Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ouch Abraham! That Hurts! - Luke 16:19-31

Preached at Second Presbyterian Church, Albuquerque, Sept. 30, 2007.
Luke 16:19-31:
‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.* The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.* 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

La palabra de Dios. Te escuchamos, O Dios.

Lazarus was homeless.
Ed Loring, who works with homeless writes:
"Homelessness is absurd. Homelessness is unnecessary. Homelessness is hell. Homelessness is negligence, frostbitten toes, crooked and lost fingers, burning, bleary eyes with bad vision and a pair of drugstore reading glasses to mask the shame and blindness.

Homelessness is Henry. Henry grew up [on the res] and 20 years ago came to [Albuquerque] in search of work and his shot at the American Dream. Dark skinned, strong, easygoing, Henry now finds himself a resident of nowhere, while a member of the human community that names itself[ Albuquerque.] Henry lost job after job as do all unskilled workers in our economy. Henry drinks alcohol to ease his pain and grasp once more at his dream. Henry sleeps under a bridge just off the interstate. Sleep comes only in bits and pieces, so he is exhausted when he gets up at 5 a.m. and stumbles toward the local private enterprise labor pool.

“Will I get work today? Do I want work today?”

If a job is offered, most homeless at the labor pool must make a choice: to eat or not to eat. To go out on a job means the worker misses the opportunity for the meals at the food pantry. Stomachs, already groaning from digestive juices sloshing against empty stomach walls, say “Go for the Food pantry.” But a labor pool job, that last glimmer of hope – “maybe today the break will come” – is hard to turn down. Torn between another day of hunger and $25 paycheck, Henry chooses food today. So, he will not work. At 6 a.m., sitting in a metal chair not far from the greasy hand-written sign “No Sleeping Allowed,” Henry falls asleep.

At 7:30 a.m. Henry pulls his aching body out of the chair and heads to the [Storehouse] for the food line. There he meets [100] others who stand in line until the door is opened. By 8:45 he has had a cup of coffee, some food to get him by for a while, and a vitamin C tablet.

Just as Henry is ready to hit the streets, his bowels yell out. He looks for a place to go to the bathroom, but the buildings around keep their doors shut, not wanting the poor and the dirty to use their facilities. So he quickly hides himself behind the dumpster outside. Henry hopes, with his pants below his knees, that no one will see him. When he’s finished, a flicker of desire passes through the broken man’s heart: “If only I had a few sheets of toilet paper, and maybe just a piece of soap and a little water.” But he does not. Now he stinks. Now, as daylight has filled the city streets, Henry is an enemy of the professional, a discarded person, a punk, wino, and bum. He can’t even keep himself clean!

Henry wanders toward [Presbyterian Hospital]. If the guard at the entrance is nice or sleepy, he can wash off there. If the guard is absent he can sit in the [air-conditioned] waiting room until discovered. He sits and looks at his filthy feet. “Damn, how I wish my left shoe had a sole,” he thinks silently to himself, for there is no one with whom to share this most human wish.

When one is poor and carries the terrible burden of homelessness – having nothing to do but wait – time moves so slowly.

Henry, now with nothing to do except shuffle his way uptown to a nearby park. Walking hurts; hunger hurts. Once in the park he can sit down and eat the crusty sandwich given to him earlier that morning. Others wait in the park idly, people mumble to themselves about love and lost children, young men without tender fathers search in a macho, violent-prone society for a way to test and prove their manhood. Henry eats his sandwich. It’s 11:30 a.m. Henry’s day that really never began is almost half over.

He now decides to go for the big $8 job which the medical board allows twice a week: selling his blood plasma. With $8 he can get cigarettes, a half-pint, and a chicken supper. So Henry, reduced to a man who can only muster the energy and hope for survival, heads off to the blood bank. After a two-hour wait, his name is called. Slowly he arises from the floor where he has watched a Perry Mason rerun interspersed with advertisements, which promise a good life if you will only buy some useless product. Henry walks to the hospital bed and lies down. Finally, for the first time in five days, he is comfortable. A nurse stands beside him and applies the needle. His blood begins to drip out of his body, and Henry sleeps. Sleep at the blood bank is unlike sleep anywhere else for the homeless. Here, bleeding, Henry is safe. The temperature is comfortable, and the noise of the television and the voices in the waiting room are muted by the closed door. Yes, the safest and most comfortable place for a homeless person in all of Albuquerque is on the blood bank bed. It’s a pity that one can only be there four hours a week.

Henry’s day is over. His life, according to many who understand human existence as rooted in a structure of meaning and purposefulness, has been over for years. Homelessness is death. Homelessness is absurd. Homelessness is unnecessary. Homelessness is hell."1

Lazarus was homeless. He has very little in common with his neighbor, described simply as the rich man. The poor man, Lazuras, knows of that rich man, boy does he know of him, he sleeps outside that rich man’s mansion every night. He dreams of eating the crumbs from his table—something dogs do, but instead dogs lick the poor man’s sores; Lazarus dreams of maybe sleeping, just in the closest of one of the rich man’s many rooms, instead he sleeps outside his gate; he dreams of wearing maybe one of his clean bath robes; instead he has on the same rotting rags that have covered his body for years.

Lazarus probably knows the rich man’s name, even though we don’t; the rich man most likely has no idea what Lazarus’ name is; he’s given him other names--nuisance, disgusting, unclean, get lost. The rich man knows of the poor man, Lazarus is probably the thorn in his side; the poor man’s sores all over his body cause the rich man’s ulcers; the poor man is rich man’s greatest fear—so he has no other choice but to build walls; security systems. Both are the bane of the other’s existence.

One thing Lazarus and the rich man have in common: the date of death. One morning Lazarus is found frozen to death; hidden underneath the patched blanket draped over him. He’s carried off by angels to be with Father Abraham. That same morning the rich man was discovered; died in his sleep; buried underneath fine satin sheets and a silk comforter. He wakes up hot, hot like Las Cruces in the middle of summer. What the …? what’s going on? His mouth is dry, his clothes stick to his body, he looks up and sees Lazarus with Father Abraham. But this time he really sees him, sees his peaceful face, his comfort. “This isn’t fair,” the rich man calls out. "Señor Abraham, and Señora Sara, no se acuerden de mi? I’m a good Presbyterian. Went to church, tithed, helped out with the stewardship campaign.

Look at Lazarus, why he never did anything but beg and look for food in my garbage cans; what’s he doing up there? Well, at least now he’s good for something…can he bring me a glass of water? Please?!"

“Woah!” replies Señora Sarah, “things have really changed. Don’t you remember how long you enjoyed everything you wanted? You had everything while Lazarus was lucky to get into your garbage.”

"Besides,” says Señor Abraham,” “it’s a shame, but Lazarus can’t get to where you are and you can’t get here either. Someone put up a tall wall with broken glass on the top; there’s a security fence with long spikes on top—actually, it was you. You put up the fence so that Lazarus, and people like him couldn’t get to you, and now, even though you want him to come to you they can’t. No one can cross.” (Adapted From: Murphy Davis, A Work of Hospitality 1982-2002, p. 305.)

Ouch…that’s harsh Abraham.

The crazy thing about this passage, is that the thrust of it’s message depends completely on where your sitting as you hear the story.

For some, maybe your sitting with Lazarus: Think about your own suffering, suffering that has come at the hands of others, suffering that has come from artificial divisions that have led to oppression. This could be a passage of incredible comfort and hope. Why, the thought of sitting in comfort and in the bosom of the father of our Faith is occasion for great joy. For others, if we take it seriously it is a cause of slight panic. What if I’m like the rich man? what if I’m the one who excludes? Who build walls of separation? who steps over Lazarus as I make my way toward comfort Inn? What if it’s me, a person of privilege who will suffer in the end? Señor Abraham, no se acuerda de mi? I’m a good Presbyterian, even a minister.

This is not an easy passage to preach on really. Especially when I am just getting to know this congregation a little better. It’s difficult to talk about class differences, and Jesus seems to come down very hard on those who are wealthy and have privilege. It’s also difficult to talk about Heaven and Hell, and this is one of the most clear passages found in scripture depicting this kind of duality. This parable opens up a whole lot of cans of worms…and I don’t have much time to preach, but be sure to write down any questions or thoughts that you may have. I’m sure Jaime will be willing to talk about things with you later this afternoon, and of course you can corner Rob later this week or next Sunday! Rob what is all this about?

But I would like to leave you with at least one ray of light. One message of hope. I don’t think that we, as people who seek to follow after Jesus find ourselves as just the rich man or as Lazarus…but we can find ourselves in either position at various times in our lives. Some days any one of us may be the one who is on the opposite of walls of discrimination and oppression, a barrier that would cause us to suffer. And other days we may be the ones who have put up the wall of division that harms someone else; Division that would create hell on earth for some, so that we might live in comfort.

But, what Jesus wanted above all else was for the Pharisees to remember! Remember the law:
“The harvest is to be shared with the poor and the transient (Lev. 19:9-10);
“you shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land” (Deut. 15:7-11).

Jesus banged the Pharisees over the head and say remember the noisy prophets who screamed:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

As followers of Jesus we are to remember these things! And when we remember, we are to act. Why we are following Jesus in the first place? Jesus’ ministry is about breaking down barriers, about turning walls into bridges, it’s about reconciling ourselves with one another and with any whom we may have harmed or have harmed us. It’s about living in an alternative community in which all are welcomed; none who come to the doors are left out on the street to suffer for any reason at all!

Rob woodruff and I have quickly become good friends since I moved to Santa Fe back in January of this year. It’s been great to meet someone in a similar situation as me, fairly new to ministry still, both in our early thirties, both Anglo males, both educated at small Liberal Arts Colleges, and later at Presbyterian Seminaries. We’ve both lived in Latin America. We’re both married to incredible women; And now we both serve as the “head honchos” in smaller Presbyterian Churches; churches that also have similar histories. Both churches grew out of a ministries of First Churches. Both churches have a history of Spanish: Las dos iglesias requieren que sus ministros hablen ingles y español. It’s kind of scary all we have in common. Already people have mistaken the two of us; Maybe the only way you can tell us apart is that Rob usually has a pair of sunglasses on top of his head—Does he wear them on Sunday Mornings too? I only wear mine when I’m biking. With so much in common, it’s no wonder Rob and I have quickly become good friends.

But this mornings passage is about a relationship of extreme differences; about people who don’t get along at all, who seem to have nothing in common; besides the day of their death. Both Lazarus and the rich man are children of Father Abraham. In other words. They are of the same family. And when we consider ourselves children of God, and others who are also part of God’s creation, Children, from the same family, we may begin to act differently toward those we may have otherwise excluded.

Have you noticed that much of this morning’s focus has been on the hell part of life and the life here-after? Ahh but wait, don’t we remember that there was another part of the story What about heaven? “’Do you want to see heaven?” asks Jesus. “Do you want a picture of life abundant? I invite you into the kingdom of God, the full life, the Reign of God’s power and amazing grace.’”

“Come on, I’ll show you what it looks like. I’ll draw you a picture. Again and again, Jesus, the prophets, and the psalmists show us a feast, a party, a celebration, a banquet where the blind the crippled, and the lame come from the highways and the byways; they come from the north and south, from east and west, to sit at the overflowing table of the Kingdom of God. They are the misfits and the prodigals, the foreigners and the friendless. The come, perhaps uncertain at first, but soon drawn into the joy of the celebration. They sit together, enjoying newfound sisters and brothers and the abundance of everything they need and more, which is what our Creator wants and intends for every child of God." 2

In that place, there is nothing that would separate, there is nothing that would divide. Yes this is the reality Jesus dreams of, and this is the reality that you and I can work toward as we seek to break down walls that would divide. As we open the doors of our churches, as we open the doors of our hearts. Not just to those who are so much like us in looks, ideology, socioeconomic status: boy, it’s easy to get along with Rob, But also, but even more so with those who may be so very different from us. Especially open our doors and our hearts to those who are experiencing a living hell on this earth, just as Lazarus did.

And what I would love to see, as we get to know each other better, and as you get to know Westminster better, and Westminster gets to know Rob better, is that we could encourage one another in a common mission. In a mission of reconciliation. A ministry of peace. And hope for all in both this world and the next.

1 Adapted from Ed Lorings Article, “Homelessness is Hell,” A Work of Hospitality 1982-2002, pp 50-??.

2 Murphy Davis, A Work of Hospitality 1982-2002,305.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Urgent: Make Friends! Use extreme measures When Necessary. Luke 16:1-9

Preached at Joint Presbytery Meeting, Sierra Blanca and Santa Fe in Las Cruces. Sept 29, 2007

Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” 3Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” 6He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” 7Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth* so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

La Palabra de Dios. Te Escuchamos, O Dios.

So Marty Bruner called me long before I knew anything really about anything and asked if I’d be willing to preach for this presbytery meeting. “Sure,” I said. Wait when is it? During this time, I’m thinking what an honor, why am I being asked to preach at Presbytery already? Well, here’s my chance. My chance to just let it all out…let everyone know exactly what I think about how things are going…the state of affairs in the church and in the world. Any text to choose from…any message I feel I must share.

It wasn’t until later that I found out that:

One, it’s fairly common practice to ask newer minister members of presbytery to preach at presbytery meetings.

Two, coming down to Cruces could be a lot of fun, even crossing over into Juarez, unless you have to get a sermon ready, preach.

And three, the preaching came at 8:30 in the morning. That’s really early, for me at least.

But it’s all good. My first year has kind of been like a hazing process, doing all kinds of things that I don’t necessarily want to do; but that others think would be good for me to do...or not so good. My stomach was on fire my first few weeks in Santa Fe because everyone wanted to take us to their favorite place for New Mexican Food. It’s all good; I’ve learned that in these early days of ministry I have to stay on my toes. I have to figure out what’s going on. So part of figuring stuff out is reusing sermons. This passage from Luke was the lectionary passage from last Sunday. Raise your hand if you preached or heard a sermon preached on Luke 16 last Sunday? How did it go?

But why this text for presbytery? A parable about a corrupt manager who loses his job; and then in desperation uses dishonest tactics to save his neck, and is subsequently commended for his behavior? Given all that is going on within our church; why not a sermon about loving each other; one about unity; maybe even a sermon about marriage given the steps that are being taken between the presbytery of Santa Fe and Sierra Blanca. But I was inspired to preach this text, especially after the interpretation of it by homiletics professor Tom Long who preached at our baccalaureate service from Columbia Seminary (two preachers from CTS preached at this presbytery meeting). He was preaching to inspire leaders in the church and this was the parable he thought appropriate. He pointed out the reality that the seminary had been graduating ministers for centuries; that the Presbyterian church has been in existence for centuries, and that really when we consider our task to work and serve in any church, be it as an elder or a minister, that in reality, time is short. I was ordained in February of this year, in the blink of an eye I will be among those retiring, or listed in the necrology report. The Psalmist reminds us: “They flourish like a flower in the field , [and then]….the wind passes over it and it is gone.” Our lives are finite; we are not God; at some point things will end even for the newest commissioner, even for the most recently ordained; a reality that hopefully doesn’t lead to despair, but instead to urgency. We have a limited time, so what are we going to do?

This parable of the “Unjust or Crooked Manager” gets right at this. It’s a scenario we hear time and time again—corporate scandal—Enron, the New England Patriots. In our story, the wealthy CEO hears of his dishonest negligent manager’s behavior; so he calls the guy in: “What have you been doing, sleeping on the job all day? You didn’t think I would see how you’ve been mishandling my business: “You’re fired!” These words pierce our very souls, cause nightmares or insomnia, and can lead to crisis. What was the guy to do? He’s been in upper management for most of his career; he can’t do any physical labor, his back would probably give out and get blisters on his hands; and there’s no way he’s going to beg. So he gets in survival mode; think fast; he’s got a plan. What clients have outstanding debts? He calls them into his office one by one before it is taken apart: “Hello good and loyal customer how much do you owe?” Why, for being such a loyal customer, I’ll do you a favor, cut your debt in half; I’m in that kind of mood. Have a good day, Next. Oh hello…you…how much you got left to pay? You and me, we’re good friends right? Let’s turn that 100 into eighty, Ey, good buddy. Next!

You get the idea right.

This guy, whose already been negligent and dishonest, continues in his dishonest ways to save his own neck; he knows the rules of the game, he knows that if he scratches their backs now, they will surely scratch his back later. Didn’t Jesus disapprove of this kind behavior when he got after the Pharisee for inviting the wrong people to his party? So what does Jesus think about this kind of behavior now? Surely he’s going to tie it all together by saying how wrong it is to lie, cheat, and steal followed by: “Then the Lord rained on the crooked manager sulfur and fire out of heaven.”1 But no, the dishonest manager is commended! Give ‘em a high five!

The text isn’t clear if it is the CEO or Jesus who commends him. It says: “His master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” It doesn’t make sense for the CEO master to commend this guy for stealing from him. But, it doesn’t make much more sense that Jesus is commending this kind of behavior, does it? But Jesus’ words that follow provide some insight into this perplexing puzzle. “I wish the children of the light, the people of God, those who would follow after Jesus, were as shrewd for the gospel as the money, power driven wheeler-dealers of the world are shrewd for themselves.”2 You see; there are people in every generation who spend every minute of every day trying to figure out how to get ahead, how to earn a buck; do whatever it takes to get to the top.

My college roommate was unbelievably motivated to get good grades. While I was off hanging out with friends he was studying. While I was sleeping he was studying. During finals week, he drank a cup of coffee every hour and averaged 2 hours of sleep for four days straight. I remember him sleeping out in the hall of our dorm with a note on his sleeping bag that said, If you walk by me at 5 o’clock in the morning and I’m not awake, please wake me up. He was crazy…but he got good grades.

How many wake up early morning to follow the stock market and do some day trading—MSNBC with streaming tickers on 24/7? Wake up and try on a dozen different outfits: which will be the right one? Wake up in the morning scheming how the Rockies can get into the playoffs? But that is the behavior Jesus is commending. The idea of it, at least.

Jesus says, “I wish the people of God would have that kind of determination, that kind of focus and energy, enthusiasm and shrewdness for being the community of beloved disciples participating in God’s mission in the world.” Is this what that ordination question is about? We all made the same promise when we took our ordination vows. Just a few months ago I stood on the floor of the church that raised me and nurtured me and pledged:

I will seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

What would happen to our churches, to the national church, to the world if we were about doing God’s mission with the kind of passion and energy that the crooked manager had when his life was on the line. Urgency, Shrewdness. A matter of survival. People would probably think we were a bunch of Jesus freaks. But let’s not complicate the mission. Why freak people out? It’s not necessarily about talking the right kind of good Christian talk, or being seen in the right kind of places, Shrewdness for being the community of beloved disciples; eyes open and a heart to serve. Prayer, and genuine concern and love for others. Knowing when it’s time to row, when to raise the sails, and what to do when the boat is sinking.

A young woman shared with her congregation about her experience of God…a testimony of sorts. She talked about how she had grown up and been baptized in that church; she pointed at the baptismal font, “There, I was baptized there. “I don’t remember it; I was a baby, but my father loved to tell me about the day I was baptized, what I was wearing, how I reacted to the water, the people there that day, friends and relatives; and he would always end the story by exclaiming, “Oh honey, the Holy Spirit was in the church that day!” “I remember as a child, being restless in worship,” she continued. “I would wonder, ‘Where is the Holy Spirit in this church?’” She pointed to different places in the sanctuary, “Is the Holy Spirit in the rafters? In the organ pipes? In the stained glass windows?” Her voice softened, “As many of you know, I lost both my parents in the same week last winter. In the midst of that terrible week, I was driving home from the hospital, having visited my parents, knowing that I might never see them alive again, and I stopped by the church, just to think and to pray. “Sarah Lopez was in the church kitchen, getting ready for a supper, and she saw me sitting all by myself in one of the back pews. She knew what was happening in my life, knew about my parents, and she took off her apron and came and sat beside me, holding my hand and praying with me. It was then that I knew where the Holy Spirit was in this church.” Sarah Lopez could have left her apron on and gone about her important work; people were counting on her for the supper; people would have continued to think highly of her, a faithful and obedient churchwoman. But she was shrewd, her eyes and heart were open, and she had good enough sense to act with urgency;

the grieving young woman sobbing in the sanctuary” was much more in need of loving care than was the kitchen.3

Jesus said: “I wish the children of light were as shrewd as the children of this age.” Words of great challenge; followed by words that are really confusing: “Followers, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”4 Say what? Dishonest wealth to make friends. Now some of us are better at making friends than others; all of us could probably use a little something extra—a little more than just our charming personalities and brilliant smiles- to make friends with people; for people to like us. But dishonest wealth? For crying out loud, we’re good Christians after all.

This is clearly about money; Jesus is very concerned about economics. But what does Dishonest Wealth mean? Perhaps a more helpful translation could be “the money of this unrighteous age.” “In other words, it is not money that is corrupt, it’s the culture that is corrupt. And Jesus is not talking about dishonest money versus good money. He is talking about all money, every last penny of the currency of our culture. Jesus wants us to take all of the money we have,” and all the things we can do with our money and “make friends for ourselves with it.”5

Here then is the heart of the matter. The world will eagerly tell you how to use your money shrewdly. If you have money,” we’re told to invest it, buy real estate, “put it to work in the marketplace. It takes money to make money, …so take a little pile of dough and make it rise.

And that is very shrewd advice, indeed, unless, unless, unless this world, with all of its glittering empires, is passing away. What if the truth, hidden from the savvy investors of Wall Street, prudent real estate advisors, is that this world and all of its glory is dying right before our very eyes, and a new world, God’s very own world, is being born? Then a new wisdom would come about. The shrewd among us would invest what we have not in this world but in the world to come.“6

Isn’t this what Jesus is telling his followers? “Make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of this world that is passing away, invest in the world that is to come, invest in what will truly endure.”7 What if we imagined the wealth of this world like monopoly? When you start the game you’re given a certain amount of cash, and you’re supposed to invest it, buy property, and try to stay out of jail. You may end up with a lot of cash, and a lot of property, but in the end, the game ends, the money is useless. This is what the currency of this world is like in light of what Jesus is saying, right? It’s like having monopoly money, you can buy park place and boardwalk, but in the end it doesn’t mean anything. And “when we think about this parable in relationship to the church and its ministry, it becomes clear that this is about more than simply cash—not just about money, its about everything!”8

Use the stuff that is available, the resources, however much or little we have in our individual churches, in our respective presbyteries, in our denomination to make friends with this world;

make friends with as much energy, imagination, creativity and shrewdness as the dishonest manager. What do we have as individuals who seek to follow Jesus? Jobs that don’t pay what we might like? Not enough time in the day? What do our respective presbyteries have as we seek to love God and others? Under funded camps, declining memberships, churches that have to be closed? Some might say, we don’t have much, what can we do? But, WWSMD? What would the shrewd manager do? Wouldn’t the shrewd manager see the current state of affairs in our churches and be scheming, conniving, dreaming different ways to make friends with the world. For the shrewd manager making friends was a matter of survival. How do we use the stuff? Do we help folks out with gas money or food? Do we try to give employment whenever possible? Do we host AA groups or community events in our buildings? How do we use the stuff to make friends with this world? Do we consider different styles of worship? Do we use technology—websites for our churches, podcasting, blogs or Social networking sites like facebook to preach good news? Do we use our imagination, creativity and energy and love?

Our eyes and ears must be open, our hearts and minds ready; the holy spirit may use us by whatever means necessary to make friends. And Jesus has already told us earlier in Luke 14 what kind of friends we’re to make. The poor, the outcast, the marginalized, the lonely,
those who are suffering, those who need healing, those who need radical love in their lives;
those who may never be able to repay the favor given to them; this includes people in here and people out there.

Why? Jesus seems to be suggesting that this is part of a the job description, and we’re to be diligent, determined, shrewd, didn’t you read that in the fine print?

Why? Jesus seems to be suggesting, in typical table turning fashion, that it will be those friends that we are to make, who might not be able to return any “favors” we offer, who will be standing on the inside, opening the doors of welcome in the eternal homes.

I heard Tony Campolo, professor of Sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, tell a story an experience he had during a conference in Hawaii years ago. (some have heard it?) He checks into his hotel and tries to get some sleep. Unfortunately, his internal clock wakes him at 3:00 a.m. The night is dark, the streets are silent, the world is asleep, but Tony is wide awake and his stomach is growling. He gets up and prowls the streets looking for a place to get some bacon and eggs for an early breakfast. Everything is closed except for a grungy dive in an alley.

He goes in and sits down at the counter. The greasy guy behind the counter comes over and asks, "What d'ya want?" Well, Tony isn't so hungry anymore so eying some donuts under a plastic cover he says, "I'll have a donut and coffee." As he sits there munching on his donut and sipping his coffee at 3:30, in walk eight or nine provocative, loud prostitutes just finished with their night's work. They plop down at the counter and Tony finds himself uncomfortably surrounded by this group of smoking, swearing hookers. He gulps his coffee, planning to make a quick getaway.

Then the woman next to him says to her friend, "You know what? Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm gonna be 39."

To which her friend nastily replies, "So what d'ya want from me? A birthday party? Huh? You want me to get a cake, and sing happy birthday to you?"

The first woman says, "Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean? Why do you have to put me down? I'm just sayin' it's my birthday. I don't want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"

Tony sat and waited until the women left, and then he asked the guy at the counter, "Do they come in here every night?"

"Yeah," he answered.

"The one right next to me," he asked, "she comes in every night?"

"Yeah," he said, "that's Agnes. Yeah, she's here every night. She's been comin' here for years. Why do you want to know?"

"Because she just said that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you think? Do you think we could maybe throw a little birthday party for her right here in the diner?"

A smile crept over the greasy man's chubby cheeks. "That's great," he says, "yeah, that's great. I like it." He turns to the kitchen and shouts to his wife, "Hey, come on out here. This guy's got a great idea. Tomorrow is Agnes' birthday and he wants to throw a party for her right here."

His wife comes out. "That's terrific," she says. "You know, Agnes is really nice. She's always trying to help other people and nobody does anything nice for her."

So they make their plans. Tony says he'll be back at 2:30 the next morning with some decorations and the man, whose name turns out to be Harry, says he'll make a cake.

At 2:30 the next morning, Tony is back. He has crepe paper and other decorations and a sign made of big pieces of cardboard that says, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" They decorate the place from one end to the other and get it looking great. Harry had gotten the word out on the streets about the party and by 3:15 it seemed that every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. There were hookers wall to wall.

At 3:30 on the dot, the door swings open and in walks Agnes and her friend. Tony has everybody ready. They all shout and scream "Happy Birthday, Agnes!"

Agnes is absolutely flabbergasted. She's stunned, her mouth falls open, and she almost falls over. And when she sees the birthday cake with all the candles she totally loses it: sobbing and crying.

Harry gruffly mumbles, "Blow out the candles, Agnes. Cut the cake."
So she pulls herself together and blows them out.
Everyone cheers and yells, "Cut the cake, Agnes, cut the cake!"

But Agnes looks down at the cake and, without taking her eyes off it, slowly and softly says, "Look, Harry, is it all right with you if...I mean, if I don't...I mean, what I want to ask, is it OK if I keep the cake a little while? Is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"

Harry doesn't know what to say so he shrugs and says, "Sure, if that's what you want to do. Keep the cake. Take it home if you want."

"Oh, could I?" she asks. Looking at Tony she says, "I live just down the street a couple of doors; I want to take the cake home, is that okay? I'll be right back, honest."

She gets off her stool, picks up the cake, and carries it high in front of her like it was the Holy Grail.

Everybody watches in stunned silence and when the door closes behind her, nobody seems to know what to do. They look at Tony. So Tony gets up on a chair and says, "What do you say that we pray together?" And there they are in a hole-in-the-wall greasy diner, half the prostitutes in Honolulu, at 3:30 a.m. listening to Tony Campolo as he prays for Agnes, that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her.

When he's finished, Harry leans over, and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he says, "Hey, you never told me you were religious. What kind of church do you belong to anyway?"

In one of those moments when just the right words came, Tony answers him somberly: "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning."

tarry He thinks for a moment, and in a mocking way says, "No you don't. There ain't no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. Yep, I'd join a church like that."9

What kind of church do we want to be? Are we willing to be shrewd, to use the stuff of this world, whatever we’ve got, to make friends. This is what really matters. Will we seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love? Our lives are so brief... “they flourish like a flower of the field…the wind passes over it and it is gone.” in the blink of an eye, I will be retiring or found in the necrology report. But don’t despair, instead act with diligence, shrewdness, urgency. It may be a matter of survival. Make Friends for Christ: “In the end, only that will endure.”10

1 Leviticus

2 Adapted from T. Long’s paraphrase of this verse.

3 Adapted from T. Longs “Making Friends,” Journal for Preachers, 52-57.

4 T. Long, “Making Friends,” Journal for Preachers, p 54

5 T. Long “Making Friends,” Journal for Preachers, p 54.

6 T. Long “Making Friends,” Journal for Preachers, p 55

7 T. Long “Making Friends,” Journal for Preachers, p 55

8 T. Long “Making Friends,” Journal for Preachers, p 55.

9 Adapted from the way I remember it being told and the retelling of the story on:

10 T. Long “Making Friends,” Journal for Preachers, p 57.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Luke 15:1-10

Let’s face it; being lost stinks.

Has anyone not been lost before? It was fun to recount stories with Trasie’s brother in town of the times Trasie had been lost. Such as her sophomore year of college; going to the beach with friends, which means in Georgia you go east. Two hours later, when she crossed the state line into Alabama, she realized she had been going west. The time she got lost in the Super K-mart; and her mom called her over the intercom—as if God was calling her from above—Trasie, come this way; I’m looking for you. Then there was the time she went to the haunted house (“it was horrible”) The men—Her brother and father—decided not to go in for whatever reason; so she and her mom bravely entered; and after all kinds of terrifying experiences, the person leading them around couldn’t find the way, suddenly the lights went out; tears began to streak down her and her mom’s faces. Finally someone came and grabbed them by the hand and led them out....And if being lost stinks: losing something stinks just as badly.

My Keys, my wallet, my phone, all tend to disappear more often than I would like.

I remember the time we lost my grandma Topple. All of her family was caravanning up to Canada in three different vehicles one summer. I was seven; and remember vividly when my uncle, driving one of the other cars drove up beside our van, rolled down the window and asked if grandma was in our car. NOPE? We shouted….I think we left her at the rest area!

30 minutes after we had left that place fortunately it dawned on someone that she wasn’t in any of the cars. Life before cell phones; Grandparents get lost. When we picked her up she was just patiently waiting there, confident that at some point we would come back for her. What a relief!

What a relief when we found one of the campers who had gotten lost on the mountain. I was a camp counselor one summer; leading a group of 12 boys ages 9-11 on a day hike. After making it to the top, a little race back to camp was instigated; so we all begin to run. The trail was well marked, no problem. Slowly but surely all the boys make it back, except for one.

Has anyone seen Billy? Yeah, I remember passing him down the mountain. We look at each other and yell, Billy, but no answer. A couple of the older boys and I take off running together back up the mountain; leaving the rest of the group behind. After about 10 minutes of searching and yelling, which seemed like 10 years, We finally hear a faint yell back; I’m over here. Thank God! Smart kid, once he realized he was lost, just sat down where he was and waited. A good lesson: When you get lost just sit down and wait till someone finds you, or call someone on their cell phone.

I doubt that that sheep that the shepherd lost really knew that technique of waiting in one spot until it was found. And they definitely didn’t have cell phones back in those days, as if it would have don’t that shepherd any good. Jesus is provoked to tell three incredible stories after the authority tell him he isn’t hanging out with the right kid of people. What are you doing hanging around here Jesus? With these kind of people, sinners, tax collectors, people of ill reputation? Three parables. parable from the greek word: parabole, literally “That which is tossed alongside.” Hmm. A comparison, an analogy, an elaboration, or an illustration.1 The sky’s the limit when it comes to telling a parable. It can have many meanings; it can have one meaning; it can be obvious, or hard to figure out. When we hear parables we are invited to insert ourselves into the story, and try to figure it out; this leaves a lot of room for the imagination.

After he is provoked, Jesus looks out and surveys the crowd, and sees some gathered around carrying staffs, others waiting intently and holding brooms. How might he describe the depth of God’s love—about how the lost are sought after and there is great rejoicing when they are found—how does he share this message with them? A sheep who wanders from it’s fold, a coin that has rolled behind the bench. A shepherd searching; a woman scouring her house for something terribly valuable.

So what do you think? Are the figures who search for the lost to represent God? Or Jesus.

We’re used to seeing the docile Jesus as shepherd with sheep draped around his shoulders,

but less often is Jesus, or God for that matter, portrayed as woman with broom in one hand and coin in the other; and a look of delight radiating from her face. And if these are to represent God, and the sheep and the coin that have been lost represent people, does that mean that God has lost something?

These parables can be tricky business: which is why they are so provocative; so much fun.

We can skate back and forth in these stories. We can envision God as the seeker and finder and ourselves as the found object; or at least we are hoping to be found. Or we can be the ones who are seeking out and finding the lost. And looking outside the parable, looking at the scene where Jesus tells the story: we can be the sinners gathered around Jesus; or we can be like the authorities, and think we’re all that.

Where are you sitting this morning? What is going on in your life? Are you searching for something or someone that is lost? Are you feeling a bit lost these days and just hoping to be found and brought back into the fold? Or maybe you’re hiding? Lost: Uncertain about life, about the future, not really having a sense of belonging. The sheep and the coin were both part of a whole, and when they were lost they were separated from that which they were a part of.

When we are lost, we may feel that we don’t really belong anywhere.

Trasie and I have been here for nearly nine months, now, and as we make friends and build relationship we are feeling more and more that we have a place, that we in-fact do belong here in santa fe, but this doesn’t mean that we don’t think about our family and friends and the familiar places once part of our daily life. Our sense of belonging depends on many factors;

how we’re received and perceived by others; how comfortable are we with ourselves.

In today’s world more and more people are migrating, moving here and there and everywhere.
Kids grow up and leave home, and often don’t come back there to live. Many move when they retire; seek life in a better climate. People are displaced due to war or economic conditions.

My friend Ramon from Mexico has been in this country for more than half of his life, but longs to return to Mexico. Separation from home, from family, from friends, from the familiar; he feels lost at times—he longs for belonging.

I think this is the concern Jesus has. That when someone is lost it is because of separation and brokenness; Brokenness and separation with our family and friends; Separation from our place of belonging. Brokennes and Separation from God! For any number of reasons.

We live in a world where we hurt one another and others hurt us. Our families and friends, strangers and enemies hurt us. And this leads to separation and brokenness, broken relationships, and a broken sense of self; and so we wander longing to be found; longing to find.

Often I have heard this parable interpreted to suggest that the church is to be like the shepherd or the woman and seek out the lost. But I wonder if we, who make up the church, are more often than not are more like the lost objects; seeking peace both within ourselves, with others, and with God.

Didn’t you find yourself trying to huddle around Jesus? Trying to listen to and understand his teachings? The people who felt excluded, detached, like we just didn’t belong; in need of salvation. Doesn’t this happen to everyone? So maybe the role of the Christian community is to first recognize our own need to be found, to be part of the whole, to belong. This is why we come together so that we can join in a collective journey, and support one another as we go.

Confident that God is seeking us by any means available until we are found; and found again, and found again! And as a community, we can provide space and care so that others who are wandering may find community, may find restoration, may find the love they may be seeking.

In this way we join in the party. There was a party of heavenly hosts, and I’m sure it was a wild one when each of us discovered within our hearts a sense of being lost, and so we turned toward the one who was seeking us; we allowed him to place us upon his shoulders and make us whole; we were delighted when she picked us up off the ground, dusted us off, and reunited us.

My friend Jon remembered growing up in a household with an abusive father; abusive to both his mother and him. One particular night, when he was still a child, things got really bad in his house. He hid behind the couch trying to hide from the horrible sites; he put his hands over his ears trying escape the horrible sounds; In that moment he wanted to believe God was with him, that God would stop the chaos; “I want to believe in you God, help us.” But the abuse continued, so he said to God that night, “I wanted to believe in you God, but I can’t; I’m never going to believe in you.”

Years later after Jon’s father had left his mother and him; his mother became depressed and at times abusive toward him. One evening, in total despair, he told his mother that he couldn’t stand to live anymore. She suggested that he go up to the top of their building and throw himself off. He went up to the top, Alone, feeling completely lost; he walked toward the edge; but something prevented him from jumping off.

When I met Jon, he was a quite, shy, awkward college kid. For some reason he was coming around to our campus ministry. He seemed to enjoy the parties, and bible studies, often times one and the same, and even though he would hanging back, this huge shell that surrounded his heart was beginning to fall off. About after we met Jon, he shared his story in a small group one day. And as he was telling this story, tears began to well up in his eyes, he said the only problem with his commitment to not believe in God now, was that everywhere he turned he saw God. He would go here and there was God; he would go there and God was before him. God’s pursuit of Jon was relentless.

Yes reconciliation is a possibility. It’s when you see a transformation like the one in Jon’s life that you can experience and grasp the joy, the party that must be going on among the heavenly angels. And perhaps there was even more joy than imaginable in another experience Jon had.

He came around to the campus house absolutely beaming. “I’ve just spoken with my father after years,” he told us, “the healing has begun in our relationship.”

What a joy it must have been for Jesus to welcome tax collectors and sinners, people of bad reputation into his world. What a joy it can be for us to open our lives and our world up to others whom God is pursuing right now; who desire so much to be part of a loving community of the lost, of the seeking, and of the found. It stinks to be lost, but what a relief and joy to be found! It stinks to lose something, but when you find it, it’s hard to contain your relief, your excitement, your joy when you’ve finally found it. Praise God!

1 Craddock, Luke: Interpretation.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Who you inviting to the party?

Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Intro: play Cool and the Gang song, Celebration

So this is fiesta week, and Chester has been in fiesta mode. Gracias a Rosalie Martinez who’s on the fiesta planning committee, Trasie and I scored some VIP tickets to some big time events—Fiestacita and Zozobra. Fiestacita-- the prelude to fiesta at museo cultural--was cool, We got to rub shoulders with many important people—the mayor and other politicians, the reigning reina de fiesta, the queen of fiesta.

And Zozobra began with a pre-party at a house within walking distance of Ft. Marcy. It was a different crowd from those at Fiestacita, a little more eclectic and hippie, including the self described sobrero man. And from that house we marched to Zozobra to join the bigger event.

20,000 people, including Milee, Scarlette Rose and Cheyanne, Gerald, Harold and the Garcia kids, and I’m sure many others of you. What a site, including young kids precious faces displaying confusion, fear, and excitement as the marionette went up in flames…ahhh. Viva la fiesta OOUUHHH.

And the fiestas didn’t stop there. Last night a few of us gathered for a going away party for Marissa Ytuarte at Sander and Christel’s house. Today is the parade, it just keeps going and going! And lest anyone question why this preacher is hanging out so much all over town at fiestas…I’m simply following the example of Jesus right? (How pious).

Contrary to what many may think, Jesus hung out all the time. He would even turn water into wine on occasion. In the book of Luke Jesus is always at a party—dinner parties, picnics where he provided all the food; he eats with tax collectors and sinners, he eats with the more respectable people in town, like in this morning’s story. But, you probably noticed that Jesus wasn’t on his best behavior at this party; he got a little cranky. I don’t think his mother would have approved of his manners.

The scenario is easy enough to envision. First Century Palestine, on a Sabbath afternoon—

the synagogue meeting has just let out, and people are hungry after that long sermon. As was customary, the Religious leader was having folks over to his house for a meal—perhaps not as big a deal as fiestacita, and not even close to a zozobra gathering, but probably more significant than just a few folks eating at the Village Inn after church. A select few were invited, mostly friends, family, and a few of the more well to do members--insiders, people who were well acquainted with one another.

And there’s Jesus, he’d received an invitation, and he’s not one to turn down this kind of opportunity.

So I wonder if Jesus had already had a few appetizers? He’d probably had a few drinks cause he gets a little disruptive--he turns to the host, the religious leader, and goes off. He didn’t say, “thanks for having me over here, this is a great time;” No, he says, “you invited all the wrong people to this party. These people are easy to get along with, you think they’ll make you look good, and you hope their going to return the favor and have you over to their place. I know what you’re up to. They’ll scratch your back if you scratch theirs.

But you know what, you know who you should have invited? You should have invited the outcasts, the marginalized, the people that maybe aren’t quite so accepted in town. You should have invited the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.

What is Jesus trying to do? I bet his disciples were like: here we go again, we’re going to get thrown out of the party. Thanks Jesus. What vision is Jesus trying to promote? Generosity? Mercy? Inclusion of people who are usually excluded? He’s not polite, but certainly direct—and whether or not the religious leader took Jesus’ words to heart or thought to himself, “how rude”—Jesus is attempting to turn this religious leader’s world upside down and inside out.

I guess Jesus wasn’t really about the whole “friends with benefits” concept. About trying to look better by hanging out with the “respectable” people in town. Instead compensation was to take place in some kind of future setting. Instead, there’s a sharp focus on bringing about God’s reign—an eschatological banquet in which the radical concept of “neighbor” becomes common practice, where distinctions of class, race, ideology, and any other factor that would lead to oppression, discrimination, and marginalization of anyone of God’s children is transformed into a world where there is room at the table for everyone… everything is ready, all are invited as integral parts of the gathering, including the blind, the crippled, lepers, deaf, poor, the illegal immigrants, the homeless, the rebellious youth, the isolated seniors; including those whom we may fear most.

So when you hear stories like this, who do you identify with? Probably most of the time we like to think we’re going to identify and be like Jesus—WWJD. Have any of you done something similar to what Jesus did at this party? Could you have seen me at Fiestacita standing up on a table and shouting, “Hey, these aren’t the people you should have invited, Walk down to St. Elizabeth’s and give out invitations there!” Rosalie would have killed me.

But really where I find myself most often is either as a guest at parties or a host: a guest who maybe is easy to hang out with most of the time, respectable and well behaved cause my momma brought me up to be that way, and I may even return the favor. And when I host a get together, it’s usually with a crowd similar to the one the religious leader had over, friends, family, maybe a few very well to do. Yes, I am a religious leader, and yes I find myself terribly reluctant to really seek out those who are oppressed and marginalized and truly attempt to incorporate them into my world; by inviting them over to dinner or otherwise. To be honest this is an awkward position Jesus puts us would be followers in.

But, the thing I find fascinating about this story is that it was a story intended for early Christian communities to hear, and then become a model for what the early Christian community would look like. They lived in a world where the important people who were supposed to be invited to the gatherings—the healthy, the perfect people, the rich, the powerful and the clean—but this common practice was to be inverted in the early church. Instead, those who should be invited are those who are those living with AIDS, those who are looked down upon, the poor, the weak.

And this story is not about helping people out.

It’s not done with a downlooking attitude of the healthy reaching out to the sick,

the normal people to those who are different, those who have toward those who don’t have much; the strong toward the weak; the happy people toward those who suffering. This passage is about integration! Integration of people who need each other not only to live out this commandment of Jesus about who should be invited to the party, but also so that we can be made whole. We have all heard and it makes sense to agree that none of us can be well until all of us are well. As long as any suffer and are rejected, we all experience brokenness. 1

And the key to being part of this vision Jesus has is that we live as community of integrated individuals, regardless of how society my define us as individual; a community where we pray for one another; bear one another’s burdens; share our joy and laughter with each other; celebrate good times together.

But, how do we do it? How do we invite the outcasts and marginalized to the party. Where do we even begin? Some of the more marginalized people in Santa Fe come by my office almost every day. I can had out a few bucks or a gas card, or say a few kind words, but often I think to myself how much easier, how much more feasible it would be to really give care to this person if they were an integrated part of this community of faith. I have seen first hand how this community responds to those in need who are part of the community with wonderful concern and sincere care that paves the way to healing and wholeness. What a blessing it could be if we could begin to integrate some of those folks who come to the door. But, how do we do it?

I think Jesus is right, I think it starts with a party together. At a party, there is time to hang out and take the time to get to know each other. At a meal you sit down at a table that levels the playing field, and you share common food, you share life stories, you see one another eye to eye.

So I mentioned to you that yesterday, Sander and Christel hosted a going away party for Marissa, and Gabe and James were invited. But none of the youth showed up; which is okay. Just cause you plan it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to happen. So Rachel, Christel, Sander, Trasie and me were sitting around with tons of food prepared; and this scripture was fresh in my mind, I said hey let’s go out and invite whoever we see on the street to come over.

But, we decided, “ahh, oh well, we’ll just eat what we’ve got and have leftovers for later.” Cool idea, but putting it into practice takes a little more get up and go.

But, I’ve thought of a time when I can actually try to carry this out. I’m going to reflect a little more over this scripture, and try to identify who here in Santa Fe might fit the description of the people Jesus says should be invited to the party, who are the people at the margins? And then I’m going to seek out a few of the people I’ve thought of and invite them to an upcoming party we’re having here at the church.

The Spanish supper on the 22nd of this month is going to be awesome. Mouthwatering fantastic fellowship. I was thinking about it, the Spanish supper is a fundraiser for the deacons, so the deacons can have some dinero that they can then turn around and give to those who are in need—those who are probably some of today’s marginalized and fringe people. So, here’s my chance. I’m going to buy a couple of extra tickets and invite some of those marginalized folks, and bring them to the party and see what happens. Maybe some of you will want to do the same. It might be awkward to have a bunch of “strangers” at the supper,

but if nothing else, we can sit around a table, share delicious food, talk about life, begin a relationship; and experience integration of togetherness.

We can catch a vision of the kingdom of God, and the glorious banquet feast.

The meal is prepared and ready, invitations are sent out, to everyone—to those who are poor, crippled, blind, and lame.' To those who are lost, confused—invitations are sent even to us to everyone because there is plenty of room at the table. Come in and sit and be part of the feast that the Lord has prepared. There’s party going on right here, a celebration to last throughout the year. Everyone around the world come on.

1 René Krüger, “La inclusión de las personas excluidas La propuesta contracultural de Lucas 14:12-14,: Cuadernos de Theologia, Vol. XXIII, 2005, p 67-88.