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The parable of God tearing down barns and giving grain away

Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward 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

We have been hitting a highlight reel of the gospel of Luke lately. We have heard very well known and familiar stories like the story of the Geresene Demoniac and Jesus exorcizing the demon called legion. We have heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. We stopped in for dinner at Mary and Martha’s. We learned the Lord’s Prayer along with the disciples who wanted to know how to pray. 

But today, we step off the highlight reel to touch on a much more taboo topic. No, not sex. Not even politics. 

Today, Luke has laid upon us the issue of money and how we value it. The way we understand money and wealth in the Church has a varied history. Some have said that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Others would say wealth that is not used to help the poor is one of the greatest sins imaginable. Either way, money and its place in our lives and world elicits strong feelings for all of us. We know that money holds power over us, and we also know that putting money in its place is something we struggle with. 

Jesus is standing in a crowd teaching his disciples when two brothers come forward and ask Jesus the teacher to settle a dispute over inheritance. Inheritance was a complicated issue in the ancient world, like it is now. The eldest son of the family received a double portion of the wealth, compared to other sons. And the assets, the land, the buildings, the servants would belong more the clan or tribe than the particular  landowner.

But what passes us by quickly, is that most people wouldn’t be landowners in Jesus’ day. Most people were day labourers, or might have been lucky enough to have the skill to make something to sell. Landowners were wealthy, and often they were the economic drivers of a community. Their land produced food, jobs, provided places to live. They were responsible for their communities. 

So when these two brothers are seeking to divide their inheritance, it is possible that they will be dividing a whole community. The estate that they look after together might not be able to adequately provide for their community once divided. But the two brothers, aren’t thinking about that. They are probably thinking about controlling their wealth themselves. 

And so Jesus will have none of it. He refuses to arbitrate their dispute as a respected teacher. 

Instead, he offers a scathing parable about greed.

Often in Biblical parables, the rich are portrayed as having acquired their wealth in unethical, even illegal ways. But the farmer in today’s parable has done nothing wrong. He does not steal, or cheat, or break the law. He simply is the owner of land that produces abundantly. 

In fact, the farmer’s wealth is not at issue in the parable. It is what the farmer says that seems to be the problem. Listen to his words: “I do, I have, my crops, I will do, I will pull down, my barns, my grain, my goods, I will say, my soul, Soul you have ample”. In the short 3 sentences that this farmer speaks, he makes reference to himself 10 times. It is easy to see that this farmer is rather self-centred, and that he sees the land and grain as belonging to him. 

Yet, the land would truly belong to his family. His wealth would then belong to his community and all of his relatives that would be working the fields along with him. But our farmer only considers storing his grain — his wealth. He does not consider other options like providing for the poor, giving his workers a bonus or sharing with relatives whose land did not produce as well. 

The farmer in this parable is a caricature. He is the extreme version of our human instinct to create security for ourselves.

We know very well the thought process that is being outlined in this parable. In times where there is even a small amount of extra, saving it for when there is not enough is important. Today’s farmers could use some harvests with extra, some years when next year’s crop wasn’t already being used to pay this year’s. 

It isn’t the actions of the farmer in this parable that are brought into question. Rather, as God demands the life of this wealthy farmer today, the issue is about the proper place of money in the world. It isn’t just that those big grain barns won’t do this farmer any good once he is dead. But more importantly, that storing all this grain, all this wealth hasn’t done anyone any good. 

Who is remembered at a funeral for the size of their grain bins? Or house? Or wardrobe? Or bank account? Or car collection?

Jesus is making a point not just about the next life, but about this one. This absurd farmer and all his wealth has missed an opportunity to build something far more valuable than money and wealth. The farmer has missed what it means to build relationships with people. 

People are more valuable than any amount money. Full grain bins mean nothing when there are people starving next door. And yet our world routinely chooses wealth ahead of people. Our world is full of overflowing grain bins and starving people. 

These past two years  we have been regularly reminded of how easily it is forget to consider our neighbour. As people have railed against pandemic restrictions, economic insecurity, as nations have gone to war to satisfy the grandiose visions of man dictators… we have seen money and power being put before people. 

When Jesus scolds these two brothers for wanting to divide their inheritance, it is because when he looks arounds his world is full of people just like our new refugee family. People whom have been left behind by the world in our struggle to have more money and wealth. People who are forgotten by those with riches. People who could benefit from some of that extra and abundant grain. 

But it isn’t just that Jesus reminds these brothers and us that those with more than enough can afford to share with those with not enough. But Jesus reminds us that ultimately, on the night when our life is demanded of us, that we too are refugees with nothing. All the wealth and money and power and security in the world means nothing in the face of death. 

And how lucky are we, when we forget the proper place of money and the value of people, that God does not. That God places people above money, wealth, power and security. That God is willing to give up all those things for our sake. How lucky are we that God is into loving the neighbour and sponsoring refugees in a big way? That God welcomes and provides for us, for us with nothing to offer, with nothing of true value to our names. God gives us the most valuable name of all – beloved child. 

And if we were to retell the parable that Jesus tells today, but with God as the main character instead of an absurdly rich landowner, it would sound very different:

Then [Jesus] told them a parable: “The land of God produced abundantly. And God thought to Godself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then God said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and instead of building larger ones, I will give my grain and my goods to those who are hungry, to those who are in need. And [then] I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods to feed all who are hungry and all who are thirsty; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But then sinful humanity said to God, `You fool! This very night you will be betrayed’ And God said, “Then take my life, take my body broken for you. Take my blood shed for you.” 

And then Jesus explaining this new parable said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God, for God does not store up treasures for Godself, but has been poured out for you, and is rich towards all.

The Trouble with Mary and Martha

*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

GOSPEL: Luke 10:38-42
38Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Once again this week, we hear a familiar story from the book of Luke. Last week as we unpacked the parable of the Good Samaritan, we looked at the way in which that parable was less about loving our neighbour through good deeds, as it was a metaphor for God’s mercy and grace given for us. When we read the parable through the lens of the lawyer’s question regrading inheriting eternal life, we discovered that in fact God was the Good Samaritan and we were the one in the ditch. God is the one rescuing from sin and death when our efforts to justify ourselves fall short. 

Today, we pick up just after that story with the story of Mary and Martha, another familiar story from Luke. A story for which there are countless pieces of art, bible studies and sermons that all warn against the distracted fussing of Martha and lift up the quiet listening of Mary. Another sermon when the brain can be turned off early on, because we think know what the message is here. 

If I am honest, I can go back into my files and find sermons about the version of Mary and Martha that I just described. About two versions of hosting and “women’s work.” 

And yet a deeper dive into the text reveals a story very different than the one we so often imagine, 

Biblical Scholar, Mary Stromer Hanson and Pastor Amy Courts have done some excellent work to re-visit this text and a lot of what to come is based on their work. 

Following Jesus’ conversation with the lawyer who prompted Jesus to tell parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus and his disciples are on their way to a certain village. Presumably this village is Bethany, the home of Mary and Martha. 

Upon their arrival, Martha meets Jesus but exactly how and where is not so clear. What reads as “welcomes” Jesus may also be heard as receives Jesus, as in receives his message or teaching. And while we might imagine Jesus the disciples crowded into Martha’s home, the earliest manuscripts of Luke do not include this detail. So this interaction between Martha and Jesus might be taking place anywhere, on the road, in the town square or some other public place. 

Then the story notes that Martha has a sister Mary who sits at the feet of Jesus. This of course has led to the many paintings or other pieces of art depicting Jesus and Mary sitting in a living room of sorts as he teaching, while Martha scurries about the kitchen. However, “sitting at the feet” is well known 1st century phrase which means to be a disciple of or follower of a teacher or rabbi. 

So Mary is not quietly siting at Jesus’ feet while he id waiting supper, but rather is named as one of his disciples. But it isn’t just Mary. In many English translations the word ‘also’ is omitted. Martha had a sister named Mary who ALSO sat at the feet of Jesus. 

In other words, Mary and Martha are both disciples and followers of Jesus. Jesus who earlier in Luke declares that his disciples are the ones who hear his word and do it. 

So rather than two women taking different approaches to hosting a guest for super, we have two sisters and two disciples of Jesus.

The story goes on to say that Martha is distracted by many Diakonen, a greek word you might know from Diaconal Minister or Deacon. We have traditionally translated that Martha was distracted, but the connotation is being troubled and in an ongoing way. Martha is troubled by diakonen, not the tasks of keeping a home, but ministry. Martha is troubled, almost being split and divided in herself by all the work of ministry around her. 

Martha is not distracted by cooking dinner, but by tending to her village. Feeding the hungry, caring for the widows, visiting sick and imprisoned. Doing all the kinds of things a disciple of Jesus would do locally in her village. 

And being troubled, Martha comes to Jesus to confront him about her sister, Mary. Now, ever why wonder why Mary doesn’t speak in this story? It is likely because she isn’t even there. Again the connotation in Greek is that Mary has left her sister, Mary has gone off with the rest of Jesus’ travelling disciples to preach the good news throughout Galilee. Martha does not know where Mary is but Jesus does. And so she is relaying the message through him, that she wants her sister to come home. 

And just maybe Martha isn’t only stressed by the task of ministering to her community. Maybe she is worried about her sister who is out on the road, out doing the things that are usually reserved for men, out in the world which is not a safe place, especially for a woman (remember the bandits we just heard about in the story of the Good Samaritan). 

And so in the midst of her troubled spirit and worry about her sister, Jesus brings Martha back to herself. ‘Martha, Martha’ Jesus says her name twice. Like a good friend grounding another, Jesus helps her find her feet. 

Jesus looks around the village of Bethany, knowing all that Martha is tending to in her community, all the care she is giving. “You have much that troubles you Martha, but there is only thing.” Jesus tells Martha that despite the many jobs and responsibilities of caring for her community, that there is only one call to discipleship. The same call that both sisters are following each in their own way.

And so this story that we used to think was about a couple of sisters fighting over the domestic duties of hosting a guest in their home is something completely different. It is the story of a disciple who confronts Jesus when he arrives in her town with her narrow expectations for what the work of the Kingdom of God might look like, only to have Jesus remind her that ministry and God’s work happens in a variety of ways, and through a variety of people. 

Sound familiar? 

As churches we have had the habit of being Marthas, not in the distracted busybody way, but as communities that have often and long expected the work of the kingdom to look and be a certain way. We have preferred ministry to take place among us according to our vision and expectations. And lately — say in the past 20 years or so — keeping up with it all has been troubling us and stressing us out. Especially as we think there are folks who should be here with us doing this work. 

But Jesus meets us where we are and grounds us too. “Church, Church, you are stressed and troubled by many things, but there is only need of one thing.”

There is only one thing to keep at the forefront, one thing to press us on, one thing that guides us as followers of Christ:

There is only one call to ministry. That each who is called to serve is called by the same God with the same call.  That one call is expressed in the variety of work that God is doing in and through us and countless others. 

We have been hearing this message over and over again in the Gospel of Luke. As Jesus and the disciples have gone about Galilee proclaiming the gospel, Jesus has ben constantly challenging the displaces to expand their understanding of what God’s work in the world can look like. To be open to others and their different forms of service, who have also heard that one call to discipleship.

And so as we enter this new age of being church together, Jesus is challenging us to too:

Jesus is hearing our complaints and struggles and stress, hearing our prayers and pleas. 

Jesus is calling out our names and grounding us again in the Word of God and the sacraments. Jesus is reminding us that God us the one who calls us to serve, and we don’t get to decide what what service looks like for everyone. 

And Jesus shows us that this call, this ministry, this discipleship, this preaching of the good news is going to look and be different than we expect. 

But it is still the work of the gospel, still the work of the church, still part of the body of Christ to which we all belong. 

Today we are called to be like both Mary and Martha, disciples following God calls, using our diverse gifts to take the good news first given to us, good news of mercy and new life, out to the whole world. 

Just who is the Good Samaritan?

Luke 10:25-37
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity….

*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

We have been making our way through Luke’s gospel for a few weeks now. Today, we hear a well known parable again.  We pick up with Jesus just after the 70 disciples have returned and we hear about The Good Samaritan. Just the name of this familiar parable carries so much meaning for us. We speak of good Samaritans as, those who carry out random acts of kindness to complete strangers. We praise Good Samaritan and altruistic behaviour. We even name hospitals and care homes after the Good Samaritan. Being a Good Samaritan is an ideal to aspire to. 

We know this story, and we are often pretty sure that we think we know what it means. We have all heard the sermons that come along with this story. Condemnation for the priest and the levite who walk on by. Praise for the Good Samaritan who stops to help when he has no obligation to help. And so follows the logic. See your neighbour in unexpected people. Be Good Samaritans to those in need. Don’t look down who are less fortunate than you are. We hear this story and we remember the moral messages that we have heard associated with it. We can almost just turn our brains off at this point, because we know the story and we probably know the end of the sermon. 

So often we forget why Jesus told this story in the first place. 

It all begins with Jesus teaching and preaching, when an expert in the law stands up to challenge him. Not a lawyer in the chasing ambulances and cheesy late night commercials sense. But an expert in Hebrew law, the Torah, the law of Moses. Religious law. The question that the challenger asks is not an honest question, but one meant to trap Jesus. To get Jesus to fall in line with tradition religious teaching, or out himself as a heretic. 

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

It is a loaded question. A tough question. A dangerous question.

It begins with “What must I do”  a statement that is searching for certainty and control. It comes from a self-centred place, it is about me, my life, my actions, my power. 

And “to inherit eternal life?” It is a question of place, of God’s place in our world, in our lives. It is not so much how can I get into heaven, but more about how can I be in control, how I can be God in God’s place, how can I be the one who determines my own goodness and righteousness.

Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer, and forces the lawyer to answer his own question with proper religious teaching. Jesus’ clever reversal reveals the lawyer’s true motivation. In perhaps the most important line of the whole story, we hear that the lawyer wants to justify himself. 

The lawyer wants to justify himself. Save himself. Earn his own way into heaven. Earn his own salvation. Make himself righteous. 

As Lutherans we should know this word. One of the most important refrains of Martin Luther and the reformers was, Justification by Grace through Faith and not by works. Meaning, we are saved not by works, but by grace. 

And yet most of the time, most of us would rather be with the lawyer. We would much prefer to save ourselves, we would much prefer to be the who make ourselves right, who justify ourselves, who judge ourselves and others, who earn our own way into heaven. 

In fact most Christians, and even Lutherans, despite what we are taught in confirmation, if asked, would say that in order to get into heaven you “have to be a good person”. And while it sounds innocent enough, it is actually a statement that puts us in control. Our actions determine our worth and righteousness. 

But Jesus does not let the lawyer off the hook. Nor does he let us off the hook. 

We want to make this parable all about how we can be Good Samaritans, but consider again the characters of the story. The priest and levite are not the bad guys, but in fact the best that human religion and human laws have to offer. They pass by not because they are uncaring, but because maybe they feel like their religion demands it. They could be made unclean by touching a dead body, which would then prevent them from fulfilling their religious duty as they faced 7 days of ritual purification. 

Or maybe they didn’t help because they were afraid. They worried that the same bandits who caught this man would get them. They were worried about what would happen to themselves if they stopped to help. 

The Samaritan is a foreign Jew, and outsider who worships the same God, but NOT in the same way. A Jew that is thought to be unclean already, a jew who worships wherever he wants, not only in the temple. This man can help because he is already rejected by law and religion. This man does help he worried about what would happen to the man in the ditch if he did NOT stop. 

The lawyer would not want to be a ‘Good Samaritan’ and nor would we really. We want to know that the good we do will get us into heaven, but we do not really want to be outsiders or unclean or those on the margins of society. 

This story is not a moral tale about good works that will earn us heaven, it is not about who is my neighbour, bur really about the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Hear the story again, as Jesus’ audience would have heard it:

“Human kind” was going down from “The Holy City” into “the night”, and fell “into the hands of Sin and Death” who stripped “Humanity,” beat “humanity”, and went away, leaving “humanity” half dead. Now by chance “Religion” was going down that road; and when he saw “Human kind”, “Religion” passed by on the other side. So likewise “The Law”, when he came to the place and saw “Humanity” passed by on the other side. But “the Grace and Mercy of God” while traveling came near “to Human kind”; and when “Grace and Mercy” saw humanity, “she” was moved with pity. “Grace and Mercy” went to humanity and bandaged humanity’s wounds, and fed humanity with bread and wine. Then “Grace and Mercy lifted humanity up”, brought humanity to an Inn, ‘a place of rest’, and took care of humankind. The next day “she”  took out two “days wages’” and gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of “human kind”; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.

We are not the Good Samaritan. We do not have the power to justify our selves. We cannot do works good enough to get ourselves into heaven and nor does God expect us to. 

We are the ones lying in the ditch. We are the ones who are half – dead, the ones who are judged and passed over by religion and the law. The ones who are in the need but for whom there is only condemnation offered by the law and religion. 

And yet, as we lie half-dead, there is One who can offer grace and mercy. There is One who is not constrained by law or religion, One who is not concerned with becoming unclean by coming into contact with us. One who is more concerned with what will happen to us if they do not help, that what will happen to them if they do. 

And this is the One who finds us in the ditch, One who speaks a word of forgiveness and of mercy to our dying bodies, One who washes and cleans us in the waters of baptism, One who feeds us and heals us with bread and wine, with the Body and Blood of God. 

God the Good Samaritan is who this story is really about. God who saves, who justifies, who makes righteous is the One that meets us on road, who finds us half way to sin and death. God is the one who grants us eternal life, we do not earn it ourselves.

Like so much when it comes to what Jesus says to us, we would rather make it about ourselves, for good or for ill. Yet God knows this, and God crosses the road for us anyways. God meets us where we are. Whether we are trying to trap Jesus, or whether we would rather justify ourselves, God comes. God comes to us in Christ, comes to us on our terms, comes to us with grace and mercy, with forgiveness for our desire to be in control. 

The parable of the Good Samaritan who reminds us to be to good people and to care for our neighbour, may very well turn our brains right off. But the parable of the God Samaritan who cross the road, who pulls out of the ditch, who shows us grace and mercy, who tells us of a God who would justify, who would save us no matter who little we want to be saved. This is the parable that Jesus tell us today. 

The parable of humanity in the ditch, and God the Good Samaritan. 

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. 

Sermon – Jesus and the spirits of fear that possess us all

Luke 8:26-39
Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

*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.

The long season of green or Ordinary Time has begun, and for the next 25 weeks or so, we will be hearing the stories of Jesus ministry: his teachings, parables and miracles. In contrast to the stories and pacing of the the first half of the church year,  Ordinary Time or counting time has a way of meandering and lingering with the stories. There is no agenda or place to get to, simply hearing what Jesus is up to week after week is the point. And after a busy Advent through Easter, taking the time to slow down an re-orient ourselves in the Jesus story isn’t such a bad feeling. 

So today, we begin with an infamous and often quoted story from the gospel of Luke. Jesus and the disciples sail across the sea of Galilee to gentile territory and show up in the region of Geresa, a place where no self-respecting Jew would ever want to find themselves.

Geresa was a town on the other side of the sea of Galilee from Judea, it was a mixed territory, where Jews and Gentiles both lived. But Geresa more recently was also a Roman military outpost, where Roman soldiers were stationed. And because occupying soldiers need food and shelter, the towns people were forced to work in service of the army, raising pigs and hosting their oppressors. 

But Jesus doesn’t just show up in Geresa, the first person he meets there is a man possessed by unclean spirits. A man living in the town cemetery. An outsider. 

So when Jesus shows up in Geresa, he is showing up in a place that good jews would avoid at all costs because everything about this place is unclean. The town, the cemetery, the pigs, the possessed man. This isn’t just the discomfort we might feel visiting a poor, impoverished, rundown part of the city. This is about Jesus and the disciples coming into contact with the unholy, about Jesus becoming unholy himself. It isn’t just the possessed man who has an unclean spirit, but everything around this place seems to suffer from unclean spirits. 

And those who lived there, did as much as they could to protect themselves from the unclean spirits around them. The people shackled the possessed man in the cemetery in order to avoid his uncleanliness. The possessed man tries to escape the chains of the townspeople, so that he can avoid their shackles. The pigs are kept near the cemetery so that everyone can avoid the unclean spirits of the Roman occupiers. And by the time people figure out what Jesus is up to in their town, they even ask him to go away too, fearing what kind of unholy power he might possess. Of all the unclean spirits in this place, the greatest is not Legion or the Romans or the pigs. But fear. The unclean spirit of fear has gripped and paralyzed the people of Geresa. 

Certainly, if at any point in our lives we understand those poor folks in Geresa it is now. The unclean spirit of fear has been dwelling among us for a while now. We all remember when it first settled in… at least we think we do. Some might say it appeared the week that the NBA and NHL shut down, the week that the schools and churches and countless businesses closed their doors. 

But maybe it came about later when the protests erupted following the death of George Floyd. Or could it have been November 2020 as the world watched and waiting to see what would happen in the US Election… or then on January 6th on Capitol Hill. Maybe it was the lockdown of June last year, when we could not even meet with people outside our own households. Or this January as the trucker protests rolled towards Ottawa and to border crossings.

Or maybe it is right now as inflation and interest rates rise, making it harder to make ends meet. Maybe it is war going on in Ukraine, refugees arriving on our doorstep, continued calls for help. 

And yet the unclean spirits of fear didn’t just show up in 2020… We can see them all over the place going back in history. The presidential election of 2016, the 2008 financial crisis, 9/11. 

And just like the fearful people of Geresa, the spirits inhabit the world all around us. We know them on a large scale, we know them on the personal scale. We know them in world events, we know them on our streets, in our hospitals, in our community, in our neighbourhoods, in our homes. And as much as try to avoid coming into contact with the unclean spirits of our world, to avoid coming face to face with the things or people we fear the most. We end up possessed in some way or another. We end up ruled by the fears of the day. 

And in case we thought we could forget or pretend the unclean spirits of our fear don’t exist, we have been rocked by tragedy after tragedy these past weeks. Shootings in schools and churches. More unmarked graves discovered on the grounds of residential schools. More warnings of climate change, extreme heat after an extremely wet spring. 

The unclean spirits of fear push and pull at us. They demand that we protect ourselves from anyone or anything different. They make us feel like need to divide ourselves from the other, build walls to keep the other out, destroy the other in order stop feeling threatened. And thus fear begets more fear and violence begets more violence. 

But the most powerful thing that the unclean spirits of fear make us feel is stuck. They make us feel like we can never escape the other unclean spirits around us, like we can never make the dangers go away. 

And that is why Jesus’ presence in Geresa can seem like such a problem… he is too close to all the unclean spirits, too close for our fear’s liking. 

When Jesus shows up in Geresa, he does exactly what the unclean spirits of our fears keep us from doing. Jesus approaches unafraid. 

Jesus is not afraid of the unclean spirits. He doesn’t fear the town, or the cemetery, or the pigs, or the possessed man. And because Jesus is not afraid that the spirits will taint him, he is willing to meet and be with the community of Geresa. He is willing to meet the possessed man on the man’s turf, in the cemetery. When the possessed man begs for mercy, Jesus simply asks his name. 

And because Jesus is willing to brave the uncleanliness around him, Jesus does what we cannot. Jesus begins to reconcile and rebuild the people of Geresa. He sends the unclean spirit of Legion away. He sends the unclean spirits of oppression, division, intolerance and fear away. Jesus restores the man to community and the community to the man. 

Anyone else would have been afraid of becoming unclean in Geresa. Anyone else would have feared the unholy taint of unclean spirits. But when Jesus comes to this unholy place, God comes and meets the unclean and the unholy. And all of sudden, the fears that held everyone back don’t matter anymore. They don’t matter because the God of all creation, the Holy One of Israel, the Christ in whom we are God’s children makes the unclean clean. In Christ, God shows us how not fearing the unclean spirits, the unclean places, the unclean people allows God to see people instead of a condition. God sees beloved children instead of things to be feared and avoided. God shows us what it looks like to see beyond our fear, and how to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

This past week as council gathered to vision and discern our future, we knew there was a lot of on our plate, and lot challenges to face ahead. But as we talked and unpacked, we began to see that things aren’t all challenges and struggles. We remembered all the things we have been doing during these past years. All the music we made over lockdowns, the small groups that we started, the sermon packages that have been delivered, the continued meeting of youth, confirmation and young adults, even if in new ways. We saw the important work we have done solidifying the foundation, of making ourselves ready and prepared for what comes next, for the exciting opportunities that will undoubtedly come our way.

Sure there is so much to be worried about, so many things to occupy our concerns and fears in this world. Yet, Jesus has habit of showing up right in the middle of our mess, right along side the things that we imagine are insurmountable, and Jesus begins facing and encountering what we cannot do on our own. And from there Jesus begins to show us hope, Jesus shows us all that he is leading us into a hope and future that we would never expect or imagine. 

When the unclean spirits of fear threaten to divide us beyond all hope, to keep us stuck and afraid… God shows up. God shows up despite the uncleanliness. God shows up despite the fear. God shows up to free us to see one another as God sees us. As beloved Children of God.