Proper 20, Year C: Luke 16:1-13: Love God Not Money

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 20, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

This week’s lesson is all about the money, or specifically the love of money and of course the love of what money can buy.  

Again Jesus is telling a parable. I love how much Jesus liked to teach with stories.  He was obviously never a boring teacher. He told them about a rich man who had a bad manager working for him. The rich boss finds out the manager isn’t doing a very good job, so he says he’s going to fire him. The manager decides he’d better do something to get the rest of his town to like him so when he’s out of a job they might be good to him. So what he does is call in people who owe his boss money and tell them to change the amount owed so that they pay less. Then those people are happy with him, but his boss isn’t paid all he’s owed. He’s pulling a trick that loses the boss money but pleases the rest of the town.  

Now here’s the tricky part. Jesus says the rich boss praised the manager for being clever, though he hadn’t been honest. Then he says that’s what the people of this world are like, and that they are smarter than God’s people. It sounds like Jesus is praising dishonesty, but I don’t think that’s what he means. He goes on to say that if you can be trusted with a little, you will be trusted with a lot, but if you can’t even be trusted with a little thing, then how could you be trusted with a lot? If you can’t take care of someone else’s property, how will you be able to have property of your own? Then comes a very famous line, “No servant can serve two masters at the same time. He will hate one of them and love the other. Or he will be faithful to one and dislike the other.  You can’t serve God and Money at the same time.” You may have heard you can’t serve God and “Mammon” but modern versions just make it money.  (See more about Mammon here.) This, I think, is the crux of the story. And when we love money and material things so much that our focus is on them and not on the things of God, then we can’t properly love God and follow Christ.  

Third Sunday of Easter, Year C: John 21:1-19: Feed My Sheep

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

This week I was set to preach, but got sick with food poisoning the night before. This is what I would have preached (and what was read for me by my friend Jan):

Our story begins with the disciples deciding to go fishing. You can imagine the strong emotions they have been going through since the death and resurrection of Jesus: shock, awe, trauma, then joy. They’re probably undergoing confusion and tension. It has to put them in a state of mental overload. We have all been there, even if our own experiences might not be as dramatic as theirs.

Sometimes when we are in a state of emotional upheaval like that, we want to do something comforting and familiar—like have a bowl of ice cream, read a well-loved book, or watch a movie we have watched many times before. In this case, Peter decides to go fishing—it’s what he was doing the day he met Jesus. Perhaps he thinks after all this maybe he’ll go back to a normal life.

I want you to take note of two key characters in this story. Obviously, Jesus is the main character as he’s the subject of all the Gospels, but there are two more who are very important. The first is Peter, whom I already mentioned.

The second is referred to as the Beloved Disciple. He’s called that several times in the book of John and remains anonymous. At the end of this same chapter it’s revealed that he is the source for this Gospel, so traditionally people have assumed it’s John, but no one really knows for sure. I’m going to just call him John just to simplify things, because “the Beloved Disciple” is a bit of a mouthful. (I even considered calling him the B.D.—but that’s a little silly—so John it is).

These two men have very different personalities from what we can tell. Peter is impetuous, a man of action, who often acts without thinking and can get himself in trouble. He has moments of great bravery and moments of great cowardice—as when he denies knowing Jesus three times while Jesus is being interrogated following his arrest.

John is more cautious and thoughtful. When Mary Magdalene tells them the tomb is empty, both John and Peter run to the tomb and John arrives first, but Peter is the first to go into the tomb. Then it says that John believed, but Peter did not yet believe. John seems to be the kind to have a deep understanding but he is slow to jump to action; whereas Peter leaps first and asks questions later.

That brings us back to today’s story, keeping in mind these two very different personalities. While they are out fishing, they don’t catch a thing. Jesus is standing on the beach, but they don’t recognize him. He calls out to them to cast their net to the other side of the boat. When they do, sure enough they have so many fish in the net they have trouble hauling in the catch.

At this point John says, “It is the Lord!” He has the insight and recognition—perhaps remembering the same miracle from the last time Jesus told some of these same fishermen to change where they cast their nets. But it’s Peter who takes immediate action, throwing on some clothes and jumping in the lake to swim to shore. John and the others remain in the boat and haul the nets to shore.

John recognizes Jesus first, but it’s Peter who takes immediate action. We need to learn to do both—to recognize and hear the Lord, but also to act, which is the best response of a committed faith. Both the recognition and the action—the knowing and the doing—come from a place of love.

You may notice there are a lot of parallels to previous gospel passages in this story. First there are parallels with the fishing story of how some of the disciples met Jesus, which I said might have prompted John to recognize him. Once more they are completely unsuccessful at fishing until Jesus tells them to move the nets, then suddenly their nets are full to bursting. Remember that in that instance he told them to leave their nets and he would make them fishers of people instead.

The first story is of their calling to be his disciples; this story is of their calling to be more than disciples—to carry on Jesus’ mission into the future. Last time I preached, I actually talked about Jesus declaring his mission to help the poor, to heal, to bring freedom, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus is now sending his followers (and us) to fulfill his mission. That was the beginning of his ministry and this story is the beginning of ours

Another parallel is how none of the disciples recognize the risen Christ on shore at first. This happens in multiple resurrection stories. Even now that they have already seen him post-resurrection they still do not have immediate recognition. We also may not always recognize when Jesus is at work among us.

Another parallel is how Peter quickly jumps in the water to go to Jesus—this reflects the time Peter is on a boat and sees Jesus walking on the water. He asks Jesus, “If it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Imagine the audacity that required! Then when Jesus says to come, He leaps out of the boat and begins walking toward him, until he wobbles and begins to sink. It is almost like his brain finally catches up to him. Peter was such an amazing man—a messy, impetuous human. You can imagine Jesus shaking his head at his antics, but also loving his big, reckless heart.

Finally, there are more parallels when they come to shore. Jesus cooks them breakfast and they eat together as they did on the night of the Last Supper. This time they eat together not as an ending but as a beginning. The disciples have been lost and hurting but now they will move forward with a purpose. From this moment on they continue the work Jesus started—they grow his church and spread his message.

The next parallel comes when Jesus has a talk with Peter. You may recall that after Jesus’ arrest, when he was being questioned, Peter denied knowing him three times, just as Jesus told him he would. That was the only other time in the gospel of John that a charcoal fire is mentioned, so it very deliberately refers back to that incident.

Now Jesus asks him a question three times, and please note he calls him by his original name, Simon—it was Jesus who renamed him Peter, meaning “the Rock”:
“”Simon, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.”
“Simon, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Tend my sheep.”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?” Now it says that Peter felt hurt that he kept asking.
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Peter is rehabilitated and reinstated after his three denials. He is back to being Peter, the rock on whom Jesus will build his church. However, he is not simply reinstated as a disciple; he is being given a new role. He is set a charge to love and feed those whom Jesus loves—his sheep, meaning his followers but also anyone in need. We don’t dwell here on Peter’s past but on Jesus’ grace and his call to carry on his mission.

The words “feed my sheep” refer to providing for physical needs as well as spiritual—Jesus is the model of that as he has modeled feeding people as he teaches them. He has tended to physical illness as well as spiritual needs.

Jesus was feeding and blessing people at once and he calls us to carry on that ministry post-resurrection. When we break bread together in the Eucharist, it is in that same spirit—we are fed by God and we share that moment so that we can go forth and share the love of Jesus Christ and feed others both physically and spiritually.

Earlier in John, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” To keep the commandment to feed his sheep is to love Jesus. He is calling Peter and us to action. Again, we need both the recognition and wisdom of a John and the love in action of a Peter. To love Jesus, we must know him and we must act on his behalf.

Do you ever feel that Jesus is saying to you “If you love me, feed my sheep?” The call to feed his sheep is not only for priests and other ordained servants—it’s for all of us. It is in our baptismal covenant–that we will with God’s help seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. How can we feed his sheep? What does that mean today?

This whole passage reminds us of who Jesus is and how his grace and love are not at an end but continue on with us. Cast your nets to the other side of the boat—make a change—are we living in fear and confusion or are we moving forward in faith and action in love? Go forth and feed his sheep.

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 4:21-30: Service to All

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

In last week’s lesson, we see Jesus proclaim that the scripture from Isaiah is coming true in the presence of the people in the synagogue in Nazareth. In this week’s lesson, we see what happens next.

People are amazed and exclaiming “Isn’t he Joseph’s son?” Jesus tells them he knows they will expect him to do the same things he did in Capernaum there in Nazareth, but he says a prophet is not accepted in his own hometown. He tells the story of Elijah, who was sent to help only to one widow in Israel among many–and how Elisha healed only one leper among many, and that a man from Syria, not Israel.

The people don’t like this and they try to force him out of town–taking him to the edge of a hill to throw him off, but he walks through the crowd and walks away.

Jesus is telling the people of his hometown not to expect preferential treatment from him–he won’t play favorites. Followers of Jesus today often also fall into the trap of expecting to be special to God to the exclusion of others, but that’s not a game Jesus plays. He serves all and wants us to also serve all. We are to welcome and serve with no preference for people who are like us.

First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22: Years of Preparation for Service

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

As we did a couple weeks ago, we read about John baptizing people and telling them that one was coming who would do much more. Then Jesus arrives to be baptized, too. While Jesus is praying, the sky opens and the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove. A voice from Heaven says “You are my Son, the one I love. I am very pleased with you.”

I was reading various resources about this passage and this particular sermon from Sermons that Work at EpiscopalChurch.org stuck with me as she asks the question: “But why did it take so long for Jesus to make this decision to become public with his understanding of the character of God? In that first century, which afforded a much shorter life span, thirty years was a very long time.”

This question made this become personal for me. I am already 44 and just beginning on the path to become a priest, though the inkling that I was called to ministry came to me when I was just a child. Like Jesus (and I don’t often compare myself to Jesus, I can assure you), I am starting my ministry later than might be expected, but on the other hand I can only imagine his whole life was leading to that point and mine it its own minor way has been leading to this. This gives me some assurance that it’s o.k. to start a little later in life, knowing that the age of 30 must have seemed much older back in that time. We become adults later and die much later (on average), after all.

The sermon I linked goes on and is worth a read, but I particularly love the end.

Jesus’™ thirty years of preparation before his public baptism remind us that it takes time to get ready for God’s mission. How many countless hours did Jesus spend in prayer? What study, what thought, what agony he must have undergone before appearing in front of John to ask him to baptize him. It is never too late for any of us to say “€œyes” to God.

The courage of both John and Jesus calls us to repent from fear, to turn our backs to the voices that urge us to be cautious. Justice must be proclaimed, even at the cost of endangering our lives. The chosen of God, the beloved of God are not guaranteed happiness and prosperity, but life in him who calls us to himself. Oh, to hear the words “With you I am well pleased.”

You Are My Beloved, Epiphany 1 (C) – 2007 by Katerina Katsarka Whitley


Proper 20, Year B: Mark 9:30-37: Serve Others

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 20, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Galilee, but they are avoiding people because Jesus wants to teach the disciples privately. He tells them that the Son of Man will be handed over to the authorities and will be killed, but he will rise again. The disciples are confused, but afraid to ask more.

They arrive at a house and Jesus asks the others why he heard them arguing on the way. They didn’t want to answer, because they were arguing about which of them was the greatest. Oh brother, this is one of those points reading scripture when I just shake my head at the disciples being dumb.

Jesus knows what their nonsense was about. He tells them that whoever wants to be the greatest must make themselves the least and be a servant. Jesus loves to flip the script on his not-always-bright followers–and on us–we are not always bright either.

Then Jesus brings a small child in front of the followers. He tells them that anyone who accepts children in his name accepts him and anyone who accepts him accepts the one who sent him.

As in previous passages, the challenge is passed on to us–the paradox of the least being the greatest. Our command is to serve others and not to exalt ourselves.

 

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B: Mark 8:31-38: The Path of Death

Ash wednesday cross, crucifix made of ash

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

We really see the themes of Lent in today’s passage. Jesus is teaching his followers that he will suffer and will not be accepted by elite leaders and priests. He tells them he will die. But Peter doesn’t like this teaching and basically scolds Jesus for saying such things. Jesus responds, “Get away from me, Satan! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.”  Ouch. Peter is one of his most devoted followers, but even he does not understand–perhaps cannot understand until after Easter.

Then Jesus goes to call his followers to him and tells them:

Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me and for the Good News will save it. It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost. You could never pay enough to buy back your life.

Mark 8: 34b-37 (Easy-to-Read Version)

So we continue to observe Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, discovery, and heart preparation. We must be willing to carry the cross–meaning to give up ourselves and follow Jesus. What is getting in the way of our service to God and to others?

I like this thought from Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of Mark by Marcus J. Borg:

The way of the cross is about life and death; to avoid it in order to save one’s life is to lose one’s life, and to embrace it is to save one’s life. The path of death is the path of life.

I love a good paradox and I love to let it speak for itself. Dwell on this paradox.