do.

I can’t help but wonder what invitations we’ve turned down? What fabulous celebrations have we missed because we’re too busy to pay attention?

Have we become like those who have too much to do than celebrate with our friends and neighbors, our church family? What keeps us from showing up at the party? What about Sunday mornings?

It’s so easy to forget that every Sunday is an Easter celebration, a celebration of our living God, of Jesus Christ who death could not defeat. What keeps us from celebrating on Sunday mornings?

Lord of the Dance, you that have promised the best celebration and party of all times, let our hearts rejoice in the joy of your resurrection! Let us clear our schedules so nothing stands in the way of celebrating and worshipping you. Praise be to you, amen.

John 6:37-40 The Message

 35-38Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

 39-40“This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”

What a beautiful promise, God sent Jesus so that we could all be made whole, so that we could stand on our feet and live fully and wholly.

There are days in which that I wish for the completion of time to be NOW.  The world can be quite depressing with all of its violence and fear-mongering but I know that is not what God created it to be.

So what until then?  What do we do while we wait?  We can be a part of God’s plan—sharing what we have found in Christ with others.  We can show them God’s love through our very lives.  We can counter the violence and fear-mongering with love and hope. 

Let us live like Jesus, as hope-mongers, love-mongers, spreading it across the world like a virus.  That’s what we shall do until the beautiful promise is completely fulfilled.

Almighty and love-mongering God, thank you for your beautiful promise of a day in which our world will be whole and without violence, that love shall rule over all.  We cling to this promise of a day without fear or violence, filled instead with your love.  We cling to it on the days in which despair threatens to overtake us.  On other days it inspires us to live more fully and to share your love.  Thank you for this gift of life.  Amen.

 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

 ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

 and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.’

 And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’

Today is All Saints Day in which we celebrate and honor those whom we are joined with through our Christian faith and have passed on. Often we think of saints as only those people whom the Catholic Church has called saints, but as Methodists any Christian who has passed away is now a saint. It’s a day to honor the dead.

In Mexico it is called Dia de Los Meurtos or Day of the Dead and it spans 2 days. At the same time as the Day of the Dead the monarch butterflies are begging to fly through Mexico to reach their hibernation home on the trees in the mountains of central Mexico. It is believed that on the backs of the monarchs the spirits of the dead are brought home. The first day is the day that children who have died arrived and then the adult spirits come on the 2nd day.

The night of Halloween, All Hollow’s Eve is spent waiting for the spirits to come. It is a joyous celebration. The graveyard is decorated with the favorite foods and drinks of their loved ones—a feast is prepared for the spirits and made to help them find their way home.

We don’t deal well with death in our culture. We usually understand that it is something to fear. Often when we see the Mexican skulls decorated with gorgeous paintings and even gemstones, we are taken aback. It scares us a bit, it does not offer any comfort. But in the Mexican culture it is a way of embracing and no longer fearing death—almost making fun of it.

 As Christians we should not fear death, we have been promised a joyous and wonderful day in which we will be hugged and greeted by Jesus the Christ, himself. God’s face will shine upon us! A day of rejoicing it will be! Our scripture, our periscope, for today says, promises:

‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.’

Granted, we don’t know when this day will arrive—we don’t know if it will be on the day of our death or at the end of time as we understand it, but this day has been promised to us.

God has not given up on our world that seems to worship violence and war, bringing people to death’s door far too soon. No, God continues to work to restore creation.

God gave birth to our world, lovingly crafting even the wings of a butterfly, as well as the moon the many universes that surround us—nothing too small or too large to overlook. Everything precious and good. Somehow sin and brokenness found its way into the goodness, the sacredness of creation, but God is not done.

We often think of restoration as bringing something back to it’s original state, but God’s restoration of creation is a promise to not only restore but to make it even more glorious than it ever was, more glorious than we can even imagine. All the words, all the images we can come up with, fall short.

One of the most difficult things for me to understand is that this will happen in God’s time, not ours. Many have given up hope that this will ever come true. It seems that every generation has believed that they will be the ones to watch and experience this world as it comes to its end.

Some believe that they can manipulate things and make it come quicker, but the scripture is clear—the city of Jerusalem will come down to earth from heaven. God brings the Holy City to us, to earth. God does this, we do not build a second tower of Babel to meet God—no, God brings the Holy City to us, God as with Christ, breaches the gap between the Sacred Divine and our brokenness. God comes to us, yet again, this time making all things new, beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations.

In this new world, there will be no more brokenness. There will be no more sin. The lectionary writers didn’t think we could handle the entire pericope; they cut this scripture short at verse 6a. Perhaps they thought saying that no fornicators, no liars, no adulterers were going to be allowed in this new creation. Perhaps they thought I’d get up here and shout that you were going to burn in hell if you lie, if you idolize something or someone, if you have affairs, if you practice magic.   I’ve heard people do that, but I don’t believe that is what these last verses are truly saying. If all that was true, if we were going to burn in hell for being liars, adulterers, idolaters then what was Jesus about?

We are Christians and God has gifted us grace, undeserving, unmerited grace that transforms our lives. The point of the last verse is that along with no more death, no more crying, there will be no more sin, no more brokenness. There will not be liars, adulterers, idolaters because they won’t exist. All of that will be wiped away and transformed into something far greater, far more wonderful than we can even dream or imagine.

In this new and awesome creation, God will make all things right, we will be redeemed and transformed into the people God has always known we could be, even if we couldn’t do ourselves.

Let us remember as we partake of the communion bread and wine, that we are not alone, we do not do have to rely upon ourselves, that God is with us. Thanks be to God!

Luke 14:1-6   The Message

 1-3 One time when Jesus went for a Sabbath meal with one of the top leaders of the Pharisees, all the guests had their eyes on him, watching his every move. Right before him there was a man hugely swollen in his joints. So Jesus asked the religion scholars and Pharisees present, “Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath? Yes or no?”

 4-6They were silent. So he took the man, healed him, and sent him on his way. Then he said, “Is there anyone here who, if a child or animal fell down a well, wouldn’t rush to pull him out immediately, not asking whether or not it was the Sabbath?” They were stumped. There was nothing they could say to that.

Healing on the Sabbath is one of the things that Jesus was continually getting into trouble for doing.  It seems obvious to us—of course one would/should heal on the Sabbath.  However, it was not so obvious in the first century, at least not to the Pharisees who sought to live out the laws of Torah to their best ability.  Jesus however, understood the law a bit differently—the law was there to help humanity not to keep humanity under its thumb.  Hence, for Jesus it was obvious—of course you’d heal on the Sabbath, you’d heal whenever you could.

The time is always right to heal and to help others.  John Wesley said that we should “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”  This is how Jesus lived his life as well—doing what he could whenever he had the opportunity to do so.  How can we possibly go wrong taking John Wesley’s advice and following the way Jesus lived?

God of grace and mercy, you have done more than just give us the law, you became human—flesh and blood to show us how to live by the law as well.  You brought us grace because we can’t adhere to the law and follow it on our own; we need you to live life your way.  Help us to have the courage and strength to do all we can for whoever we can whenever we can.  Amen.

Luke 13:31-35

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me,* “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when* you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’

It’s hard to imagine that the Pharisees were trying to protect Jesus.  Perhaps they were or perhaps they were trying to scare him into submission, scare him into keeping his mouth shut and to stop healing on the Sabbath.  But Jesus was prepared either way, his message was not only for Herod but for the Pharisees as well, he would not, could not be intimidated by fear tactics.  Jesus was following God’s will no matter who happened to be threatening him.

Jesus had work to do.  That’s what Jesus was concerned about—the work that God had sent him to do.  There was nothing that humanity could dish out—be it the Pharisees or Herod—that could stop him.

If only we could act and do ministry with the same dedication, the same passion.  What could you, could we, be brave enough to do if we knew that we would succeed?  What if we truly believed that we were completing God’s mission for our lives?

Holy One,   impassion us with your quest.  Place your will inside our hearts and light them on fire.  Help us to brave the world and trust fully in you, so that we can live and do the risk-taking mission that you have called us to.  Thanks be to you, Holy One, amen.

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