Friday, October 29, 2010

Here is one reason why I love Martin Luther...

Luther in a letter he wrote to Philip Melanchthon following the Diet of Worms:

"If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says [2 Peter 3:13], we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells .... Pray boldly – you too are a mighty sinner."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Some thoughts on Luke 18:9-14...

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector have something in common. Both men stand in isolation from God and from other people. One to preserve his purity...the other because he perceives himself to be unworthy and beyond the reach of God's mercy. Both positions are false. The Pharisee is most certainly not pure. The Tax Collector is most certainly within reach of God's mercy. The difference between the two men is that only one has any chance of leaving his isolation and coming into a relationship with God and other people.

This parable so mirrors the way we act and think as human beings. We like taking the high moral ground and passing judgment on those not quite as good as we are. At the same time that high moral ground almost forces us to become more and more self-righteous in order to justify our position. We have no need of God or other people as we are good enough within ourselves. Ironically we are also quite capable of seeing ourselves to be completely unworthy. Abject failures. Unlovable. Irredeemable. We reinforce this image through actions which demean and belittle us.
Either perspective is a trap, but only one provides us with a way out.

It is in our unworthiness that we have any chance of recognizing that God comes to us..finds us...and loves us. Like the tax collector, in our unworthiness we can cry out for mercy...for grace.

Luke would ask of us, as readers and hearers of this story;

"Who are you in this story?"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Persistent prayer...persistent faith! Thoughts on Luke 18:1-8

This is a one of the few parables of Jesus that provide us with a basic interpretation. At the very beginning of our Gospel reading today Luke records for us:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to teach them that they should always pray and never become discouraged.

It is a good place to begin as we listen and reflect on this parable, but I want to encourage you to listen for yourself. This parable may speak to you in a very unique and personal way as well. So let’s look at the parable.

To set the scene...imagine if you will a judge...sitting on cushions surrounded by officials and secretaries...voices clamouring to be heard while other litigants hold whispered communications with secretaries...passing bribes (fees)...until the secretary or underling are satisfied. Then the judge is approached and a name whispered in his ear and he calls such and such a case. Not surprisingly the judgement goes in favour of the one who paid the most.

This is what Jesus is describing. Here is a judge...nothing shames him...there is no spark of honour remaining in him. What is maybe a little shocking to his hearers is that this judge becomes the role of God in the parable. Not the sort of picture they would expect for God.

Back to our scene...

In this Middle Eastern culture women did not go to court. The court was a man's world and women were not expected to participate. The fact that this woman is even present in the court indicates that she is entirely alone and so her total helplessness is emphasized. So what do we find?

She is not helpless! Here is this woman on the outside of this group. She is continually shouting and calling out and perpetually interrupting proceedings with loud cries for justice. She is told to be silent. More than likely she is warned off from coming every day, to which she replies that she plans on continuing to come every day until she gets justice.

Now just because she is a widow don't assume she is old as women were often married at the ages of 14-16.

In this situation the words Isaiah 1:17 would be in the minds of Jesus’ hearers.

“See that justice is done – help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows.”

On this basis Jewish convenant law dictated that the suit of an orphan must always be heard first; next, that of a widow, so in this case the woman’s legal rights are clearly being violated. With this knowledge Jesus’ hearers get a clear picture of just how dishonest and unjust this judge is.

However finally comes the day when the woman wins out. The judge admits to himself that though he holds no fear of God or men, he is very afraid of this woman. He believes that she will "finally wear me out!” There are several ways to translate these words...such as..."give me a me in...finish me off.”

So now Jesus provides an interpretation of this parable for us. You can hear the humour in his words. The comparison between the unjust judge worn out by the persistence of the widow and the loving God is laughable. If this woman can get justice from someone as corrupt as this judge, then imagine how a loving God will act on behalf of and for his own people. It will not require a war of attrition or endless repetition. In fact just the opposite is true. Jesus says:

“I tell you, he will judge in their favour and do it quickly.”

Of course the struggle in this is that to you and me, this does not always appear to be true. Difficulties and problems in life seem endless. Prayers seem to go unanswered. God remains silent. What do we then take from this parable and teaching?

That is found in the very last line of verse 8.

“But will the Son of Man find faith on earth when he comes?”

It is not just a call to persistence in prayer and not becoming discouraged. It is a call to faith. A call to opening our eyes and finding God present in the middle of this world’s corruption. It is a way of affirming we do not have to be God. That we are not alone. That faith and hope are possible because we have a gracious God who loves us, dwells with us, walks with us, and knows us.

As always then, after hearing the parable and reading the story, Luke leaves the question with us...

Do you have real faith in God? A faith that will endure the silence? A faith that will persist, trusting that God is and will continue to act even if we don’t see or understand how? A faith that will lead us to prayer time and again, and keep us praying people?

Friday, October 08, 2010

Leprosy...blindness...and in-between places...thoughts on Luke 17:11-19

In reflecting on the text for this coming Sunday somethings to ponder...

Jesus is in the 'border' lands...those 'in-between' places where you are neither here nor there. Like the lepers in the story, Jesus is outside the acceptable places. It says something about where we should be as Christians. Too often we want to be in the right places and the good places, but here is a reminder that we need to be in the wilderness places, the border places, the 'in-between' places. C.T. Studd a missionary in China, Africa, and India said
"Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell." Interesting site for a building.

Jesus doesn't heal the men of leprosy, but then they haven't asked for healing, just 'mercy' or 'pity'. Jesus commands them to show themselves to the priest and it is on the way that they are healed. Ultimately the priest is the one who will declare them clean. Jesus simply instructs them to do what the Law of God requires.

Verse 15 is of interest. Luke writes that "one of them saw that he was healed". The reference to sight leaves us with the thought that the other 9 were still blind in some way for the 'sight' makes the man abandon his trip to the priest, disobey Jesus' command, and turn to Jesus in pure worship and thanksgiving. How powerful is the vision that this man sees! Also of note is that this man is described to us as a 'Samaritan'. Someone who dwelt outside the kingdom of God. Someone blind to the true religion.

This ties in a bit with last weeks reading from Luke 17:5-10. Maybe we don't really need more faith. Maybe what we need is to have our blind eyes opened to the blessing and the presence of God and his grace in our lives and in our world. Then we will understand Martin Luther's comment on this text. He was asked to describe the nature of true worship.

His answer: the tenth leper turning back.

May we all turn back to Jesus this Sunday.

Friday, October 01, 2010

A couple of thoughts....on Luke 17:4-10

Luke 17:4-10 poses some tough questions. When is faith enough faith? What should we expect as servants of God? If we are honest then the answers often make us uncomfortable.

This prayer goes along way toward opening up this teaching of Jesus:

"O God, I don't pray for enough faith to move mountains. I can get enough dynamite and bulldozers to do that. What I need and ask for is enough faith to move me."