Do The Right Things

Luke 21=5-19  

     Every story in the Bible has its beginning in the story that precedes it. It sets the context for what is to come. The story that precedes this lesson is the one about a poor widow who gave two pennies for the betterment of the world. Two pennies compared to the five and ten dollar bills given by the rich. And Jesus said, “She gave the most because she gave all that she had.” I think there’s hope in that message for us. No matter how little we have, if we give what we have, we can make a difference and bring change the world we live in. We just have to be committed to doing the right things.

     It’s not up to one person in the White House, or the hundreds of millionaires in Congress, to change the world. It’s up to you and me to build the kingdom of heaven among us. We have to give of the best we have in our own backyards before unity can reign in our land and our world.

     With these thoughts in mind, there’s more hope in our Gospel than one might expect, given the negative tone that the early translators handed down to us. Take a look at the way I translate the Greek text:

     Likewise, some were speaking about the temple, how it had been adorned with beautiful stones and donations, he said, “As for these things that you are observing—the days will come in which no stone will be left upon a stone here; no, it will be destroyed.”Then they questioned him, saying, “Teacher, when will these things occur? And what will be a sign when these things are about to happen?”

     8 Therefore, he said: “Beware. For many will come claiming to represent mea saying, ‘I am the one you should listen to,’b and, ‘The end is near.’ Do not be deceived lest you follow after them. So whenever you hear disputes and commotions, do not be terrified; for it is necessary for these things to come first, but the fulfillment of my prophecyc is not coming immediately.”

     10 He went on to said to them, “Nation after nation will be awakened,d and country after country. 11 And there will be great upheavals; namely, hunger and pestilence will be an occasion for action; also there will be awesome sights and great miracles from heaven.e

     12 Nevertheless prior to all these things, they will lay their hands on you and harass you, delivering you up to gathered assemblies, and even prisons, being led before kings and governors   on account of all the things I stand for.f  13 It will turn into an opportunity of testimony for you. 14 Therefore determine in your hearts not to think about what you will answer beforehand; 15 for I will give you the words to say and indeed wisdom which everyone opposing you will not be able to resist or dispute. 16 But still, you will be betrayed by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 Likewise you will be hated by all because of all the things I stand for.f 18 And yet the hair on your head shall not perish. 19 In your steadfastness, safeguard your mind.g

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in my name; claiming to represent him.

I am. In other words, “I am the one you should listen to.” Today this speaks about those Christians who continue to proclaim that the end times are coming. Jesus was speaking about the destruction of the Temple that would occur in forty years (70 CE). End times claims are used to produce fear for the purpose of behavior manipulation. They are not good news.

my prophecy – that the Temple would be destroyed (see verse 6).

egeirō – to arise from sleep.

Most of the verbs and particles in this prediction have positive connotations – that’s why the attitude of a translator is so important. Jesus is predicting what will come from all their efforts – great good will come!

f because of all the things I stand for — “on account of my name.”  One’s name encompasses everything he or she stands for.

g psuche, vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing; the psyche, personality, mindset.

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     Jesus and John the Baptist came proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand. That means within your grasp. Things are going to turn around if you and I persist in sharing the message and mission of Jesus: bring good news to the poor, open the eyes of the blind, heal those who are sick, free the prisoners, declare the year of the Lord’s favor. We have a responsibility for building the kingdom for others. In doing so, we build it for ourselves.

     The year of the Lord’s favor refers to the Year of Jubilee when all things went back to their original owners, and everyone started from the same place. Every person had an equal chance to make it in the world. No one could have unfair influence over the affairs of others because they inherited money from their father/mother, who inherited it from their parents, who inherited it from their parents, etc.

     The Year of Jubilee was supposed to happen every fifty years. It probably had been a long time since the religious leaders of Judea and Israel enforced it. People with the power rarely like to give it up to become one of the common people again. It makes me think of the impossibility of term limits for politicians being approved by the people who would be voting to become common again, or fair taxes. People with lots of money and comforts rarely are willing to give it up. Yet Jesus called for a Year of Jubilee, a year of the Lord’s favor when all people would be equal.

     When you follow Jesus and do the things he did, you will be hated by those who don’t want their money going to help the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the marginalized in our society. But you will be bringing the kingdom to them. You will make them feel loved. You will bring peace and hope to them.

     What’s it going to take to bring equity to all? All that is considered beautiful in the eyes of the world is going to have to crumble. That’s a frightening thought. Not one stone left on another. A new kingdom in which every person is treated with dignity and respect will have to be built.

     Are you following Jesus? How many people hate you because of your efforts to help the poor and the sick and the prisoners?

     The poor widow who gave everything she had, even though it was minimal, was building the kingdom for someone else who possessed even less than she had. Her reward was the peace that passes all understanding in her heart and mind because she knew she was doing the right thing.

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God in You

Luke 20:27-38

When I was preaching, I believed one of my responsibilities was to encourage people to think about what they believed rather than to accept anything and everything someone said from a pulpit. René Descartes said, “I think; therefore, I AM.” (my capitalization) If you don’t think, then you are not I AM.

I wonder how many Christians truly believe the New Testament’s claim that God is within them? In my short book, How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart, I gave these examples as evidence that the Bible suggests God is within you:

The Bible says you were created in the image of God. Someone in the early church said you were created in sin. It’s your choice to believe the Bible or some theologian. The image of God is not sin. It doesn’t mean you’ve perfected that image. It just means there are other reasons why you do things that disrupt harmony in your life and in the lives of others.

The apostle Paul wrote, “You are temples of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit dwells in you” (1 Cor. 3:16);

and “Do you not know that Christ is within you? (2 Cor. 13:5);

“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27);

and “Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4:6, CEB);

and “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:16-17);

Then the first letter of John says, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12).

     When you think about God or Christ living within you, you might have to accept that you are accountable to listen to the voice within you that guides you toward doing what brings harmony. The voice that guides toward love is God’s voice. Sometimes it’s the voice of Jesus. Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice and they follow me.”

Pondering the notion that God is within you may help you figure out how God knows everything you do—everything. You can’t get away with anything. Maybe God is part of that thing we call our “conscience.” Think about it, I AM!

So how does this line of thought relate to the text in Luke 20? I’ve already indicated in other blog posts that the doctrine of reincarnation isn’t as far-fetched as some in the later church decided. There are many references that indicate reincarnation was a viable doctrine at the time of Jesus. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, rising up, or reincarnation of the dead. You’ll have to be the judge of whether you think Jesus endorsed the doctrine (“I tell you, Elijah has returned”). And then look at what Jesus says to the Sadducees (my translation):

  34 Jesus answered and said to them, “The offspring of this system of thingsf marry and are given in marriage. 35 However, after being judged worthy to enjoy that age (the age we call Paradise), indeed a resurrection from the dead,g neither marry nor are they given in marriage; 36 nor are they able to dieh anymore, for they are like angels; yes, they are offspring of God, being offspring of resurrection. 37 Concerning (your denial that) the dead are being raised, Moses disclosed this secret at the bush, when he called Jehovah the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’i 38 Therefore he is not a God of the dead but of those living, for all are living for him.”j  39 Now having conceded, some of the scribesk said, “Teacher, you have spoken excellently.” 40 Therefore they were no longer so bold as to question him further.

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age. The way things are done in a certain period of time; the stage or system of the spirit being embodied in the flesh.

the deadness of living in the flesh, which is required for learning necessary lessons through pain and trials; it’s part of the spirit’s growth process. St. Paul said Jesus was the firstborn of the dead – having reached the fullness of Christ-consciousness, never to be incarnated into flesh (death) again.

reincarnate into the flesh of another body.

the Spirit of Oneness lives in, with, and through each of us, i.e,. we are living FOR God. The human body is a temple, as is everything in the natural world, of the pure Spirit.

inferring that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive, not necessarily in Paradise, but reincarnated in another bodily form.

scribes, not Sadducees.

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     Most people don’t know enough details about reincarnation to  make sense of this but it’s a start that might help you start “thinking” about some new things. My main point in this blog post is the concept of God being within you. In verses 37-38, Jesus said, “Jehovah is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He didn’t say “was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Jesus implies that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive. Does that mean they are reincarnated in other bodies? Maybe. Maybe not. In some doctrines of reincarnation (of which there are many, just like there are many Protestant doctrines that don’t agree), to enter into the flesh is “to die” or leave the wonderful life of the spirit world. Maybe Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have graduated from the “reincarnation into flesh age” and they are now angels and sons/offspring of God. They are of the living, in a new system of things.

You can be like the Sadducees and say this is all bunk. That’s okay. Or you can be like the scribes and Pharisees (and maybe Jesus) who believed in resurrection (or is that reincarnation?). It will definitely take more thinking on your part.

What does it mean to be a son, a daughter, or a child of God? Do you have some of God’s DNA? Are you made in God’s image? Or have you had water sprinkled on you and that did it? Think about your answer. I know the Lutheran mantra. But does a Buddhist, or Hindi, or Muslim, or Jew, or atheist not have God living within them because they haven’t been baptized?

Well, I hope I gave you some things to ponder. What greater benefit could there be than to have Love and Light dwelling in you, and then to recognize that Love and Light can be found in your neighbor? Believing God can be found in everyone will make it easier to love yourself and your neighbor.

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Salvation Is Always About Today

     Most Lutherans will focus on the Reformation this Sunday and that’s nice. I hope they talk about salvation as a present day reality instead of telling people they how much better off they will be when they are dead. Salvation in the Bible is always about being saved, rescued, or delivered from trouble or danger during life today.

     We are saved through faith (trust) in the teachings and example of Jesus. The conviction (faith) that we have for the truth of his teachings will cause us to act according to them. Peace of mind (salvation) always comes to us when we do what is good and right. We suffer negative consequences in this life if and when we fall into the desires of the flesh.

      At least, that’s what I understand when translating Luke 19:1-10:

     Now having entered Jericho, he was passing through.  And there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. Well, he wanted to see who Jesus was, but he could not on account of the crowd because he was a small man. So after running ahead, he climbed up into a sycomore tree so that he might see him, because [Jesus] was going to pass that way. Now when Jesus arrived at the place, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Therefore he quickly came down, and welcomed him with joy. And having seen it, everyone was mumbling, saying that he went to lodge with a sinful man. But having been validated, Zacchaeus said to the Master, “Look, half of my goods, Lord, I am giving to the poor; and if I defrauded anyone, I am repaying fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today peace of minda has come to this house because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the son of man came to seek and to rescue from wrongdoingb those who have perished.”c

salvation. Honesty, generosity, and restoration of sins committed help one sleep well at night.

save. A person reaps what is sown. Negative consequences follow wrongdoing.

the lost. Literally, those who have perished or are perishing. To perish is to fall into the desires of the flesh and therefore suffer the present day consequences of sin.

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Martin Luther Quotations on the Law

This is one of my favorite quotations by Martin Luther about the use of the law, and it comes from the sermons in his Church Postils. See other quotes here.

Martin Luther quotations

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Martin Luther Commentary about the Law

 

Martin Luther had a practical way of understanding the rules/laws/instructions given in the Bible:

Martin Luther Commentary about the Law

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Have Faith in Easy Answers

2 Kings 5:1-14 and Luke 17:11-19

Three years ago, I developed a pinched rotator cuff in my left shoulder. It began limiting the things I could do. I tried several months of chiropractic treatments, which included some basic exercises. It subsided for a while, but it didn’t go away. I finally went to an Orthopedic Surgeon, expecting the worst. It had been nine months and I was tired of the discomfort. I was ready to be cut on. So he tested my shoulder, and said, “All you need is some physical therapy. Here’s a prescription to get into one.”

Then I went to a physical therapist who said, “Number one, you need to sit up straight, stand straight, and hold your shoulders back. Working at a desk and computer for long periods can tempt you to start to hunch over. And here’s a few specific exercises to strengthen the muscles that connect your shoulder to the clavicle bone.” She said, “Put these stretchy things on a door knob and swing your arms across your body. Then lay on the edge of a bed and raise your arm ten times. Do it two times a day.”

“That’s all I have to do? No surgery? Hold my shoulders back. Do a few exercises? No expensive medicine?” Within six weeks, my pain was gone. A very simple and unimpressive solution to my problem. That’s why this week’s Old Testament lesson resonates with me.

Naaman was a great and mighty commander of the king’s army. He sounds like the kind of person who liked things done in a big way. Maybe he had a flair for the dramatic, for the complex.  Naaman had leprosy. And he wanted a miracle to make it go away. He went to Elisha the prophet, hoping for a cure. He was told to wash seven times in the Jordan River.

“What? I’ve come all this way for a miracle and this is what I get? I get a prophet who doesn’t even bother to come out and do his work personally. He sends a peon to tell me I should wash seven times in that dirty Jordan River. Our rivers back home are cleaner than what you dream of around here!  I expected the prophet to wave his hand and ‘poof’, away goes the leprosy! Wash seven times? That’s it? I don’t believe that can cure me. I expected at least to have to muster up the courage and inner fortitude to fight my way through this cancer-like battle for healing. Then I could be the hero in my own healing – and the victory would be partly mine.”

But sometimes God wants to show us His miracles are not the result of our incredible efforts. Sometimes His answers are simple so that God will be glorified, instead of people crediting their own efforts for His miracles. But the little people around Naaman convinced him that the simple answer was worth trying. “Have faith in the treatment Naaman.”

Maybe we don’t have to work so hard or struggle so intensely to participate in a miracle of God. Naaman washed seven times in the Jordan River, and his leprosy disappeared. He followed the simple, unimpressive answer sent from God, and his life was changed forever.

Look at the ten lepers in the Gospel lesson. They didn’t question Jesus after he told them what they should do. They said, “Have mercy on us, Lord.” Instead of waving his wand over them and chanting some magical words, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priest.”

The lepers didn’t say, “What? That’s all we have to do? You’re not going to drum up some special potion for us to cover our sores, or to scrub these scabs off with steel wool and soak them in lye, or call upon Elijah to bring something down from heaven to heal us?”

No. Just take a hike to the nearest priest. They did. And they were healed.

The other thing is that if you want answers to your health problems, you also must say, “I am willing to be part of any solution you propose, God.” You can’t pray any prayer and expect a miracle unless you are willing to be part of the answer. Maybe that’s why Naaman was irritated. He had to go do something to help himself…wash in the river.  Sometimes we want a grand and glorious miracle to take place but we don’t want to be involved in doing anything to make it happen. How can our prayers for miracles be effective if we refuse to participate in the solution?  Sometimes all we have to do is wash in the river.

All ten lepers were healed along the way.

But only one came back to thank the person who helped them, who gave them a simple solution to their problem. How many of you have gone back to your PT or nurse or doctor to say, “Thank you”? How many of you have gone back to a teacher who helped you find an easy answer to your problem to say, “thank you”?

This isn’t rocket science. Don’t take easy answers for granted or the people that give them. They are often the answer to your biggest nightmare.

Do you have a health condition you want to have healed? If you are diabetic and your doctor says, “Don’t eat foods with high fructose sugar” – then don’t eat them. If your therapist says “do these exercises” – do the exercises faithfully. If your nurse says, “take these pills every six hours” – take the pills every six hours. If you have high blood pressure and your doctor says, “don’t eat salty foods” – don’t eat salty foods. If you are needing to lose weight and your counselor says, “don’t eat more than 1200 calories per day” – don’t eat more than 1200 calories per day. The easy answer is often better than the hocus-pocus, dramatic medical treatment.

In the 20th century, people needed a pill to get well. Today people expect to have surgery to get well. Maybe there’s an easy answer. Your faith will make you well. Last week, we learned that the Greek word for faith (pistueo) also means trust. You have to trust the treatment prescribed to you will work, otherwise, you won’t follow it. Trust the advice of your doctor. Trust is important.

Another word for pistueo is “confidence or determination.” You may simply have to be determined to take better care of yourself. Jesus said to the Samaritan who came back to say thank you, “Your faith, your determination, has made you well.”

Your determination to be healed, is often the biggest factor in receiving healing. Faith means both trusting and having the determination to see it through—the same way I kept up the physical therapy exercises, and sitting up straight, not for just six weeks – but I continue to include them in my weekly exercises. I am determined. It’s not always easy, but it’s simple. I have faith that if I continue to do the right things to bring health to my body, I’m going to enjoy better health. Your faith will make you whole. Your determination and commitment to doing the right things will make you whole. When you do them, you can give God praise that the simple answer was the best answer.

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The Key to Forgiveness is Conviction

In 2005, a tornado ripped through Benton, KY. A year later, my wife and I bought a lot that had been in its path. What remained on the lot was a huge pile of limbs and logs pushed together by bulldozers. Before we could get started on building a house, we had to burn that mountain of wood. Many of the trees had been uprooted and their roots were still covered with dirt. The roots were like fingers clinging to the dirt. The dirt was keeping air from reaching the wood and it couldn’t burn like the rest.

sycamine-tree          I bring up that image because those roots holding onto the suffocating dirt is a picture of unforgiveness. At one point, Jesus said, “If you had conviction (pisteuo) like a mustard seed, you could tell this sycamine tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea.” Unfortunately, translators put in the word “faith” instead of conviction. They said if you had faith like a mustard seed. But that doesn’t make sense. Mustard seeds don’t have faith. They have conviction. They will grow wherever they are planted.

The sycamine tree in the Middle East (kind of like our mulberry tree) has one of the deepest and broadest root structures of all the trees. The roots can be bigger than what’s above ground. They are massive, intertwined and extraordinarily strong. To pull that kind of tree up – roots and all – and plant it in the sea would have been impossible.

Many of us have roots that are holding tight to some dirt that is suffocating us and we can’t let go of it. Today, I’m going to teach you how to let go of the dirt. And it will take the conviction of a mustard seed to do it.

I’m reading a book, Personal Power through Awareness, that like many others suggests what you say creates your world. What you speak or even think becomes your reality. Think about it. When someone has hurt you deeply, or has created a huge loss in your life, what do you say? You typically say, “I’ll never be able to forgive him.” Or “I can’t forgive him.” Or “I won’t forgive him.” And so you never do. You hold onto the dirt. You hold onto the hurt. And it suffocates the joy and the peace and the freedom you could have it you only let it go.

Previously, I read a book called “The Wisdom of the Subconscious Mind.” In a nutshell, the conscious mind is like the captain of a big ship and the subconscious mind is like the crew of men below in the engine room. The men below do the mechanics of getting the work done, but they only know what to do based on what the captain says. The conscious mind sends orders through your mouth, your ears send it down to the subconscious which starts right away to make sure those orders are followed.

Pay attention to what you say. Because what you say is what you get.

Stop saying things like, “I’m fat. I’m too old. I’m tired. I’m no good. I can’t afford this. I have no ability to change this. I don’t like Hillary. I don’t like Donald. This country is going to hell in a handbasket.” When you say it, your subconscious mind immediately starts looking for anything and everything to prove you are right. And it will ignore or deny any evidence contrary to what you said. You and I choose what we want to see.

In the same way, you and I choose whether or not to hold onto the dirt, the hurt, the loss, that could make or break our peace of mind. The Greek word for forgive means to let go, to release, to set free. One way to loosen some of that dirt you’re holding onto, is to ask yourself some questions: why is this bothering me so much? What is so important about this that I’m letting it steal my joy and my peace of mind? What am I threatened by? What do I fear losing? Am I being realistic? Why did this hurt my feelings so much? What is it that makes me so defensive about it? Dig deeper, search your own heart, try to understand what is making your roots grip so tightly around the dirt.

Once you’ve come to a better understanding of why you are holding onto the pain and hurt, you can start to say to your sycamine tree, “Be uprooted. I let go of the dirt and I send you to be planted in the sea.” You can do it. But you have to want to do it. And you need the conviction to keep giving that same order so the men below keep working at sending your ship in that direction.

Control what you say. Control what you think. And you will gain control of the direction of your life. Speak the truth that you want to see happen. And say it like it is already a reality. It doesn’t work if you project it into the future. It doesn’t work to say, “I’m going to get healthy, or I’m going to get more productive, or I’m going to get over this incident one day.” Speak as if it is a present reality.

Say, out loud, “I have let this incident go. I’ve let it go.” Keep saying it every time the dirt wants to come back into your mind. Saying it just once isn’t going to cover a year of “I’m never going to forgive her.” Keep saying it. Be convicted that you are going to regain your peace. Say, “I am good at letting things go that use to bother me. I am secure in myself. I’m at peace. I’m a happy person. I don’t let anyone get under my skin.”

It takes the conviction of a mustard seed that can grow anywhere it wants to grow to keep saying, “I can do this.” You can do what appears impossible. And regain your peace of mind.

Practice that right now. If you want peace in your heart and mind, forgive someone right now. Picture an incident that you have been holding onto, and imagine you are holding it in your hands. Say, “I’m forgiving this. I set this offense free.” Lift your hands up and give it to God. Let go of it. And you will realize that your anger and hurt will be released with it.

When you do your job of forgiving, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Peace, hope, love, joy return. May God grant you the conviction of a mustard seed so you can secure your peace of mind.

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God’s Grace is Never Ending

     You are the means of God’s grace. God is within you. Grace is unconditional love. It’s for everyone. Unconditional. And God’s grace is never ending. It’s simple. So start giving freely. Where else can grace come from? Where else can unconditional love come from ?

     God is in the trees. God is in the mountains. God is in the clouds. They all give freely. Unconditionally. They don’t discriminate between who they think should get their oxygen, beauty, or rain. Everyone gets it. God is within you. Are you giving (or forgiving) unconditionally?

     Why did I go off on this grace tangent?

     Partly because the Revised Common Lectionary left out the set up to the lesson for this Sunday. Maybe it assumed you would look at the previous verses in order to find the context of what is being talked about in verses 5-10. In Luke 16, Jesus spoke of a rich man who received negative consequences because of ignoring a poor man, and I equated Lazarus with a divorced woman.

     Then, in verses 1-4, Jesus connects laws in the Scriptures (Moses and the Prophets) that do damage to people with stumbling blocks. It’s hard for people conditioned in the truth of the Bible that does not differentiate between Old and New Testament writings to think there might be some question about how a God of love would do terrible things to people. They keep going back to what they were conditioned to believe as children. It takes time for many to change their minds (repent).

     Take a look at my translation of the verses left out, then the RCL verses:

 

Luke 17:1-4

     Then he said to the disciples, “It is unavoidable that stumbling blocksa might come, but woe to the one through whom it comes! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should unfavorably judgeb any of the lowest of these (connecting to the poor man, Lazarus, and in my estimation, to a divorced woman). Be attentive yourselves. If your brother wanders from the path of uprightness, severely censure him; and if he changes his mind, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns saying, ‘I am changing my mind and will amend my ways,’ you shall set him free.”

Luke 17:5-10

     5 Even the apostles said to the Master, “Increase our conviction.”

     6 So the Master said, “If you have conviction/determination like a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

    Nevertheless, which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding livestock, after he has come in from the field, will order him, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8 Instead, will he not command him, ‘Prepare something for supper. Also, restrain yourself to serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Has he no gratitudec for that servant who did all that he had been commanded? I think not. 10 So you, in this same way, when you have done all those things which you were commanded, say, ‘We are good for nothing servants. We have done what we were expected to do.’”d

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the stumbling blocks of ancient writings that were not universal or correct when trying to describe the wishes of God as found in the Law and the Prophets.

offend.

charis, usually translated as grace, but also can mean kindness, gratitude, affection, thanks.

in this context, it refers back to verse 4 – the command or expectation was that they should forgive their brother 7 times in the same day. Your brother doesn’t have to literally hurt you 7 times for you to forgive the unloving action 7 times. In a practical application, you might need to forgive, i.e., let go of  (forgive) thinking about how your brother/sister hurt you once that day, because thinking about it has the same effect as re-living it again and again.

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     Liberals, take note. Be patient with your conservative friends. Have faith. Increase your conviction in the truth of a loving, gracious God who is working and growing in everyone. You might think it’s too hard to pull up a tree with roots so deeply embedded and intertwined around laws and holy writings, i.e., Moses and the prophets.

     But with determination (confidence, faith) keep at it. If they sin against you seven times in a day with anger and condemnation, when they repent, that’s progress. Forgive them. It’s just going to take more time. It’s part of their journey. And don’t expect to bells and whistles to reward you for your efforts. You will be doing what is expected of you. Giving grace. Loving unconditionally. God is within you and God’s grace is never ending.

 

 

    

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Patriarchy, Divorce, and Inequitable Laws

     If you only read the verses selected by the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday (Luke 16:19-31), you might think the story Jesus made up about the conversation in Hades between Abraham, the rich man, and Lazarus simply refers to the rich man’s lack of compassion and not feeding the poor. That’s what I always thought. Yet, more than ever I am seeing the importance of context in deciphering the meanings.

     Why would Jesus offer this story at this time? Well, you need to look at the verses leading up to the story.

     Last week, the RCL gave us Luke 16:1-13, where Jesus told the Pharisees they could not serve both God and mammon (an unfair economic system based on unequal weights and balances with the accumulation of money as the objective). This week the RCL gives us Luke 16:19-31, skipping verses 14-18.

     I kind of understand why they left five verses out. It appears to be somewhat confusing the way it was originally translated into English…early in the 1600’s…in a male dominated culture. But it steals any ability to connect Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man with what came before it. Read any other version and then compare vits erses 14-18 with mine:

LUKE 16  [my additions are in green and identify what I believe to be the meaning, and the footnotes are explained after my interpretation of the story]

14 Upon hearing all these things, the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, scoffed at him.

15 So [Jesus] said to them, “You are those who pronounce yourselves moralh in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts, in that what is exalted [in verses 1-13, money was the focus; but in the next verse, the focus turns toward the Law and Prophets] among men is an abominationh2 in the sight of God.

16 “Until John (the Baptist) arrived, the Law and the Prophets were exalted. From that point forward, the kingdom of Godi is being proclaimed as the good news. Indeed, everyone is being strongly urged toward it.j

17 But for you, it is easier for the skyk and the earth to pass away than for one tiny mark of the Law to fall from its elevated position.

18 “Anyone who dismisses his wife and marries another commits adultery; and a man who marries a woman dismissed from a husband commits adultery.

+  +  +

     Something is missing that connects verse 17 to what Jesus said next in verse 18. To think that Jesus decided, all of a sudden, from out of the blue, to remind the Pharisees about adultery at this point in the conversation, as if he was agreeing with it, doesn’t make any sense. Either no conjunction was used because it was understood as part of a cultural way of saying things, or it was redacted (edited out) by a scribe. Try this: insert this conjunction between verses 17 & 18 and see if it makes a connection:    [For example:]

Then immediately after verse 18, listen as Jesus might have intended to finish his thought:

[“This is a ridiculous law. A divorced woman often has no choice in this culture and society. Why is she declared to be off-limits for any man to remarry her because of a husband’s arbitrary decision to abandon her?l She has no way to support herself except to turn to prostitution. That would be cruel. In fact, let me tell you a story about those who exalt the Law even when it brings pain to the innocent (rejected wives).]

     This is the point (now that you know the context) when Jesus tells the story about a rich man, Lazarus, and Abraham. This is my translation:

19 “A certain man was rich, dressed in purple and fine yellow linen, and he celebrated extravagantly every day. 20 Now there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who had been put out at his gate and 21 hoping to be fed with anything that dropped from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 Now it came time for the beggar to die and to be carried by angels into the arms of Abraham. But the rich man also died and was buried. 23 And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham in the distance, and Lazarus in his arms.

24 “So he called out and said, ‘Father Abraham, show mercy to me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this fire.’l 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember how you experienced your good things during your lifetime, yet in the same way, Lazarus experienced troublesome things. Nevertheless, now he is being comforted and you are being tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great gulf has been established, so that those who want to cross over from here to you cannot, nor can those from there cross over to us.’

27 “Therefore he said, ‘I beg you, father, that you might send him to the household of my father, 28 for I have five brothers, that he might warn them, lest they might come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them learn from them.’ 30 But he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone (namely, Lazarus) from among the dead goes to them, they will change the way they think.’m 31 So he said to him, ‘If they do not learn from Moses and the prophets [the ones they esteem most highly], neither will they be persuaded if someone (like Lazarus) might appearn from among the dead.’”

+  +  +

just; righteous, impartial, honorable, fair, moral, unbiased.

h2  abomination. How many things Jesus did call an abomination? A term we might use today would be “disgusting.”

i  kingdom of God: the establishment of Oneness, development of Unity (the Aramaic word for God is Alaha, which means “oneness” or “unity”).

strongly being urged toward it, is suggested by NRSV as well as is pressing forward toward it.

heaven, the sky.

fire is an image of purification, and also as the negative consequences of unloving actions.

m  Metanoia means to change one’s mind, or change the way one thinks.

anistēmi; rise up, stand up, come forth, appear. Since Jesus is referring to Lazarus when Luke says “someone,” it makes more sense to use “appear” so as to reduce the chance of readers being led to think Jesus was predicting his own resurrection. Those who exalt the Law above people would not listen to the spirit of a beggar returning to warn them.

+  +  +

     The story itself is an insult to the traditional Jewish male way of thinking. Jewish men believed anyone who was rich was favored by God. Poor people were being punished by God. Why would a rich man end up in Hades? Except that Hades was not the picture of Hell that some promote in the 21st century. Hades was the place where the spirit of EVERY person ended up when a person died. Thus, the rich man could “see” Abraham and Lazarus in the distance. They were all in Hades.

     Maybe Jesus replaced the image of a woman dismissed by her husband with a male character—Lazarus. The suggestion of Abraham holding a divorced woman in his arms would not be imaginable by the Pharisees and they would immediately stop listening to the story. But in the 21st century, surely we are advanced enough to tolerate a picture of Abraham holding and comforting a woman in public other than Sarah (?).

     Men are exalted while women are treated poorly by men. So a divorced woman is placed outside the gates of patriarchy to fend for herself. The dogs are the Gentiles who buy her flesh so she can barely stay alive. At least the dogs see some worth in her (small comfort to her that they will pay attention to her wounds, or shame).

     The chasm is a person’s hardness of heart, absence of compassion, and closed ears that cannot hear the cries of those who suffer because of laws that uphold patriarchy and male domination.

     The kingdom of God, as I explained in my book, is the development or establishment of unity, harmony, equity, or oneness among people on earth.

     The bottom line: Jesus was fighting patriarchy and the inability of men to discern the damage that male-dominated, inequitable divorce laws were doing to women. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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The Abomination of Unequal Weights and Measures

Luke 16:1-13

I get really frustrated when I get my explanation of benefits for health insurance claims. During the first year I was retired, I used the Kentucky Healthcare Cooperative for my health insurance. I had an annual physical and because it was a preventative medicine procedure, it was supposed to be paid at 100%. The doctor’s office submitted the claim for $186. Because I was paying monthly for health insurance, the bill was reduced by about half. To $93. That’s the advantage of paying for health insurance. The insurance companies broker a deal with medical providers to get a better price. If the provider won’t agree to their terms, then they send you to someone who will take less. If you don’t agree to be part of the system, you can’t play the game.

So you pay the insurance company for your health care whether you need it or not, for fear that something drastic will happen. If a person can’t afford to pay for health insurance because ten dollars an hour won’t feed, clothe, and shelter a family of four, then what happens when you have to see the doctor for a health concern? You get charged $186 for the appointment. No deal has been brokered because you have no buying power. You have no way of sending business away from that doctor. You have to pay $186. If you cannot pay the bill, a collection agency is called in and you get a black mark on your credit rating.

The problem I’m talking about is the problem of unequal weights and measures. One person pays a different price than another person. And it’s usually those living from week to week, or day to day, who pay higher prices.

Let me give you another example. In many states including Kentucky, there’s a system called Payday Lending that permits people who have money to prey on the desperate and vulnerable in our society. Cash for your paycheck after the bank has closed. Or cash on Wednesday to pay that light bill because your paycheck doesn’t come until Friday. That is, your paycheck plus $20. Or your car breaks down and you need $300 to get it running so you can go to work. $40 is all it costs to borrow $300 for two weeks. But $40 to be able to borrow $300 for two weeks comes out to an Annual Percentage Rate of 320%. And if you can’t pay it in full, even higher penalties are tacked onto it for late payments. Why can’t they get a credit card or a loan from a bank for lower interest rates? Banks only like to give money to people who have money, or collateral, and you have to have good credit. It’s predatory lending and its target is the working poor.

At one point, Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you.” And we will always have the poor as long as we keep using a system of unequal weights and measures that allows people to prey on them. The Old Testament has laws designed to prevent this unfairness from happening. The Jews were not supposed to charge interest on money that was loaned to other Jews. They were allowed to charge interest to foreigners, because the scriptures say the Hebronites and Ammonites and other Gentiles are not the chosen descendants of Abraham. You can take advantage of others, but not those of your own nation. However, just because Moses laid out these rules for the Israelites doesn’t mean they followed them. People are greedy. And others are desperate. And when people are desperate, they do desperate things. They pay 320% interest to keep a bill collector from taking their car or home. And the laws of our land allow that to happen.

There’s a different name for unequal weights and measures in the New Testament. It’s called unrighteous mammon. We often think mammon is simply money or wealth. But it’s more than that. It’s an unfair system of economics that is based on charging one price to one person and a different price to another. The Old Testament called using unequal weights and measures an abomination. When it takes money to make money, the rich get richer while the poor get taken advantage of. Unequal weights and measures, or unrighteous mammon, is a system where a small number of people at the top dominate a huge number of people at the bottom who are barely getting by.

Insurance companies. The banking industry. The pharmaceutical industry. They are in it for only one purpose – to make a profit. And it ends up hurting the most vulnerable of our society. That’s the abomination.

So I haven’t told you anything you don’t already know. And here we are in Kentucky with our own set of financial problems. How can we think we can change an economic system so old and widespread and inequitable that everyone of us has bought into?

Well, it’s easier than you think. And it’s based on the wisdom of thousands of years. You will reap what you sow. You don’t have to change what others do. You don’t have to change the whole world. You just have to change yourself and the world immediately within your reach.

In the words of Mahatma Ghandi: Be the change you want to see in the world. In the words of Jesus, be a shepherd, be my disciple, follow me, do what I did. Be the change. Feed the hungry yourself if you have extra. Do you have a neighbor who’s fallen on some hard times and is losing weight because he doesn’t have any food in the house? Pick up a couple of cans of some healthy food when you’re at the store, and drop it off.

Do you know someone who needed car repairs or a root canal and doesn’t have a credit card or good credit at the bank? If God has given you extra and it’s just sitting in the bank, offer to cover the cost and say, “I know you’ll pay me back. Two or three months is fine.” Don’t worry if you lend money to someone that they won’t pay you back. God gave you a little extra to help someone today. If you are faithful with a small amount, God knows you will be faithful with a larger amount. Are you worried about trusting the person in need that you loan money to? Again, don’t worry about them. Trust that God is faithful. That’s why in the sermon on the mount Jesus said, “lend to anyone who asks for help from you.” Just like the dishonest manager in today’s lesson, if you are kind to others, then when you become desperate, they may be willing to help you out temporarily.

Do you know someone who’s lost a loved one, and is now alone most if not all day long? If you’re planning a trip to the grocery or the mall or the movie, why not pick them up and fill a few hours of the day? That will be bringing the kingdom of heaven to someone today. You don’t have to change anyone but yourself to change the world for someone else. Be the change. Be a disciple. Leave the 99 sheep who have everything they need and help someone in trouble. Do you know someone who died of cancer because there wasn’t a cure? Give from what the Master has given you for research to find a cure that heals the sick and trust that if you are faithful in a small amount, you will be trusted to manage a larger amount faithfully.

Jesus said “Don’t store up for yourself treasures on earth that will rust.” Gold and silver that sits in banks and doesn’t get circulated gets rusty and tarnished. It does no good to anyone if it doesn’t go back into circulation. In the same way, if you store love in your heart, it won’t circulate and return to you. If you keep joy and hope in your heart and never give it away, it will get rusty and moths will eat it away, so it can never return to you. What you sow is what you will reap. So be generous.

Last week, we heard that if we are not willing to risk going into the darkness to help lost sheep, but instead, sit back and condemn them for the trouble they’ve gotten themselves into, we aren’t worthy to be disciples of Jesus. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much.” May we become more fair in the way we treat people no matter what their race, creed, financial status, or nationality; and more generous with what the Master has given to us. Amen.

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