Monthly Archives: September 2019

Look and see

Readings
1 Timothy 6.6–19
Luke 16.19–31

 

…the poor person has a name: Lazarus; the rich and powerful person, by contrast, does not. In the world today the situation is reversed: the poor are anonymous and seem destined for an even greater anonymity. They are born and die without being noticed. They are disposable pieces in a history that eludes their grasp and excludes them. — Gustavo Gutierrez and Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, On the Side of the Poor: A Theology of Liberation

Blessed are you who are in need;
the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who now go hungry;
you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now;
you will laugh.…

But alas for you who are rich;
you have had your time of happiness.
Alas for you who are well fed now;
you will go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now;
you will mourn and weep.                    Luke 6.20b–21, 25–26

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Let’s start with a story.

A young couple were killed in a car accident on the day before their wedding. They arrived at the Pearly Gates. St Peter felt sorry for them, and asked if there was anything he could do to make being in heaven even more pleasant for them. So they looked at each other and asked if it would still be possible to be married in heaven. St Peter looked a little thoughtful and said, ‘It’s never been done before. But leave it with me.’

About a hundred years went by. One day, they ran into St Peter and asked about the wedding. ‘Everything is being arranged,’ he assured them.

Another hundred years passed, and they saw St Peter in the distance. They reminded him about the wedding and said, ‘We know that in heaven, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, and time is of no consequence…but we’ve been waiting over two hundred years.’ St Peter replied, ‘I am truly sorry. All the arrangements were made the day after you arrived but there’s just this one problem.’

‘What’s that?’ they asked.

St Peter said, ‘Have you ever tried to find a minister up here?’

When we hear a story about St Peter at the Pearly Gates, we know to wait for the punch line. We don’t imagine that we are hearing anything about what ‘heaven’ is really like. We know it’s not a theological treatise that claims to describe the future life. 

Similarly, when we come to the Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus, we don’t read anything about what life beyond death may be like. We’re reading a story that was told in different forms, possibly originating in Egypt. When people heard it, they knew it for the story it was. 

But what is the story about? 

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Filed under Church & world, Lament, RCL, sermon

The Flow of Grace

Reading
Luke 16.1–13

Grace only works on those it finds dead enough to raise. — Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

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We’ve heard maybe the toughest parable in the whole of the scriptures today. A shifty steward has been ripping off his boss; his boss finds out, and sacks him. Before it’s too late, the shifty steward fraudulently reduces the amount his boss’s clients owe him. Not only do the clients think he’s a great bloke but his boss praises him too. And Jesus says to us, Be like him! What on Earth? 

I’ve heard that the great St Augustine once wrote about this parable, saying Jesus really oughtn’t to have  said that. Or words to that effect. (Actually, what he said was in Latin, so it was much more profound.)

So let’s see what we can make of this parable. 

First thing, and it’s really important to understand this: it comes straight after the parables in Luke 15 about lost things, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost sons. Why did Luke put it here? 

Here’s one reason: one word. That word is ‘squander’.

Now, I can go for weeks without saying ‘squander’. I’ve got nothing against the word, it just doesn’t come up that often. It was like that for Luke too. He only uses it twice: firstly in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, who squanders his inheritance; and in the very next parable, the Parable of the Shifty Steward, who fraudulently squanders his master’s money. Coincidence? I think not. 

Let’s try and draw some more connections between these two parables. 

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Costly grace

Reading
Luke 14.25–33

 

Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs. It is said that the essence of grace is that the bill for it is paid in advance for all time. Everything can be had for free, courtesy of that paid bill. The price paid is infinitely great and, therefore, the possibilities of taking advantage of and wasting grace are also infinitely great. What would grace be, if it were not cheap grace? 

Cheap grace means grace as doctrine, as principle, as system. It means forgiveness of sins as a general truth; it means God’s love as merely a Christian idea of God. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship

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There are some easy-to-miss words at the beginning of today’s Gospel Reading. Here they are again:

Now large crowds were travelling with him…

Large crowds were travelling with Jesus. Great numbers of people. You know what can happen when people get together in a crowd? They can become a mob very easily. A mob mentality can take over very quickly. 

Jesus needs to stay on mission. He doesn’t want a mob. He is starting what we could call the ‘Jesus Movement’, and he wants the people with him to stay on mission too.

So what does Jesus do? He gets them to count the cost. He sorts them out. Those who really can’t last the distance need to feel free to leave. So he speaks in the exaggerated way that teachers of his day had: 

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

Count the cost. In other words; If you follow me, you may find opposition from your family. If you follow me, you may be persecuted. Count the cost before you take another step. 

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A Beggars’ Banquet

Reading
Luke 14.1, 7–14

The Good News of the gospel of grace cries out: We are all, equally, privileged but unentitled beggars at the door of God’s mercy! — Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Beggars know how to open their hands, trusting that the crumb of grace will fall.…living not with clenched fists but with palms open, ready to receive. — Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart waits

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Tonight, some of us will be going to the Beggars Banquet here in West End. A section of Boundary Street will be blocked to traffic, and tables will be set up. You bring the meal for your table, and leave a seat free for anyone who needs a place so they can join you. Sounds wonderful! 

I like going out for a meal. Do you? I enjoy sitting with people and getting to know them more over a good meal. Eating with other people isn’t just about the food; in an overused word, it’s about fellowship too. It’s about deepening relationships. 

When I was single, I learnt to go to restaurants and eat alone. It took me a while to feel comfortable with it; I did it though, and in the end it was fine. After all, I am a certified introvert. I like my own company, and I’d bring a book to read. But something was missing. Sharing. Conversation. Entering into the life of another, and also allowing them to enter my life. 

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus was invited to a meal. If you read Luke’s Gospel in particular, you’ll see that Jesus ate out a lot. For example, he eats at Levi and Zacchaeus’ houses—both of them were tax collectors. He has dinner with several pharisees, he feeds 5000 in the wilderness, and eats at Mary and Martha’s house; he eats with the twelve at the Last Supper, and with two disciples in Emmaus on the first Easter Day. 

Today’s story concerns a dinner at a pharisee’s place. The host had invited Jesus, but not out of the goodness of his heart; he and his friends were watching Jesus, to catch him out. But Jesus was watching, too. 

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Filed under Baptism, Basis of Union, Eucharist, RCL, sermon