St John the Evangelist Anglican Church Oakmont PA.



Selected Sermons


Sermon for 1 Advent - Year A

Sermon Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Proper 12 - Year C

The Unchaining of the Gospel - Proper 23 - Year C

Sermon for Proper 25 – Year C – Sermon on Real Righteousness

Sermon for Proper 15 – Year C – Luke 12:49-56

The Story of Mary and Martha

Sermon for Proper 8 – Year C – Luke 9: 51-62

You Were Bought with a Price

Happens Next Sunday: Faith versus Fact, Love not Law

The Opposite of Pride is Hospitality-Generosity

Will You Go To Heaven?

Sermon for 1 Advent - Year A
December 1, 2013 - Deacon Wade Lawrence

Today we begin Advent, which begins a new church year. In our three year lectionary we are beginning Year A and the majority of Gospel readings will be from the Gospel of Matthew. Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus at Christmas. The word Advent is an Anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning arriving.

The main theme of Advent is to prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel reading from Matthew tells us to,“Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”.We prepare to celebrate His first coming at Christmas. And we believe that Jesus will come again at His second coming which will herald in the end of the age. We also believe that He is present with us now through the Holy Spirit. So, to summarize, we can think of our Lord and Savior in the past at His Nativity, here in the present at the Eucharist, and in the future at His second coming.

Another theme in Advent is Judgment. That word is not easy for us to digest as we prepare for Christmas but that theme is in today’s scriptures. Beginning with the Collect we heard,“Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light (that alludes to the Epistle), now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus came to visit us in great humility (that alludes to the Virgin birth); that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

In the OT reading today from Isaiah we heard, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword again nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of David, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord”.

In Psalm 122 we read today, “Now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” And also, “For there are the thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.”

And we heard in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, “Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”

When we think of Judgment we may think of the people of Noah’s day who went about business as usual. They were absorbed in their world, they were heedless of God, and they were destroyed. Or we may consider the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which were also destroyed. These are not pleasant thoughts.

But we have to remember that Jesus said if we are prepared we will not be like them. And since we are asked in Advent to be prepared then we who are believers should not fear judgment. If we remain true to our faith then the second coming of Christ is something we can look forward to. It will be a time when evil and death will be conquered once and for all. We have this promise from God who sent His only son to live among us.

The British scholar Reginald Fuller reflects on today’s Epistle by discussing our present age with the age to come. He depicts the Christian as standing in the dark with his face lit by the rising Sun. He will cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. But we do not do this through our own effort. Rather, we do it as the Epistle says, by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. But how do we put on Jesus? Fuller quotes Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, chapter 3, Vs. 27 which reads, “For as many of you that were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”. So to put on Jesus we must be Baptized.

Fuller also tells us that Advent looks backward and forward. We live in the tension between God’s visitations and we are aware that He is now present with us, endowing us with spiritual gifts, lifting us up, comforting us, strengthening us, and directing us towards His goal for our lives.

And so as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus we also watch for His return. The Gospel uses the example of two men in the field or two women grinding grain. In each case one is taken and one is left, and we are told to watch, for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

But let’s end this sermon on a more joyful note. Remember the references to light in today’s scriptures? The days are now shorter and the darkness covers us, but we love to decorate during this season with lights. I think of the lights as an attempt to affirm that there is goodness and joy to be had during this wonderful season.

I, for one, have no desire to return to the 1980’s when it was your patriotic duty to not decorate your home because of the energy crises. I grew up in the 1950’s and we worshiped at the Methodist Church but we did not have Christmas Eve services and I do not recall celebrating Advent back then.

I remember pulling my sled 1½ miles where we could slide down a steep hill and coast across a frozen pond. My grandparent’s home was in walking distance of ours and my grandmother was often baking something sweet. I remember living is a small town where the merchants knew me and I was allowed to go Christmas shopping alone at night from the age of 8. I remember how the stores were all decorated and some stores had outdoor speakers that played Christmas music. I remember walking through the town with all the pretty lights in the cold, crisp, night air.

You all have similar remembrances about your past. Sometimes the lights remind us what it was like when we were children. But we know that the lights can’t hold back the darkness, or the sin, or the sorrow in the world. The lights can’t offer us salvation. Only the Christ who was born on Christmas Day can do that. Only the hope that we have in Jesus, who promised to return, can turn our lives around. That’s what the Light of Christ can do for us.

With the hope we have in our hearts because of the first Christmas we can rejoice even when money is tight, or our jobs are not secure, or our children have moved away, or our parents are gone, or we are worried that our cities are full of pollution or crime.

Because we prepare for the coming of Christ every Advent we know that through His light that we can face our world as it is. We can make a positive difference in our world. May His light shine from your home this Season of Advent and on into Christmas.

AMEN

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Sermon Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Proper 12 - Year C
The Rev. Fr. L. C. Deihle

You see them every Sunday when they respectfully make their way into the worship service. They say the words and dutifully sing the hymns, they greet one another in the service, they put their bit into the offering plate and they listen to another sermon. When the service is over they leave the service and tell the preacher he did a good job. Then they return home, take off their “church clothes” and forget about God for another week. Meeting with God has become for them nothing more than routine. Yet somehow this routine seems to fill their need for reassurance. And because they have been “faithful” to come to church on occasion, they feel that they are all right, that they have secured a place in heaven. What a distortion of the message that Jesus delivers us in the Gospel of Luke this morning! Jesus told the religious crowd that even those who appeared the most dedicated were at best, last in the kingdom and probably would not get in at all, because they had too much religion and too little relationship with Jesus.

This message is for those of you who have read and sung and listened to people talk about Jesus for years without meeting him personally. For far too long the church has claimed to be rescuing the perishing, when all they have been doing is protecting the dying.

As Jesus walked along on his journey to Jerusalem someone asks him, “Lord are only a few going to be saved?” It’s hard to know the motivations of the man who asked the questions. He may have been asking it in smugness or it may have been must the opposite--that this man sensed from what Jesus had already said about the kingdom that salvation is not going to be automatic or based on simple genealogy as some had thought. The rabbis had taught the people that God was offering salvation to all those who had been born as a part of the Jewish race, that this gift of salvation was confirmed by the symbol of circumcision and maintained by the works of the law. The average Jew took heaven for granted because most Jewish people held the view that all Jews except the very worst would get into heaven. To the Jews, they were already on the inside and a maybe few Gentiles could get in by becoming Jews.

Obviously the theme of this passage is admission to the Kingdom—who gets in and who doesn’t. This was a perennial hot topic with the Jews. Any by the way, I’m for purposes of this sermon going to describe the Kingdom as the place where we would be where Jesus is, in other words whether that place is described as heaven or a new heaven and a new earth, its’ the place where the Lord reigns and Jesus is with us. The number of the elect was frequently debated.

But then Jesus came along and taught over and over that God the Father offered salvation by grace through faith in him as the promised Savior. But the world today is just as confused as the Jews about how one gets to heaven. There is a growing tendency to believe that all good people, whether or not they consider Jesus Christ to be their savior, will live in heaven after they die on earth. By contrast, Jesus tells the questioner just how difficult it will be to get into heaven when he says, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

What does this verse mean when it says that we are to “strive to enter”? If heaven is a free gift, then what are striving for? He uses the verb (agonizomai) translated “strive to enter” also translated as “make every effort” it is the word that we get our word agonize from. Please understand that Jesus is not describing that one may work their way into heaven. He is implying that there is a specific route by which one must enter; that is why Jesus mentions a narrow door and sets forth what it is. That route and what is required is discipline—the discipline of self-denial and humility, the discipline repentence and seeking God’s forgiveness when we fall. It is this discipline or pruning which inevitably leads to a lovelier bloom.

In a parallel passage in Matthew (7:13-14) Jesus also speaks of the “narrow way” with which has virtually the same meaning. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads into destruction, and there are many who go in by it. (14) Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” One will not just happen to enter the Kingdom of God, one will have to strive after.

You know the Old Testament Covenants were a blessing but they also were a snare. Jews thought that God had chosen them to make known to the world the good tidings of his nature and will so they had a tendency not to see it as a missional call but as God’s favoritism to them, a favoritism that seemed to transcend bad behavior. Further they thought of pagans—the people from the east and the west etc as the passage describes the Gentiles as literally beyond the pale. Jesus took sharp issues with the Jews on that score and it certainly did not help his popularity.

Some would plead on heavens door, “but I heard you preach”, others would plead lineal descendancy from Abraham and yet these claims would be without passport to Jesus. His firm reply? I do not know where you come from. Isn’t it interesting, that’s a contemporary saying as well. Hey, where are you coming from on that? In other words, what’s your orientation, not your geography but your mindset. Jesus brilliantly pairs both in his response because those whom he doesn’t know where they come from are strangers to him and his ways. What Jesus is saying is this-look sin is sins no matter that it is couched in your pleading familiarity with me or your crass pretensions about who your ancestors were.

Some will want to enter on their own terms. Not everyone who wants to go to heaven will make it, only those who come on God’s terms. The entrance to heaven is narrow. You must come through the one door, which is Jesus. Like entering a new country, you come through one at a time and your credentials for passing are inevitably examined. These are God’s terms and they are the only ones that count. Being sincere is not enough. Being a good person is not enough. Being religious is not enough. Many people think they are going to heaven but they have not admitted that they are sinners, they have not turned in repentance and trusted in Jesus alone for salvation.

There is a time limit on the offer of salvation which the Lord made ominously clear. In verse tweny-five tells warns, “When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, "Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, "I do not know you, where you are from,’ (26) then you will begin to say, "We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ (27) But He will say, "I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.” In other words, there is coming a day when the wonderful invitation of salvation will be over. For one day the Lord of the house is going to get up from the throne and walk to the front door of his mansion and close the narrow door of salvation. That day is on the day of your and my death. The only opportunities for salvation are in this life. Those who seek to enter late will be told by the Lord, "I do not know you."

Don’t be like the self-righteous Jews in Jesus time. Do not say when judgment comes, but my parents raised me in godliness, or, I always lived in a place where a church was, or, I’ve lived a respectable life, I’ve done my best to do good and I’ve given more to charity than most folks. Brothers and sisters, the wide door is one of indifference and questionable motives. The narrow door is a life led ordaining and practicing God’s holy love.

Please mark these words and do not be left out in the cold. Your opportunity starts today.

AMEN

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The Unchaining of the Gospel - Proper 23 - Year C
October 13, 2013 - The Rev. Fr. L. C. Deihle

There are some things in life that cannot be bound. Some forces that just will not allow themselves to be restricted in any fashion. We see it in nature:

So it is with God’s Word. All the forces of heaven and earth cannot imprison the Gospel.

The words of our Scripture from 2 Timothy this morning were written by the apostle Paul from a prison cell. What did he do to merit incarceration? He preached the Gospel. He announced the Good News of God’s amazing love and salvation, obviously something that threatened those in temporal authority. And for that he was placed under arrest. This wasn’t the first time he found himself in jail for sake of the Gospel. But this time it was different. This time he is under the sentence of death. And even though he realizes that there is no way out for him, he glories in the unchained Word of God!

His body may be locked up, but the Gospel like the wind is free--free to invade human hearts--free to change lives. And there is nothing in all the world that can be done to stop it. Even Imperial Rome, with all her might, could not chain God’s truth. Paul’s arms were chained to the wall of that prison cell, but the Word was unfettered.

And it is still true today. The powerful Word of God is not bound by...

SUFFERING. Paul still had a voice and his companion had a pen. There are men and women all across our world who are bound to beds, wheelchairs, blindness, and prison cells yet they freely share the Good News. My mom is speaking the Good News of the Obedient and Suffering Servant from her hospital bed. The Gospel even transcends the death of its proclaimers. It lives on. It survived the apostles and prophets and it will even survive the great preachers of our day. Said John Wesley: “God buries His workmen but continues His work.”

TIME. The Word of God is always relevant and up-to-date, because it speaks to the basic needs of the human heart. When time ceases, the Scriptures will remain. Isaiah wrote, The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever (40:8).

SCIENCE cannot shackle the Bible. In fact, just the opposite is true. Archeology continues to substantiate its claims. Scientists are constantly changing, revising, or modifying their theories about origins but God¡¯s truths are changeless. They explode to capture the seeking mind.

Even the ENEMIES of the Word cannot keep it from penetrating the human spirit. They may attack it, scoff at it, ridicule it edit it, even deny it, and yet it stands.

Albert Baird Cummins said this: “The empire of Caesar is gone; the legions of Rome are smouldering in the dust; the avalanches that Napoleon hurled upon Europe have melted away; the prince of the Pharaohs is fallen; the pyramids they raised to be their tombs are sinking every day in the desert sands; Tyre is a rock for bleaching fisherman’s nets; Sidon has scarcely left a wreck behind; but the Word of God still survives. All things that threatened to extinguish it have only aided it; and it proves every day how transient is the noblest monument that men can build, how enduring is the least word that God has spoken.”

And aren’t we glad that God’s Word is not bound? It is loose in the world changing the hearts of those who will let it.

When you and I are in a crisis situation, upon whom or what do we lean? When you are on the stormy sea of emotions, which lighthouse shows you where to find the shore?

Most people respond to crisis in one of four ways: they reach for common crutches, such as:
1. Escapism (form of denial) into

2. Cynicism: becoming preoccupied with trouble, resulting in bitterness and unbelief. Trust is not in their vocabulary.

3. Humanism: looking to man alone for answers; leaning wholly on one¡¯s inner resources, leaving God out of the picture.

4. Supernaturalism: consulting astrology, mediums; superstition.

The problem with these four is that they leave the victim in spiritual and emotional quicksand! These are Gods creating by oneself for oneself which ultimately betray the author. But it is not so with the Gospel. It sets the prisoner free from guilt, despair and an uncertain future. The problem is this-you only know it until you experience it!

If the Word of God cannot be chained up, what should my response to it be? Remember, it is as if we are hearing the VOICE OF GOD. It’s His message to us. We should:

RECEIVE it as the authority for our lives. It answers all the basic questions of life: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?

BELIEVE its message. You can trust it; there is no deceit in it.

LIVE IT. Don’t just listen to it or read it. Be a doer of the Word. Let its principles guide your life and motivate you to serve its Author.

SHARE IT so that it will continue to remain unchained. We dare not lock it up inside of ourselves.

Thank God His Gospel is not chained. Unshackled, unfettered, it remains within His people. Oh, let us rejoice and be glad. Let us be His heralds as we boldly declare its truths.

To God Be the Glory,

AMEN

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Sermon for Proper 25 – Year C – Sermon on Real Righteousness
The Rev. Fr. L. C. Deihle

What we are faced with in the last two readings today is a study on contrasts, the contrast between self-righteousness and the righteousness imparted by God.

In our first reading we find the apostle Paul, near the end of his earthly ministry, writing to his protégé Timothy. Paul, a Roman Jew who was amongst the greatest persecutors of Christians became, after his conversion, the principal apologist for the Christian faith. As a worldly Roman and a theologian he was particularly well-suited to the task of being able to convince secular Gentiles of the beauty and logic of the faith. He tirelessly visited incubating Christian communities all over the Mediterranean, teaching, preaching , gently rebuking, exhorting and even bucking up as no human being had ever done before. As he lived into his conversion and unique task over the years he could have claimed great, even legendary, fame. Instead, he became less and less concerned with self-righteousness, preferring to forgive those who might have abandoned him along the way. This is the same guy that formerly used to cluck about his talents at persecuting Christians and who touted his own privileged station and intellectual abilities. Isn’t it interesting how God uses the very same gifts and talents a person uses to persecute him to ultimately glorify him, but only after a changed heart. Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus—his blindness and subsequent realization of the power and awe of God set him on the path of attaining a righteousness that can only be obtained from God.

Look at the stark difference between Paul and the Pharisee from our Gospel reading from Luke. This is the guy that Paul used to be. He has the audacity not to thank God that he has shown his mercy and favor upon him but rather cynically thanks God that he is not of low estate such as the tax collectors, thieves and other undesirables. The Pharisee, a person who was a leader of the Jewish faith and a keeper of the law, showed absolutely no mercy on these less fortunate souls but instead touted his accomplishments as if his works (not done in secret, by the way) made him righteous in the eyes of God.

And here in the midst of such merciless judgment is the lowly tax collector, a person deemed to be the lowest of the low. Rather than clucking, he humbly repents, acknowledges his sinfulness and throws himself upon the mercy of God. Our God rejoices in heaven every time a sinner repents. He doesn’t have a scorecard, he’s not looking to shame someone, he is a God of fresh starts and new beginnings. Jesus said thus, When you acknowledge me before men, I will acknowledge you before God my Father. When the power of the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us, the road is still rocky but it’s easier to travel. Once you are no longer the center of the universe, one’s outlook and vistas become wider.

Brothers and Sisters, there will be divine reversal. The self-righteous will fall, if not in this life in the next. The meek, the lowly, the poor, the quietly obedient will rise to an ecstasy that human words are incapable of describing. That is God’s promise to us and his promises are true.

The tax collector gives us a glimpse of what’s really important. Here’s the choices: Paul’s love vs. the Pharisees contempt, his strength in walking with Christ which allowed Paul to finish the race vs your strength, which inevitably withers, Paul’s and the tax collector’s rescue vs the Pharisee’s eternal banishment When you look at it that way, it’s a pretty easy choice, isn’t it. Which do you choose?

Real faith has this compelling effect on people. The closer we get to God, the more it becomes about him and the more room we make for him. The trite saying, I must decrease so he must increase is absolutely true. As we surrender to Christ, we begin to get a glimmer of the magnitude of his majesty and the folly that is a self-referential existence by comparison.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to run the great race right here in greater Oakmont, not drawing attention to our selves and to our abilities or even to our ministries, but rather drawing attention to the one who turns lives, any ones’ life, around forever. If we are faithful to that task, and that task alone, we will all wear the Crown of Righteousness.

AMEN

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Sermon for Proper 15 – Year C – Luke 12:49-56
August 18, 2013 - Deacon Wade Lawrence

Listen to part of our Gospel reading again from Luke taken from the NIV:

These are words spoken in hard times about harder times to come. These are times when to speak the name of Jesus would be judged as either insanity or treason. These are times when to follow Jesus and live His way would invite criticism, anger, or even death. These are times when families would be divided among themselves.

Don’t think we are exempt from these words in our time. It’s one thing to be criticized by people in our free country, but there are many places in the world today where proclaiming Jesus will bring death. We only have to read the news about 16 Coptic Christian churches being burned in Egypt last week.

And what about the fire that Jesus will bring to earth? In other words, he longs to bring judgment so that a new earth can be produced where righteousness dwells.

These words remind us about the last judgment which is still to come. But Jesus wished two thousand years ago that these days of fire were here. And we still wait.

Fire is associated with death and destruction, especially fire from God, and we only have to remember the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Book of Genesis to know this has happened.

We do not want to hear about the wrath of God to come but we have another example. In Noah’s time God destroyed everything on earth. And although he made a covenant with mankind and promised never to do it again, the Bible predicts the end of our earth.

There will always be those who cannot accept this. They think we are beyond God being so wrathful. They do not want to hear of judgment and death to all sinners who will be living on earth when Jesus comes again. It is just too upsetting to think about.

And what about those who believe they are the righteous ones. Some enjoy contemplating the fate of those who they think deserve it. Some TV preachers make a living prophesying doom and they speak of eternal life that can be purchased with a heavenly insurance policy. If you will only send in your check to support their ministry you can be saved. However, Jesus said that no one but the Father knows the final days to come.

And yet Jesus said:

But fire can be both good and bad. Moses saw fire in a bush, and a pillar of fire led the Israelites by night out of the wilderness to the promised land.

Fire touched the lips of the prophet Isaiah when he was called to proclaim God’s word to Israel, and fire consumed the Alter of Baal when Isaiah prayed.

In Chapter 2 of Acts what seemed to be tongues of fire descended upon the heads of the apostles with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

So, can the fire that Jesus speaks about be good? Fire can serve us and warm us, but we always have to be careful because it can burn us. Fire is something we can never ignore.

But what if this fire were to burn in our hearts? What if this fired kindled people to care for and bless each other? What if our lips were purified with fire in order to preach the Gospel? We need this kind of fire and Jesus came to bring it.

Fire has come and it will come again. But this coming of fire is not easy. Think of it. Your devotion and your faith are mocked by many in this world, and sometimes by members of your own family.

Don’t ever forget that there is a difference between those who live in the light and those who live in darkness. The darkness cannot comprehend the light? And there are many who will never understand because they will never feel the fire, the Spirit, in their souls.

Some commentators believe that Jesus’ words are not so much about judgment and wrath as they are about mercy. It is about God dividing light from darkness so that we may see. It is about love overcoming hatred and life overcoming death so that we may all live in peace.

Yes, God can destroy the world by fire. Most Christians believe that He will do it. But for now, since fire is a form of energy, God’s energy might be changed to love. Love can be like fire that is able to lead us in the dark, because love is light.

What does this hard teaching of Jesus mean? And how should it affect our understanding of him and our daily walk with him? Perhaps God has put the answer in your heart. Perhaps we need a reminder.

A few weeks ago in Luke, Chapter 10, we heard the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable is told in response to the question of a lawyer who asks Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus tells him that he must:

We do not know if Jesus will come again this afternoon or in another 1,000 years. But until he does return, He has left us no better words to help us live in peace.

I say it again. Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.

AMEN.

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The Story of Mary and Martha
July 21, 2013 - Deacon Wade Lawrence

Our Gospel story in Luke about Martha and Mary angers some people and confuses others, especially when they identify with and take the side of one sister or the other.

Some people look at the story from Martha’s point of view. They say that Mary let Martha down. Mary should have helped Martha serve Jesus and his disciples. She should have done her share of the work.

Those who sympathize with Martha say that if Martha had sat down with Mary and listened to the Master, then who would have done the work?

Other people look at the story from Mary’s point of view. They say that Mary did the right thing when she chose to sit by Jesus and learn from him. Jesus is, after all, the Lord.

Two individuals, both women, are portrayed welcoming Jesus. They both respond to his presence, one by serving and feeding him, and the other by listening to and learning from him.

Both responses have a lot going for them. They are both faithful responses, yet, as we see, they are responses that seem to contradict each other. Why?

Martha does an inappropriate thing by asking Jesus to chastise Mary. And she is so worried, distracted, and anxious, that it leads her to anger and ruins her effort to be loving.

But there is more to the story of Martha and Mary and it is necessary to look at the context within the Gospel in which the story appears.

One of the best biblical scholars of the past century, Reginald Fuller, suggests that the Martha and Mary story stands in contrast to the activism portrayed in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which we heard last week.

That parable is told in response to the question of a lawyer who asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” As we heard last week, Jesus tells him that he must:

And then in response to the lawyer’s question about who is his neighbor, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan who shows mercy to a man who was the victim of thieves, concluding with the words: “go and do likewise” The emphasis in the passage‚ just before today’s reading is on action: “Go and do likewise.”

Immediately following this parable we read the story of Martha and Mary. We get a real life situation about being a neighbor, and we see Martha laboring, out of love, to please her Lord.

But we also see Mary, who is not laboring, but who is instead, out of her love for her Lord, simply being with him, and listening to him.

Martha is distracted by all that she is doing, and she comes to Jesus, and in her anxiety and frustration, she asks him to rebuke Mary:

The response of Jesus to Martha’s plea is not a criticism of her work, nor of her love for him, rather it’s a response to her anger and anxiety, and a response to how she regards the choice made by Mary.

Reginald Fuller suggests why Mary’s choice is better when he says: “The Word flows out of the hearing of the Word.” And it comes out of prayer, study, worship, and meditation.”

The word must be heard before it can be followed. Spiritual bread is needed by those who might be busy making physical bread, otherwise they will perish.

Think about our church. What makes us different, for example, from the Lions or the Rotary Club? Don’t they, like the church, run programs that attempt to bring relief to the poor and the oppressed?

Don’t both the church and service clubs work at helping others and at caring for others? So what is the difference between us? What makes one group a church, and another simply a service club?

The church is different from a service club because it recognizes that it is the Word of God that gives life, and the Word of God that strengthens us. So as the church turns toward God and listens to His word, it pauses, and sits at Jesus’ feet.

The Manna, which served as bread, that fed Israel in the desert fell from heaven. They did not have to work for it because it came from God. But they did have to gather it in each morning.

In the same way that the Manna came from God, so the spiritual food we need each day comes from God as a free gift, but like Manna, it too needs to be gathered. We do not live by bread alone, say the scriptures, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

In other words, here is what Jesus was saying to Martha: “Martha, you are so busy looking after me, so busy serving me, and so concerned about doing the right thing, that you are missing just being with me. You are missing the better thing, the thing that Mary has chosen that I will not take away from her."

Sometimes the best way to treat a guest is not by doing something special for them, but by spending as much time with them as possible.

In many homes when company comes, after the meal has been eaten and all the cleaning up is set aside, everyone moves to the living room so that they can enjoy a few hours together without distraction.

That really is the point of the story of Mary and Martha. Occasionally we need to put aside the work we do for the Lord and just spend some time being with him. We need some time learning from him. We need some time enjoying his presence.

No one is a Christian who simply does the Word. You must also bear the Word, the Word made flesh in Christ. Yes, some of us are more like Martha, and some of us are more like Mary, but there is in all of us a need to combine the two within us, for without sitting and listening to God our work can only lead to anxiety and anger, and without living the Word our faith is clearly nothing.

May God bless us and help us both in our listening to the Word and in our doing it.

AMEN

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Sermon for Proper 8 – Year C – Luke 9: 51-62
June 30, 2013 - Deacon Wade Lawrence

In today’s Gospel we have examples of people who want to become disciples. And Jesus tells them what they must do to find the Kingdom of God.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go. And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

In other words, Jesus asks this person if he ready to follow him not knowing when or where they will have a nice place to spend the night, or even a good meal at the end of the day. Perhaps Jesus is telling this person that the Kingdom must come before personal comfort. So, if you choose to follow Jesus be prepared for discomfort. If you choose to follow it won't be easy. Kingdom life can be always on the move and always changing.

To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

This saying has to do with priorities. Jesus seems to be saying that allegiance to family members or others before the Kingdom of God is not good enough, no matter how good the intentions may be. Even a father's funeral, isn't enough. And in the ancient Middle East it was an insult to miss your father’s funeral. Following Jesus called for an allegiance that most of us could not have given. But Jesus seems to be saying that allegiance to the Kingdom of God is above everything else.

Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Again, Jesus seems to be saying that finding the Kingdom and gaining access to the Kingdom requires concentration. Just like plowing a straight furrow in a field does.

I grew up on a farm. But it was after plows were pulled by horses or mules. In the old days you walked behind a one-bladed plow while an animal pulled it. You had to hold the handles up and steer it, too.

At the age of 5 I would ride with my dad while he plowed with his big 1950 Farmall “M” tractor. He told me the secret in plowing straight furrows was the first pass. You had to have a marker up ahead to set your sights on. After that, on each pass back and forth, your tractors wheel would follow in the last furrow plowed. It takes concentration to plow a straight furrow. Not paying attention results in shoddy work. And you should know that farmers like to look at their neighbors fields, too, because they take pride on how straight they can plow.

So too with the Kingdom of God. It requires attention and concentration over the long haul. According to Jesus, if you and I expect to be a part of God's Kingdom we must be serious about our work. We can't wander. We can't look back. Once we start, if we aren't committed we're in trouble. No matter how hard it may be, and no matter what the distractions, we have to press on with the task at hand.

All of these sayings tell us that we must be persistent. If you're going to seek God, then seek God. If you are going to work for the Kingdom, then do so. Even in the beginning of the passage, in the story about the Samaritan village, Jesus shows his persistence. It says, "Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem".

Like Jesus, we need to set our face toward God's Kingdom. Keep at it. Don't let set-backs stop you. Like a hurdler running a race, just because one hurdle falls doesn't mean you stop running. You can still win. When troubles come, pray, act, work, and overcome. When things don't work out the way you planned, do your best with what you have.

Rely on God. Trust. Be persistent. Jesus is saying: "Be stubborn for the Kingdom. Don't make do with the mediocre. Don't stop until you are there”. If we give up, if we turn back, if we aren't committed, we aren't fit for the Kingdom.

Now I don't know about you, but when I hear these sayings, I find myself asking the question, "If this is what it takes to be fit for the Kingdom of God, then who measures up?" That's why these are called "hard sayings." It's hard to be willing to give up our personal comfort and control. It's hard to just strike out, not knowing where God is leading, and not knowing the outcome. It's hard to leave behind our families and friends and put the Kingdom first. It's hard to be so single minded about the Kingdom that nothing distracts us. And frankly, if that's what it takes to get into the Kingdom of God, I am in trouble.

I admit that I get distracted from seeking God's Kingdom. At times there are other concerns which take first priority. At times my family, or friends, are more important than what's going on here at church, or what God is saying at that particular time. I believe each of us can echo those sentiments. There are times when Kingdom life is the furthest thing from our minds.

So who is fit for the Kingdom of God? Does this mean that we aren't? I guess if we measure our fitness by these sayings of Jesus then the answer to that question is probably, "Not me." Which means that once again we find ourselves in need of God's Grace.

The message of persistence in this passage is a good message. We need to hear it and put it into practice. But there is a stronger message here. It's the message that says, for most of us, no matter how hard we persist, we can't do it on our own. We need God's help and God's forgiveness to be "fit for the Kingdom of God." We need Grace.

So, while we persist and work on seeking and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, no matter what happens, we are able to do so within the context of God's never ending Grace.

But there’s good news in His Grace. Even if we don't deserve it and aren't fit for the Kingdom, because of Jesus we can still get in. If we are willing to admit our weakness, and seek God's grace, then through the wonder of the Cross, God sees us as fit to be part of the Kingdom.

So, what do we do now? It’s simple. We put our hand to the plow. We imagine ourselves out in the hot Sun, Straw hat on our head, wearing bib-overalls and heavy boots, guiding the plow as if we were guiding our life, always looking ahead at our goal, and setting our sights on the prize, which is entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

So we have to ask ourselves everyday. How far are we willing to go for the Kingdom of God?

AMEN

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You Were Bought with a Price
January 15, 2012 - Father Larry Diehle

Now I don’t consider myself to be a prude any means but it doesn’t take a genius to observe the continual downward spiral and coarseness of our contemporary worldview. No where do we see this more than in contemporary song. Now I don’t mean to shock anyone, but let’s take a listen to an excerpt from one of the most popular and often played tunes on the radio. Far from the sympathetic, almost campy, odes of yesteryear, we are now confronted commonly with lyrics such as this from contemporary artist Katy Perry as she boldly and unashamedly proclaims, “Baby, put your hands on me, in your skin-tight jeans, be your (which means I’ll be your) teenage dream tonight. [dot, dot ,dot] Let’s go all the way tonight. No regrets, just love. yada, yada, yada. And folks, lest you be shocked—this is TAME by comparison and only one of literally thousands of examples bombarding us daily. Oh, but if we protest, then we’re not cool, or we’re excoriated as free-speech limiting bigots like Tipper Gore was. And I actually like Katy Perry’s music—its very bouncy and catchy--if you can get beyond the lyrics. When I’m in the public setting and I’m with other people in the house or in the car or whatever, I’m embarrassed when I hear this, AND YOU SHOULD BE, TOO.

This has become so commonplace and matter-of-fact in our permissive culture today that the kids that have this bombarded into them 24/7 at BEST are de-sensitized to it and at worst think this is good advice. And who can blame the kids? Their parents are making millions off the distribution this drivel, which may be the greatest sin of all.

So let’s decipher the plethora of messages going on here. First, apparently its very acceptable for teenagers to be dreaming about and engaging in sexual activity. Look, I’m not saying here that this type of stuff doesn’t’ happen but it used to be that someone might have considered the myriad of what were once negative consequences. Now it’s celebrated and almost demanded as normal. Remember what we know about the craftly one. He makes the evil to look good and the good to look foolish.

Folks, do any of you remember these words from our past lexicon? Let’s start with SHAME. I’m not talking about being ashamed of oneself but I mean there used to be certain actions or behaviors that were constrained because they could bring shame onto one and one’s family if entered into. Here’s another one. A “guilty conscience”. Say What? Brothers and Sisters, Katy Perry’s admonitions aren’t just intentionally brazen they are desperate and pitiable. And, I guess they didn’t work very well, either, as she’s just announced that she’s splitting from her current “husband” as it’s rumored that he doesn’t party enough for her. If you asked someone today to examine their conscience, they invariably would not enough know what you are talking about and they likely have never even heard those words strung together in the same sentence. We’re teaching kids and they are learning well that it is not important to look in any way at the implications of actions beyond their immediate gratification or lack thereof. Folks this is appalling.

The popular culture doesn’t want to tell our young people that there is another Way. Hollywood doesn’t want young kids to know that there is this opportunity for salvation but that with it comes certain understandings that fly in the face of what these bloodsucking vipers would want you to believe.

Now contrast this with the very clear message from today’s Epistle reading from St. Paul. Jesus Christ offers you and I salvation from this body of death. He wants you to be united with him and not with the things of this world. Many people make the mistake of thinking that they can offer their mind and heart to God but not their body. St. Paul sets us straight this morning. When Jesus died on the cross he offered his spirit but also his BODY to God the Father, some would say as a ransom, I would prefer to say as restitution to God’s sense of justice. Similarly when Jesus paid the price, it was restitution for our Bodies and not just our souls, so much so that we pray for the reunification of the Body and the Soul in heaven.

What this means is this. You are saved but you are not free to do as you please. Imagine our Lord saying something like this, “I paid good money for you, I paid with the blood of my son. You were redeemed but you were also purchased to be one of mine. In being one of mine, I seek not to constrain you but to prepare you to be raised to me. You are my servant, and only my servants will be set free. You who are united to something that destroys are not my servants. Who do you wish to be united with this day—the one who will destroy you or the one who will rescue you? The problem with fleshy desires isn’t just that they dishonor God-- their effects prey upon the mind as well, cutting us off from all that God wishes for us.

The reason for chastity and purity is two-fold. One, your body belongs to him and two He has big plans for your body—raising it up on the last day. God is anything but against the body. So the reason for our chastity and purity is not just that you might get a terrible disease, or that you might get pregnant or that you might get caught—it is that it is not yours and that it is reserved for other purposes. You do not have to be the slave of anything that this world tells you is profitable for you because it isn’t. You and I, by contrast, have the Spirit of the Lord within us, guiding and directing us if we only are obedient enough to let him. He wants you to use your body for him.

Use your body in ways that show that a relationship with God is more satisfying, more precious, more to be desired, more glorious than anything the selfish body craves. The body is, in the ideal, to be an instrument of righteousness and holiness and the more you surround yourself with him the easier it becomes to sublimate and move on from those baser desires.

I leave you with this metaphor. We are to be clean, as vessels fitted for our master’s use. If the vessels are dirty, they don’t work as well. Though is it oft times SO difficult, believe me I know, we are to remember that we have been bought with a price of incalculable value. May we make it our business, to the last breath we take, to glorify God with our bodies as we are HIS.

AMEN

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Happens Next Sunday: Faith versus Fact, Love not Law
Sunday November 7, 2010 - Father Larry Diehle

I was trying to think about a way of categorizing our readings today and what struck me was that this is “What Happens Next” Sunday. Please understand that what happens next is not and never will be a demonstrable FACT but is actually based on FAITH. I once read a paper by a Muslim scholar who said he would never become a Christian because of the fact that the bodily resurrection of Christ—his act of saving us from our sins and thus giving us a share in his eternal life could not be proved. What kind of a faith is it when the only way to believe is, as was the case with Thomas, by seeing?

To borrow the line from Job for a moment, I know that my Redeemer lives. Now many have argued that this is an Old Testament prefiguring of the Resurrection by a tormented and persecuted Jew. Just as many scholars argue that New Testament scholars read too much into it and give way too much credit to Job as a prophet. In fact the ancient Israelites had a totally different idea of the afterlife. When they said that their God was a God of the Living they most often meant it literally. The Blessings and indeed the Curses were directly related to God’s interaction with his people while on planet earth. Part of the afterlife for the Jew was the earthy notion passing on property rights and therefore blessings to one’s male heir and thus continuing the family line. The Sheol or afterlife was a sort of neutral place neither of clear punishment nor clear reward. Certainly the Saducees did not believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead and in today’s Gospel reading from Luke they tried to make a mockery of Jesus’s notion of being alive in the afterlife.

In Jesus concept, those who have died and have been raised from the dead are considered living in a new way. All are alive through his resurrection. OK, but what is the basis of your and my belief? Remember I said faith, I didn’t say blind faith. Surely there is a basis for our faith and I would suggest to you that our faith that we will be alive with Jesus in heaven as he is a Living God is based on one little Word: COVENANT. We have evidence of God’s offers to his people and the results of accepting or declining his offer. A covenant is a solemn act undertaken by two parties, in this case God and man, whereby they mutually bind themselves to do, give or receive something. There is also an outward sign used to ratify and confirm the promises.

Let’s briefly run through the Covenants. God made a relatively simple covenant with Adam, his first creation. If you and Eve refrain from eating from the tree of life, in other words, if you do not put yourselves and your needs before will of God, then you will live in the Garden of Paradise forever. We all know what happened. We were kicked out.

God in his wisdom then chooses a faithful remnant to carry out His redeeming work and then makes another covenant with them. In Genesis this remnant is Noah and his family. The descendants of Adam and Eve had been so sinful that God decided to make a fresh start by causing a flood. God's covenant with Noah was that He will save him and his family provided that Noah does what God directed, that is, to make an ark and take on board every species of animal and plant. The symbol of this covenant was the rainbow, a sign of God's promise of redemption to Noah and to His creation.

Then there are the covenants made with his chosen people, the people of Israel. First, the Abrahamic Covenant. God’s promise to Abraham was by way of review that that if he was to get up from Ur, leave his home and his family and settle in Canaan and that God would make him a great nation, bless him and make his name great. The sign and symbol of this covenant would be circumcision. Obviously Abraham complied.

Fast forward a few hundred years to the Mosiac Covenant. God frees his people from slavery in Egypt and offers a second great covenant: he reveals his Torah or Law to his people and offers them that they would be the most beloved of nations-- a kingdom of priests and a holy nation if they agreed to be bound by this Covenant. The covenant simply stated if this, I am the Lord thy God, you shall have no other Gods but me. This covenant was sanctified and sealed by the sprinkling of blood which became the temple sacrificial system practiced by the Jews for centuries. This sprinkling of blood was also a reminder of the covenant that God made to pass over the houses that had engaged in the Passover Seder.

Now let’s fast forward again a few hundred years to David. This covenant is a little different than the others in that God’s promises are unconditional—they are not dependent upon any conditions of obedient performance by David. God simply states that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more and that David’s descendants shall succeed him as King of Israel and that one of those descendants shall be the Messiah or deliverer. It is very likely that this Messiah was thought of as an earthly deliverer who would free the Jews from oppression and establish an earthly kingdom that would endure forever.

Now I haven’t hit on all the covenants but those are the highlights. Isn’t it curious that all the benefits of the Jewish covenants involved being made great by and for God while on planet earth. By contrast, did not Jesus say, My kingdom is not of this world and that the things of this earth are passing away? The Jewish idea of a kingdom was one that was established by God, ruled by a great king forever. Note that God however, was distant. He was far away, not with them.

Notice also that the only covenants that were made that concerned living forever with God in paradise were the first one made to Adam, which he did not comply with and the last one—the one that God the Father made with God the Son, the new Adam, by which we by inference benefit from by virtue of Jesus’s action on our behalf. We have faith because Jesus obedience to his Father reversed the disobedience of Adam and restored us to God’s original intention for his people—that we should never die and that we should be, and this is critical, with him in paradise. Jesus did NOT promise us in fact great earthly blessings and we know that many of us live lives at the margin--with difficulty, and heartache, and sin and betrayal and violence in our midst. Do you see how Jesus reversed the consequences of the sins of the first Adam? From where we were once banished we are welcome! Our part of the bargain is not something we do, it is only faith. The sign of the new covenant is of course Baptism and the enlivening of the Holy Spirit.

How many of us are conscious that we too live under covenant? "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2.19). Thus the covenant of the New is no less important to Christians than that made to Moses and his descendants for the Jews. Paul tells us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. Every man, woman and child can be a partaker of this new or better covenant through Baptism which supersedes circumcision, the sign of the old covenant. In Galatians it becomes very clear that Paul sees the people of the New Covenant as the true heirs of Abraham and the covenant. It is not those who slavishly keep the law of Mt. Sinai but those who live in faith as Abraham did after God called him.

It was through the promise, not from the law, God renewed his covenant with his descendants until it was completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Now that covenant is open to Gentiles too, so that all who are baptized are made one in Christ, and therefore are the rightful heirs of the promise made to Abraham. Faith, not the law, is the main ingredient for the baptized. So the children of God through Christ live by faith as did Abraham and not by the law which has been terminated in Christ. Through that faith God sends His Spirit to work within us. Under the new covenant it will be the Spirit that releases the children of God from slavery of sin, and makes them free.

Just as Christ superseded the old covenant, so does His giving of the great commandment on Love supersede the Decalogue on Law given to Moses. By the terms of our covenant we are direct partakers of the kingdom of heaven and promised "such joys as neither eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man" Because of this I can say with great joy and confidence, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that my God is the God of the Living!”

AMEN

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The Opposite of Pride is Hospitality-Generosity
Sunday August 29, 2010 - Father Larry Diehle

Sometimes the three readings for any given Sunday appear at least initially to be so disjointed that it is difficult to tell what the theme of the day is—not so today. It’s pretty obvious today that we are strongly admonished to put away pride and arrogance because they have a multiplicity of destructive effects. Let’s start with this—what do you think is the opposite of pride? Most people would say, humility, right? I don’t think that’s quite right. The opposite of pride is hospitality, is it not? Think about it—pride and arrogance are about the primacy of self—the feeling of superiority and the desperate and foolhardy acquisition and maintenance of a certain set of “rights” and privileges. Pride turns inward and lead to the exclusion of all who don’t meet the test. When we have pride we see humans through the lens of the pecking order that the world has created. Hospitality knows no such order. Hospitality sees everyone’s self-worth in light of God’s estimation. Hospitality knows no other way but to give things away. Pride clutches and hoards.

To make the point, let’s review our Gospel story from Luke today. Jesus, at dinner in the house of a leading Pharisee, counsels both the host and his guests about humility and generosity.

The Pharisees were what we would call “church-going people.” They went to synagogue weekly and so did Jesus. They were not for the most part what we would call “upper class,” but “middle class.” They did not inherit their wealth but earned it through hard work and they were proud of that fact. They were also, for the most part, proud of their moral status in society. They were looked up to, if not by those of the lower class, by themselves. They really did strive for and, in many cases, achieve just about the highest level of moral uprightness in the entire ancient world. They observed the Jewish Law meticulously, even scrupulously. One would think that Jesus would have admired their version of Holiness of life, but he did not. He was not impressed by their external piety or their moral uprightness. He considered it to be self-righteousness rather than Godly righteousness. The Pharisees had the most trouble in accepting Jesus and his “brand” of religion. They were too smug for Jesus’ tastes. Yet, he did not shun them. When invited to their homes for a meal, a formal affair with many rules of etiquette, he went anyway. Knowing that he was being set up to be scrutinized and criticized, even trapped into being labeled a “heretic,” he went anyway.

It was customary to invite the “visiting preacher,” in this case, Jesus, and other guests to dinner after the synagogue service. However, the details given indicate that this occasion was staged—that it was a set-up. That “the people there were observing him carefully,” indicates that he was a curiosity piece, to say the least. That there were “scholars,” there indicates that they were more interested in evaluating Jesus than eating dinner. Finally, that a man suffering from dropsy just happened to be there, so that the scholars and people could evaluate Jesus, seems more than coincidence. This scene is a typical setup by the Pharisees to build, or at least add to, their case against Jesus. But Jesus went anyway. The Pharisees had their purpose and Jesus had his.

At the same time Jesus did not play their games. Their negatively judgmental attitude towards people whom they considered beneath them really annoyed Jesus. When they tried to lure and trap him into some error, error as they defined it, Jesus would turn the situation around and expose their evil intentions, attitudes and practices for what they really were- hypocrisy. It matters not to God what our social or economic status might be. All his children are worthwhile to him and that is so because of him, not because of us. We cannot earn our worth before God. It is given. The Pharisees overestimated their worth, thinking it had something to do with themselves and their self-righteousness. They also, thereby, underestimated the worth of the poor, the disabled, the outcast and even the sinner. They would never think of having such folks for dinner or associate with them in any way whatsoever. After all, they were not their “kind,” of people. The irony was that this Pharisee had invited Jesus for dinner, who, at this point in his life, had no home to invite him back! Jesus was, in effect, saying, “Now that was not so bad, was it? Why not invite more folks like me into your home and into your charity and generosity?”

At banquets, the basic item of furniture was known as the triclinium, a couch for three. A number of such couches were arranged in a U-shape around a low table. Guests reclined on their left elbows. The place of highest honor was the central position on the couch at the base of the U. The second and third places were those to the left and right. At this particular feast there was a rather noticeable undignified scramble for the places of honor. Jesus used the situation to comment and teach.

The most important guests arrived fashionably late for banquets, no doubt to be noticed and, perhaps, take pleasure in unseating an earlier but less important arrival. When Jesus criticizes the guests for staking out positions of prestige he is doing no more than echoing sound advice given by many other sages. Worldly wisdom, even common sense, would dictate that one should avoid the possible public shame of being demoted by being unwilling to promote oneself prematurely. However, for Jesus there is more to it than that. He is less interested in “worldly” advice and much more interested in “other-worldly,” advice. His point will apply to all of life’s situations, not merely banquets for the rich and foolish.

Jesus teaches that a person’s real position depends on God’s opinion of him or her, not on one’s own self-seeking. The verse shows that Jesus is teaching much more than social etiquette. From good manners at table he draws conclusions about the Kingdom. In this sense the passage can be called a “parable” since it compares a “known,” good manners at table, with an “unknown,” behavior appropriate to Kingdom members or guests. Attendance at God’s banquet depends upon God’s invitation, not upon a person’s qualities, achievements or social standing. Then Jesus turns to the host who invited him and provides a lesson to all. The host is advised not to invite his friends lest they invite him back and he be repaid. Do not invite your friends, to avoid misunderstanding this verse, one must keep in mind the Semitic way of expression. The meaning is not that one should never have a party for one’s friends. Jesus is not forbidding normal social life. That would run counter to his own way of life.

Inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, four unfortunate types vs the four affluent types--friends, brothers, relatives, and wealthy neighbors--are metaphors for the stark difference between pride and hospitality. The first group cannot reciprocate. Helping those, feeding those means that one will not be repaid. They are unable to do so. This is true generosity. Spending money on people who will invite one back, pay one back, is not generosity. It might be worldly wisdom or “business sense,” but it is not really generous. It is more than likely a way of reinforcing one’s arrogance and pride.

Real generosity, non-reciprocal generosity, will actually be repaid but not directly, if not here and now then in eternity. Doing kindnesses for people who will repay us or can repay us is not real charity. It is okay as far as it goes, but if that is the level and quality of our generosity, it is no better than a business deal--“ I do for you and then you owe me one and I’ll collect later,” or “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.” Real generosity says, “I do for you because I owe God everything, God who really owns everything I have, and want to show him my appreciation.”

In verse fourteen, blessed will you be… The word in Greek, makarios, means “heavenly bliss,” the bliss of the gods, a bliss unaffected by human circumstances. Jesus uses this term here and elsewhere, notably in the Beatitudes, for the end result of living in a right relationship with God. To behave in the way described, Jesus says, will result in eternal bliss. At the resurrection those who have a feast for the less fortunate will enjoy a feast forever. There is such a thing as “pay back” after all.

Our place in the world is not determined by where we sit or what our title is, but where we stand before God and what he calls us, namely, his children. And don’t worry, in eternity everything we have given away will be returned to us a thousand fold.

To God be the Glory

AMEN

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Will You Go To Heaven?
Sunday August 22, 2010 - Father Larry Diehle

From the Gospel of Luke, What’s the biggest question that can ever be asked? It’s the most existential question of life and yet we avoid it. Will I go to heaven? Isn’t that always the elephant in the room? Isn’t that the most fundamental question that one can ask and yet many of us avoid the reality of the question either because we arrogantly believe we will or, just the opposite, think we’ve been so “bad” that God could not possibly want us!! This brings up a most serious question. “How does a person get into heaven?” Who will be there and who will not? Perhaps it would be best to ask this question in a more personal manner-not wondering who else or how many will go to heaven, but rather asking ourselves, “Will you go to heaven?”

I do not believe there is a more important issue than this one. It is important because it affects everyone in this church today. According to Scripture, everyone here will either go to heaven forever or be separated from the love of Christ forever. Such an important issue as one dealing with our eternal destiny should not be taken lightly. We do not want to be ignorant, deceived or wrong about our future beyond the grave. You and I don’t have to be uncertain or wrong about going to heaven because this passage from Luke is primarily about heaven and how to gain entrance into it. In this passage Jesus gives us the conditions for going to heaven.

I want you to understand that this passage is about entering into heaven. When the man in this story asks about people being “saved”, he is asking, “How many people will go to heaven?” When Jesus talks about entering through a “narrow door” and a door being shut, he is figuratively speaking of the entrance door to heaven. Obviously, the reference to the “feast” in verse 29 was a well-known metaphor for eternal fellowship at God’s table in heaven. Let’s see if we can break this down a bit.

Luke once again notes that Jesus was on his “way to Jerusalem.” This was not just literary “filler” but was rather intentionally noted by Luke with the purpose of showing us that Jesus always kept focused and intent on following God’s will for his life, which was suffering and dying for our sins in Jerusalem. Jesus was on his way to suffer and die and he knew it. Jesus serves as an example to us who are his followers, in that above all things he pursued God’s will purposely and resolutely. We are to do the same—to be determined to do the Father’s will, despite the personal cost. Jesus refused to be dissuaded by fear or intimidation from following the Father’s will.

As Jesus travels, he also teaches and this presents an opportunity for someone to bring up a much-discussed question of the day. “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” In other words the man is asking, "Are only a small number of people going to heaven?" We do not know what prompted this person to ask this question; perhaps he wanted Jesus to join the current theological debate?

Jesus does not actually get drawn into this inconsequential debate. Rather than answer the man’s question directly about how many will go to heaven, Jesus puts the focus on the individual. Jesus’ response in the next few verses would make the questioner and all the people present think about their own destiny. In essence, Jesus response infers that instead of focusing on theological questions that pertain to the destiny of other people, you and I need to focus on our own entrance into heaven.

The people present and the person who asked the question were probably Jewish and therefore assumed that they were going to heaven. The average Jew took heaven for granted because most Jewish people of the day had a very broad understanding of who went into heaven when it came to their own race. Jesus wants them and us to rethink that assumption. He wants them to know that they might be wrong because there are conditions to going to heaven. Conditions that they were not meeting. Jesus speaks of these conditions in verse 24.

Rather than taking heaven for granted, we should be “making every effort to enter in.” (Verse 24) This is a message we in America need to take to heart. According to recent polls, between 80-95% of all people expect to go to heaven. Is that expectation realistic and justified? Isn’t it more likely that some people are just taking heaven for granted? In my opinion, it does seem that many people are taking heaven for granted and without any biblical reason for doing so. Jesus implied that such an attitude was seriously wrong and dangerous because “many will try to enter (heaven) and will not be able to.” Because this is true, Jesus tells people to “make every effort to enter...”

People should not take heaven for granted; they should rather “strive” for heaven. The word that is translated as “make every effort” (NIV) or “strive” (KJV, NASB) is a word that was usually used to describe the mindset of an athlete in a contest or a soldier in a war. Each, whether soldier or athlete, must lay aside or sacrifice anything that hinders victory. Jesus is saying to us that we must be willing to sacrifice anything and to give anything to enter into heaven. Rather than taking heaven for granted, people should strive to enter into heaven’s door.

This verse can certainly raise some questions and concerns. Some may wonder if Jesus is saying that we should make every effort to be a good person because only those who were good enough will get into heaven. John Guest used to mockingly call this, ‘doing your best to do good.’ Certainly Jesus is not implying this. The whole Bible, including Jesus’ teaching, makes it clear that no one can be good enough to deserve heaven and that salvation, i.e. going to heaven, is a free gift of God’s grace. If we could be good enough, Jesus would not have needed to die in our place.

What does this verse mean then? If heaven is a free gift, then what are we striving for? We have to strive to enter heaven because the door is “narrow.” The key to understanding this verse is to understand what is meant by the term “narrow.” The word "narrow" is a Greek word that meant restrictive. While a person cannot earn entrance into heaven, there are nevertheless restrictions on who will go to heaven. These restrictions are not really imposed by God but rather we restrict ourselves. Not everybody who wants to go to heaven will go but only those who come on God’s terms and those terms are narrow (restrictive), which means that many people are excluded.

What are God’s terms? Jesus mentions them in many passages, including earlier parts of Chapter 13. God’s terms for entering heaven are repentance, and a genuine trust and commitment in Jesus alone. I don’t know that I’m all that comfortable with the word effort, because that sounds a bit like we can do it ourselves. I prefer the word respond. We must respond to that which is freely given. That response is in the form of a commitment-- a commitment to Jesus That commitment will necessarily manifest itself in many ways—in humility, self denial and in inevitable persecution. These are God’s terms for entering through heaven’s doors. In a sense, these terms are narrow because they do exclude a lot of people.

Many people want to go to heaven but are unwilling to do these things. Many people think they are going to heaven but they have not admitted they are sinners, turned from an ungodly life, trusted in Jesus alone for salvation and really put Jesus first in their lives. If this describes you, you need to rethink your assumption about going to heaven. You may have a false hope! Jesus lovingly warns those with such false hopes that the door to heaven is narrow and that you cannot make it through without doing these things. Many people are offended by these restrictive and humbling terms.

Listen to this letter that was sent into the Billy Graham organization after a Crusade: "After hearing Dr. Billy Graham on the air, viewing him on television and reading reports and letters concerning him and his mission, I am heartily sick of the type of religion that insists my soul (and everyone else’s) needs saving--whatever that means. I have never felt that I was lost. Nor do I feel that I daily wallow in the mire of sin, although repetitive preaching insists that I do. Give me a practical religion that teaches gentleness and tolerance, that acknowledges no barriers of color or creed, that remembers the aged and teaches children of goodness and not sin. If in order to save my soul I must accept such a philosophy as I have recently heard preached, I prefer to remain forever damned" (MacArthur p.458).

You have the same choice as the writer of this letter. You can choose not to admit your sinful condition. You can choose not to leave your old way of living behind. You can choose not to trust and follow Jesus sincerely. You can make these choices but by doing so you are risking being forever damned! The choice is yours. Salvation or heaven is a free gift of God’s love, but you still must “make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”

Isn’t it just like free candy? At thousands of parades, candy is thrown out from the floats for anyone to take freely. It doesn't matter that some of the kids grabbing the candy don’t deserve it, because it is a free, unmerited gift. Kids understand that the candy is free, but they also understand that you can’t just sit and wait for the candy to land in your lap. They have to be willing to put down their sodas – leave them behind, sit on the edge of the hot pavement and act quickly when the free candy is tossed their way. It is the same with the offer of salvation. Heaven is free and unmerited but everyone must be willing to leave behind anything that keeps him or her from receiving this wonderful gift. This means leaving behind your pride, self-sufficiency, old life, and personal autonomy so you can take hold of heaven and eternal life.

The entrance to heaven is narrow. You must come through the one door, which is Jesus. These are God’s terms and his terms are the only ones that count. Being sincere in your belief is not enough. Being a good person is not enough. Being religious is not enough. Such restrictive ideas are considered narrow minded and they are, but keep in mind it is Jesus who said that you must come through the “narrow door.”

AMEN

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