Tag Archives: Luke

Impatient Jesus and Ministry Not Going the Way We Expect

GOSPEL: Luke 9:51-62
… 57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And 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.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video.

Maybe this is a familiar experience to you. You are part of a community or group and someone shows up to something with energy and passion, ready to kick start things with new ideas and vision. Maybe it is at church, on the hockey team, in the office, on the PTA, in the music group. They show up, try their new thing and it does’t go the way they expected. In fact, the community doesn’t receive this new person very well at all. So they pull pack, drop out and probably disappear as soon as they appeared. Maybe you have seen this person, maybe you have been this person. I was this person when I tried out coaching kids soccer for about 8 weeks in 2019. 

Today, as we hear from Luke’s Gospel, there is definitely something familiar about this story and experience…

Jesus is out in the world proclaiming the gospel and he sends some disciples ahead of him to make things ready in a Samaritan village. Samaritans and Judeans did not get along. 

So when the Judean disciples show up in Samaritan village to tell these backwater folks they are brining the real good news, it doesn’t go so well. 

Disappointed, the disciples return to Jesus asking if they should get revenge on these unreceptive folks… which Jesus doesn’t take too well either. 

But it is the next part of the story that might be the most interesting or the most convicting. As they walk away from their failure in the Samaritan village and rebuke from Jesus, some disciples in the group begin reflecting on their commitment to the cause. First one vows to follow despite the failure, to which Jesus warns that there might be more unreceptive folks ahead. The next says that they have to go home and care for an aging parent before following (the father is not dead yet, but likely aged). And then another says they have to say goodbye to family before they can follow… to family that is certainly begging or demanding them to stay home. 

As we hear this story of Jesus and his disciples today, we hear it as people who have lived through the same disappointment.

I can think back to a number of experiences in my own time in ministry: 

One summer I decided to try hosting campfires on a few Sunday Evenings through the summer months. The church I was serving at the time was not a congregation with a strong connection to camp or outdoor ministry and I thought that this might be a small way to introduce them to some of the things I loved about camp. So I invited folks to come out to our large green space behind the church on some select Sunday summer nights to sit around a large fire for some hot chocolate, s’mores, and camp songs. The first week there were 8 people that showed up. Smaller than I hoped, but a good start I thought. The next time there were 4. The third time 2… and then last one zero. 

The reverence and nostalgia for evening campfire that I had after 5 summers for working at Bible Camps, was simply not part of their experience and so sitting around a fire in mosquito season didn’t make a lot of sense… Mydream of singing Kumbyah around the fire weren’t to be.

And over the years there have been more disappointments: Bible studies, confirmation classes, fellowship events where things have not been as well received as I hoped for and not turned out as I imagined.

Still, I am hardly the only pastor who has a story of planning an event and folks not showing up as hoped for. And there are more stories of this happening to whole congregations, planing events to welcome the community only to be received tepidly. 

In fact there are many places in our lives and world where this same story has played out. Where we have jumped in with two feet, put ourselves into something while also hoping and expecting things to go a certain way, only to be disappointed when when they don’t… and then to quit altogether. Whether it is in the workplace, in the neighbourhood, in volunteer activities, even within families. And in the church, there are lot of congregations who are feeling like there have been more failures than successes lately, and many folks slipping away because it is too disappointing when expectations aren’t met.

This is an understandable human reaction. And yet, when Jesus responds to these disciples making excuses to quit, he does it pretty harshly: “Let the dead bury the dead” and “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Clearly, Jesus is frustrated with disciples who are throwing in the towel when things don’t go their way.

But why is Jesus frustrated. Does he think the response of the samaritan village should have been better? Or that maybe his followers should have done a better job? Is the solution to do more and do better instead of quitting…

I don’t think that is it. 

Rather, Jesus seems to get quite well that failure is part of the price of doing the work. Or rather, that doing the work in order to meet our expectations is not the point. 

He didn’t send his disciples to meet conversion quotas in that village. Jesus did NOT promise cheering hoards excited to finally hear from his followers. Jesus isn’t measuring his work by how many attended or put money in the plate. In fact, Jesus is often annoyed by the crowds, frustrated when they want more and more from him. 

For Jesus, the thing that he is looking for is not the result, but the action. That the gospel is preached, that God’s Kingdom comer near is proclaimed, that the coming of the Messiah is announced, the good news is told to God’s people. Whether it is to 1 or 10 or 100 or 1000… it does’t matter to Jesus. What matters is that God’s story of Good News is shared in the world. 

And however that happens does’t really matter. Jesus knows where he is headed. He knows that the cheering crowds will welcome him into Jerusalem on Sunday and call for his death by Friday. Jesus knows that his rag tag group of followers will be barely able to get it together to make sure the story of his resurrection goes beyond their fear and baggage and resistance. But the Easter story cannot be held back and makes it in to the world none the less and that is enough for God to do God’s work. That is enough for God to change everything. 

And 2000 years later, Jesus knows that it is the same for us. Our expectations and visions of how we think this ministry business ought to go get in our way more often than not. But for God that isn’t the point. 

God is at work in our failures and false starts. God is still present and up to something when our target audience doesn’t get what we are trying to do. God has plans in mind for us even when we put ourselves out there and things go sideways, or things don’t happen at all. God is still calling us to go ahead and make things ready even when we are ready to pack it in, when it feels like our best isn’t good enough, when it seems like the world doesn’t care, when we are looking for excuses to go home and stay home. God is still doing in and through us – in and through our community of faith, our meagre feeling gatherings for worship, study, and fellowship – the thing that God has always been doing. God is putting the story of Jesus out into the world. God meeting whomever will hear it, with the promise that the Messiah has come with good news, given for us. 

The point is that the story keeps getting told. The good news for us is that the good news told to folks who receive it tepidly, told to folks who only hear it once in a while, told to crowds that hardly seem worth the fuss… that is enough. That good news of the One crucified and Risen, the one who claims us in the waters of baptism, the one who feeds us with his own body and blood, the one who calls us to go out into world and tell the story again… that this one only needs the story to be told. That this one calls us to figure out how to tell the story and what the story does in the world after that is up to God. 

Jesus doesn’t call us to change the world, that God’s job. Jesus doesn’t call us to manifest crowds of faithful followers, Jesus simply calls us to follow. Jesus doesn’t expect that we will succeed at every turn, but instead warns us that we will likely fail… But that is the mission, that is the call. To tell story of God’s love for the world, and let God carry us the rest of the way… to places we would never imagine and never expect. 

Saving the Fig tree and Saving Us

Luke 13:1-9

1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2[Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?…

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

Sermon

Our Lenten journey arrives at the halfway point today… and along with Jesus we have been wandering the wilderness. From the desert wilderness of temptation to the center of human chaos in Jerusalem. Jesus lamented over God’s people bustling and scurrying about. But now the questions begin coming, the obliviousness of the crowds is fading, the un-veneered truth is breaking through the humdrum of human busy-ness. Today, the questions are big and the answers are vague… yet amidst all that, Jesus reveals again something about ourselves and about God.

Now, before going any further, there is something about biblical wilderness that you ought to know. Normally, we see wilderness as the place of danger and peril, the place of exile and isolation. Wilderness found in the bible is something else, something holy and sacramental almost. In the familiar stories of faith, wilderness is the place of prophets and messiahs. Abraham is sent away from his homeland into the wilderness with only Sarah and God at his side. Moses escapes the dangers of Egypt only to be found by the burning bush in the wilderness. Elijah escapes occupied Jerusalem to be provided for by God in the wilderness. The Israelites leave slavery to return to the God of their ancestors in the wilderness.

In the bible, to enter into true wilderness is to leave the chaos of human life behind for a time, to be brought closer to God’s presence. And so our Lenten wilderness is exactly that, not a time of danger or worry, but a moment to come closer to God.

But along side our Lenten wilderness journey is something different. There is also the reality and harshness of creation. The crowds comes today to Jesus with their questions about the world, questions about cruelty and suffering, about sin and death. And their questions are our questions. They ask Jesus about the worshippers, Galilean pilgrims, that Pilate had murdered while they worshipped in the temple. They want to know who is to blame, if the pilgrims had somehow brought the violence on themselves.

This of course is a familiar notion these days as the entire world continues to reel from the murder of 50 worshippers into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. There are some out there that have asked if they two somehow brought this violence on themselves. But most, like those who came to Jesus are simply wondering why?

So Jesus brings up another tragedy in the recent memory of the people of Jerusalem, a construction project gone wrong, a tower collapsing and falling on 18 workers. Jesus asks rhetorically if these are also to blame for the calamity that befell them.

And again, we are reminded of the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the 157 people who died in that disaster. Were the pilots to blame or the aircraft builders. Again the question is why? Followed by, can this arbitrary violence and suffering come to us?

In both cases Jesus condemns the idea that somehow the victims are to blame. And today, he would do the same.

And then he tells a somewhat curious parable. One about a fig tree that had not born any fruit, for 3 years… And the landowner was ready to give up on it. Yet the gardener asks for one more year. Curious indeed.

These are complicated questions for this 3rd Sunday in Lent. Complicated questions that have something to say about our world in the midst of our questions and grieving. Questions about the things that we have no answers ourselves for. Why do we suffer? Why is violence so arbitrary? Why is hatred so seemingly common place?

On some level we know that we contribute to the problem. We know that, indeed, our sinful and selfish tendencies as human beings bear some of the blame. Whether it is someone falling into a rabbit hole of twisted ideology and othering that results in a heinous act of terrorism, or the obvious corruption and self interest of so many in power who simply wring their hands and offer thoughts and prayers as the solution to the problems of terror and violence. And then we also know that even in small ways we daily put ourselves ahead of others… we know that we are found somewhere in this mess.

But Jesus isn’t just rejecting the idea that the victim is to blame… Jesus is redirecting the focus of the crowds who have come with their questions. Jesus is pointing to the big picture.

The parable of the fig tree is a reminder that the big picture matters.

The landowner comes to his unproductive fig tree with all our questions, all our assumptions. Why hasn’t the tree produced? What is wrong with the tree? What has the tree done or failed to do?

The gardener sees the big picture… the gardener knows its about so much more than the tree.

The soil, the water, the shade, the root system, the weather, the pruning, the fertilizer and so on and on.

“Give it another year” He says

And all of sudden suffering and violence and sin and death are pushed aside. And there is grace and mercy and reprieve.

“Give it another year.”

And a global community gathers around families and communities torn by tragedy. Investigations begin up provide answers, and questions about plane safety are asked.

And high school students in New Zealand stand together and perform the Maori Hakas to honour the dead and to show resolve and strength. Biker gangs stand watch outside mosques so that prayers can be offered up in safety. And laws are introduced so future violent acts can be limited before they ever begin.

“Give it another year.”

You see, there is always more to the story, more to know and understand. And the big picture, the big picture is where grace and mercy come. The big picture is God’s surrounding our mess and chaos with love and compassion.

The big picture is the reminder that the gardener knows how to to turn suffering and violence and sin and death away. The gardener knows how to grow new and unexpected life. The gardener is knows that new life will always surprise and always come when we don’t expect it to.

The gardener knows what we do not… that repentance and transformation always begin from God’s end, from God working our soil, watering us in baptism, shading us in the word, feeding us to produce good fruit with bread and wine.

“Give it another year.” Jesus says about us.

The gardener is the Christ who sees what comes after failure and axes and death.

The Gardener is the Christ who knows that there will be new life and an empty tomb.

That tragedy and violence might shake us, that sin and death are always around in the messiness of human existence is certain.

But that God in Christ is also with us, walking along side us.

Despite all the things that push us to death and threaten to destroy, God in Christ has the final say. Christ is the one who defines us, who names and claims us, who declares that sin and death will not be our end.

It is the Christ who hears the questions about murdered worshippers and those who have died in tragic accidents who also is the one who goes to Good Friday and Golgatha — to cross and grave.

And it is this Christ who will not let us be ended by the harshness of our existence, who instead will walk with us from wilderness into our messy existence.

It is the Christ who shows up at falling towers and crashing planes,

The Christ who stands vigil and watch with grieving families in Galilee and Christchurch.

It is the Christ who walks out of the tomb and who declares,

“You have been given another year.”

Amen.

Clinging to the Ghosts of the Past

Luke 24:36b-48

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Read the whole passage)

Today it is the still the day of the Resurrection. Even though this is the third Sunday in the season of Easter, in keeping with the tradition of the church we treat this whole 50 day season as one great day of celebration. And so we go back once again to the day the resurrection, and we hear a similar story to last week’s story of Thomas… yet, this time it is Luke who tells it to us. 

It is situation that can be pretty hard to identify with. We may know the Easter story and believe that we encounter the risen Christ here in this place each time we gather for worship, but how many of us have witnessed the death of a close friend and teacher, only to have that person show up in our house a few days later? Don’t answer that…

Jesus’ moment with the disciples today comes as the third such moment where the disciples struggled to understand their encounter with the risen Christ. First it is Peter who runs to check the empty tomb, after the women from their group report back that the tomb is empty. And Jesus walks with other disciples on the road to Emmaus, who cannot see who they are walking with until he breaks bread with them. 

And now, with all the disciples in one place, Jesus shows up again. 

But of course, the group thinks he a ghost. 

And so Jesus goes through elaborate ancient tests to demonstrate that he isn’t a ghost. He shows them his hands and feet, invites the disciples to touch him, to see that he walks on the ground and doesn’t float in the air like a ghost. And he eats a meal with them, because ghosts don’t eat, people do.

Yet, the disciples still don’t understand what is going on. 

They are stuck, they are stuck back on Good Friday, back in Holy Week, back in the wildness of Galilee, back on all those dusty roads, small town synagogues, back among the crowds of people clamouring for a piece of Jesus. 

It us more than seeing Jesus as a ghost, they are clinging to the past. They still have not moved on from what once was, from the way things were, from the pre-crucifixion Jesus that they knew and loved. 

They are holding onto the ghost of what was before because they are afraid to move on. Peter was more than willing to run out into the world when he thought Jesus was dead, but once he found an empty tomb, he and the others are hiding in fear. 

They hide because it is easier to hold on to the ghosts of the past then to begin new life with new purpose. And so when Jesus shows up, they would almost rather that Jesus were a ghost than risen from the dead. 

The disciples are not much different than we are. 

Like the disciples, we too cling to the ghosts of our past. 

As our country continues to feel the pain and loss, the grief for the lives lost outside of Tisdale Saskatchewan a week ago Friday, we might have some insight into what it means to be in a mental and emotional state that can’t quite get past what has taken place. Because we know what it is to be driving on rural highways. Because we know what it is to send our kids, our loved ones, out into the world that we know is unsafe, where accidents happen everyday.

And so we we grieve and pray, we wear jerseys and put hockey sticks on porches. We cling to one another searching for hope and peace, much like those disciples after the tragedy that they had encountered. 

Yet,  ghost our pasts come in many forms not always rooted in grief and loss. They may have to  do with church, and with our memories of the past and wanting things to be like they were. To bring the young people back or perhaps really to ourselves the young people that we remember sitting in the pews. 

But the ghosts of our past can also be personal. We might cling to relationships that ended long ago, to times in our lives that we wish never ended, to jobs we once held, to youth we once enjoyed, to eras that we once understood. 

The ghosts come in many shapes and sizes, and the desire to cling to them is not anything but a normal human response to grief, loss and even change.

Yet, we know that refusing to accept change will not work. Staying stuck in the past, clinging to things as they once were, holding onto the ghosts of what once was, in the end, is impossible. 

Because the more stuck and unwilling to move on we become, the more like the ghosts we cling to we become… Like the disciples who found the tomb of Jesus empty, their response was to hide away from the world in a tomb of their own making. A tomb where they could stay at Good Friday, cling to the Jesus they once knew refusing to imagine to new life, the new Jesus that they sense is coming. 

And again, Jesus comes into their midst offering peace. 

Peace to the troubled hearts of the disciples. Peace to those who are stuck in the tense conflict of holding onto a past that is slipping away. 

Peace to our troubled hearts, peace to our grieving world, peace to those unable to let go. 

But Jesus doesn’t end with Peace. 

Once Jesus shows the disciples that clinging to ghosts is not possible, he takes things a step further. 

And all of a sudden the Easter moment, the resurrection moment extends beyond the empty tomb of Jesus and reaches into his hide away of the disciples. 

Jesus begins to transform these stuck and hopeless disciples clinging to a ghost of the past. 

“Everything you know, everything you believe in” Jesus says, “From Moses, to the prophets, to the psalms” or in other words the whole Hebrew bible, “has been fulfilled.”

And Jesus opens their minds, Jesus begins to transform these disciples giving them a new understanding and a new experience of their world. 

Everything that they thought they knew about God, about religion, about meaning and purpose in the world has been changed. The Messiah’s death on a cross and resurrection from an empty tomb changes everything. Everything moment in the story of God’s people that has come before has been leading to this moment… to this Easter moment. 

To this moment of the disciples’ Easter, to this moment of our Easter. 

“You are witnesses of these things.”

A witness is more than someone who saw something or experienced something. 

A witness is someone with a story. 

A witness is someone with a story to tell. 

Jesus transforms the disciples, transforms the world, transforms us. Jesus brings us into God’s story. Into God’s story of new life, new life given for the sake of the world, new life found in empty tombs where there should only be death. 

By making us witnesses of the Messiah, by making us witnesses to this story of God bringing new life into the world… we are given new life, we are given new meaning and purpose. 

Everything we thought we knew, everything we thought we understood has been changed by Messiah, by the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

And every week, every Sunday, every Easter morning, Jesus reminds us of this again. Jesus reminds us that that ghosts we cling to will not root us in past, and we no longer will be stuck. 

Jesus has made us witnesses. People tied inextricably to the story of God. People whose purpose is to tell that story to world. 

And Jesus continues to make us witnesses in the word of God that is proclaimed here, in the holy waters that we are washed and claimed in, and in the bread and wine, body and blood of Christ that we share together. Jesus makes us resurrection people, free from the ghosts and the past and given a story to tell. 

Today, Jesus says to us,

I have made you witnesses to resurrection and new life.