GCI Equipper

Pentecost – What the Day Fulfilled and Looks Forward To

Pentecost is much more than the beginning of the New Testament church. It’s a day of change that includes reversals, firsts, fulfilled prophecy and promises, identification, affirmation, and power.

I’m one of those odd persons that loves change. Not all changes, mind you, but I love the challenge of moving forward, trying something new, doing things differently. I love what change can bring – a new outlook, new understanding, new methodology, new perspectives. Pentecost brought all this and more to the disciples and followers of Christ. And truth be told, I would have been just as excited, overwhelmed, and scared as they were. Let’s look at what Pentecost brought.

The great reversal

One of the most common understandings of Pentecost is it brought the great reversal of the Tower of Babel (see Genesis 11:1-9). The story in Genesis tells us that the people settled in a plain and decided to build a tower that would reach into the heavens – “otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” In other words, they said they didn’t want to do what God told them to do: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1 NRSV). They wanted to stay put and do things their way. God had a quick answer; he gave them different languages and scattered them all over the earth.

On Pentecost, God enabled all to hear the same message in their own language. The great reversal isn’t that we all have one language again, but we have one gospel for all people and all languages. It is what brings us back together, this time though, under God’s plan and not our own.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Another great reversal is what this day points toward. The Holy Spirit is not just for a select few, but for all. Believers from every nation present heard the gospel in their own language. Christ died for all – all have the same opportunity to live in him and participate with him in doing what he is doing. The disciples, and later Paul, learned from this event and began sharing the gospel with Gentiles. Paul later made this very clear:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 2:28)

Through the Holy Spirit, all are included. In Paul’s day there were only Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles), so Paul is making it clear no one is excluded. All of humanity fits into these six classifications.  In Christ, all are seen, valued, and heard. All of humanity died with Christ, all are risen with Christ, all are forgiven. Pentecost gives us a message of unity and inclusion.

Prophecy fulfilled

Amid this great miracle, some scoffed and blamed the disciples for drinking too much wine. We can only surmise their hearts were so hardened against Jesus and the disciples that they were unable to hear the message. Peter stood up and said:

Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Acts 2:14-16)

He went on to share how David’s prophecies about the Messiah being resurrected were also fulfilled; then Peter continued to preach Jesus and him crucified. I can only imagine that Peter and the other disciples were recalling Jesus’ words about fulfilling the law and the prophets; they were only beginning to understand.

Promises kept

They must have also recalled Jesus’ last night with them in the upper room as he told them he would not leave them orphaned or comfortless, but he would send the Holy Spirit. They were experiencing this in real time – wind blowing, divided tongues of fire appearing and then resting on the 12, people hearing in their own languages. They knew this was from God; they knew this was what Jesus had promised. He was true to his word – he said he would send the Spirit and he did.

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. (John 14:16-17)

But there is more. The disciples had spent three years with Jesus. They recognized him as their teacher, their Rabbi. I’m sure there was a question about who would take over their teaching, who would continue to train them. Jesus told them he would not leave them as orphans, without someone to teach them, to guide them into all truth.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)

It must have been a great relief to the disciples to experience the arrival of the Holy Spirit in such an extraordinary way. They were experiencing the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in real time. We still experience this in real time. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, the one who guides us into all truth, the one who reminds us that it is in Jesus that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The Holy Spirit continually points us to Jesus and reminds us he is the center of the center, the one we are to preach, teach, and follow.

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

Peter responds right away and does exactly what Jesus said the Spirit would lead us to do – testify about him. And the results were astounding. People asked what they needed to do. Peter responded by telling them to repent – metanoeō – to change the way they think about God. He is not against us; he is for us. He isn’t just for a select few; he is for all of humanity. The Father is not mad at us; he sent his Son to save us. Jesus didn’t come to condemn; he came to save.

When you change the way you see God, it is then you can receive the forgiveness he offers through Jesus Christ. It is then you can see that all the prophecies were about him, and he came to fulfill them for us. It is then you can see the Old Testament wasn’t about Israel’s failure; it was about God’s faithfulness to his beloved. It is then you begin to feel more like someone God cares about, pays attention to, loves – you begin to feel like a child of God. Peter calls us to repent – to change the way we view God, which will lead to change in the way we respond to God.

When we change the way we view God, and we accept the truth of our fallen nature and the blessing of our forgiveness, we want to respond in joy and gratitude. We ask, what can we do? Peter tells us to participate in Jesus’ baptism and to live in the reality that he did not leave us, rather he lives in us through the Holy Spirit.

And more…

Pentecost reminds us in a powerful way that the crucifixion was not the end of Jesus’ ministry – it was the beginning of a far-reaching ministry. It reminds us that we are never alone – God is always with us via the Holy Spirit. It reminds us that we are invited to participate in the communion shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It reminds us that Jesus’ prayer with his disciples was answered.

Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:1-3)

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

May God remind us of all that Pentecost fulfilled and looks forward to. May the Holy Spirit continually remind us of who Jesus is, who we are in him, and how he has called us to participate with him.

Rick Shallenberger
Editor

Avoiding the “Savior Complex”

As we serve our neighborhoods and communities, it is vital to remember there is only one Savior, and it is certainly (praise God) not us.

By Danny Zachariah, Pastor and Regional Director India Sub Continent

The savior complex, also referred to as the messiah complex  or Christ complex, is when a person feels a sense of intense responsibility to help or “save” others. It could be pursued even to the extent of it becoming counter-productive, where it may end up hurting the person providing the help or the one being helped. Sarah Benton, a mental health counsellor, says this:

Many individuals who enter into caring professions such as mental health care, health care and even those who have loved ones with addictions may have some of these personality characteristics. They are drawn to those who need “saving” for a variety of reasons. However, their efforts to help others may be of an extreme nature that both deplete them and possibly enable the other individual.[1]

This is where pastors and church leaders must be wary that, while being a shepherd to their congregations, they don’t end up trying to become the “Good Shepherd”! Unfortunately, some ambitious, misguided church leaders and members think that they can lend a helping hand to Jesus as they serve their congregations and reach out in their neighborhoods. By doing this, they fall into the trap of the savior or messiah complex. Andrew Purves puts it succinctly:

We do not mediate Jesus Christ. We do not make him effective, relevant or practical. Neither is it up to us to raise the dead, heal the sick or forgive the sinners … our ministries are not redemptive. Only Christ’s ministry is redemptive. If we stand in the way, focusing on our ministries, we have to be shoved out of the way. When we have a severe preoccupation with “my ministry,” that ministry has to be crucified.[2]

The negatives of a savior complex

There are several downsides if one is serving from such a complex. One is that the person being helped may be tempted to not take personal responsibility for any need to change. They can easily become accustomed to expecting your help, your prayers, your seeking of God’s will for them, and may not put any effort to take ownership of their own problems. Rather than empowering, we can actually be enabling them. This can cause them to become dependent upon you – the one providing help – rather than on Jesus. It can also perpetuate helplessness, leading them to believe they are powerless to help themselves. The end result is good intentions that end up doing more harm than good.

The flip side to this tendency toward dependency is that the person being helped may not feel they really require the extent of service being provided. The help could actually be seen as intrusive, make them feel obligated and at the receiving end of your good intents. They may avoid articulating this to avoid offending you, the helper, and this can lead into feelings of resentment.

Another downside is when the helper is struck by the need to be a “hero.” The obsession to fix problems becomes the primary focus, more than focusing on the person needing help. Sometimes the “hero” becomes more concerned about the problem than the one actually experiencing it! This could actually reveal deep-seated problems unaware to the helper. In the context of pastors, Greg Williams states, “Some even go so far as entering ministry because they need to feel needed. Frustration occurs when you realize you aren’t enough – you can’t meet all the needs of all the people in your congregation, and you can’t have your own needs met.”[3]

Yet another downside is when helping risks the helper’s own wellbeing. Helping others can indeed be fulfilling. There are instances, though, when it can be detrimental to one’s own wellbeing. Not feeling appreciated may turn into frustration and even resentment. Some who have a compelling need to rescue others, suffer from their own need to be rescued. This is called the White Knight Syndrome[4], and while we won’t get into all it entails, we encourage all to ask if the desire to help others is because Christ’s love is compelling you, or because you need to feel needed.

How to avoid the savior complex

Learn to distinguish between caring and saving. As pastors we need to genuinely care for the flock. Certainly, do all that is needed to care and support, but don’t cross the boundary to “save” when it is not in your power to do so. Ask yourself if your actions are really helping or could they be harming. It will also be wise to ask the one being helped what intensity of engagement they actually need. Then tailor the help accordingly.

Be honest about your feelings. Am I helping because Christ’s love compels me to do so, or because I have a need for feeling needed, or for acceptance? Feelings of superiority, narcissism, and delusions of grandeur have no place in our desire to participate with Jesus in what he is doing. And that’s the key—we serve others because Christ’s love compels us to do so. As Paul reminds us in his second letter to Corinth:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

As we move forward in the Love Avenue – sharing the love and life of Jesus with our neighbors and communities – it is vitally important to remember that Jesus Christ is the real and only Savior. It is he who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life …” (John 14:6). He does not just show the way but is the way, he is not just truthful but is the truth, and he doesn’t just have life but is life itself, in all its abundance. There is no alternative to Jesus. No one can replace him or be a co-savior to him (Isaiah 46). He is perfectly capable to save his loved ones and he invites us to participate in his ministry, not to replicate or replace it.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-high-functioning-alcoholic/201702/the-savior-complex.

[2] Purves, Andrew, The Crucifixion of Ministry, 2007, InterVarsity Press, 73.

[3] The Savior Complex, Greg Williams, Equipper, March 6, 2019.

[4] Rescuing Yourself From Your Need to Rescue Others | Psychology Today.

How Do We Relate With the Lost?

The Christian slogan of belong, believe, behave is often practiced as believe, behave and then belong.

By Sam Butler, Pastor and Regional Support Team – North Central Region (USA)

In an article in the February Equipper the “lost’’ were identified as belonging to the Father. “Who are the “lost” of humanity? When our love avenues make efforts to engage with the ‘lost’ how should we view them? How should we relate to them? As those who already belong to the Father.” (Glen Weber, February 2022 Equipper)

As Glen pointed out, you cannot be lost unless you first belonged. A central thought in the article was that no one is lost from God’s perspective – we are only lost because as humanity we do not know that we belong. We are all God’s dearly loved children.

As the church participating with Jesus, our responsibility is to assist in removing the blinders of lostness.  Now that we have come to understand who the “lost” are, we now need to understand how to interact with them. This is important because in the past the church at large has not fully understood how to do this. We can express this in terms of belong, believe, and behave.

Unfortunately, the order many churches seem to practice is believe, behave, and then belong. As an individual began to understand who Jesus was, they were then expected to behave, that is, to live in accordance with the gospel, and when this was successfully accomplished, only then did they belong. Under this way of thinking, the church, armed with the truth as different denominations defined it, had the responsibility to fix people. Several things are wrong with this thinking.

To be successful in its mission, rather than focus on building relationships with neighbors and coworkers, the gospel was often shared through big events like revivals or crusades. Like our own history, many relied on media – the printed word, radio, and television – to get people’s attention. As people heard the message – which was often fear-based and included prophetic warnings – many would respond to an altar call, call the number on the screen, or write in for more information. Many denominations grew because of these events and media pushes as people joined and built relationships within the church. As Christians spent time together with like believers, many became uncomfortable spending time with those outside the faith. An “us” and “them” mentality fostered between the saved (us) and the lost (them).

Seemingly ignoring the truth that all have sinned and we still sin, many denominations discouraged associating with “sinners.” Believers were to live “unspotted” lives; being with sinners would lead to disobedience – misbehaving. If we cannot behave perfectly, then how can we belong? Misbehavior led to feelings of guilt, and shame – not measuring up to what Jesus expected. Sermons focused on how much God hates sin and sinners would never make it to heaven. Behaving was the focus for believers and nonbelievers. You need to behave in order to belong. The focus is on works and what we do.

When belong comes before belief and behave, the focus is on Jesus – what he had done and what he continues to do. When we focus on Jesus, we are compelled by his love to reach out and help others understand they belong.

This drastically changes how we view the lost – the unbeliever. The parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7) explains how important the one lost sheep is and how there is great rejoicing when it is recovered. In John 10:14-15 Jesus identifies himself as “the good shepherd” who lays down his life for them. We view others through the eyes of Jesus.

The only way that we can possibly explain the mindset and actions of Jesus is that he is compelled by love. He will go after the “one” to the point of death, and that is what he did. How incredible is that?

Paul tells us Christ’s love compels us to no longer view others from a human point of view, but to see them as those who don’t know the good Father we know. We seek relationship with them because we want them to know their Father.

Jesus invites us as his church to participate with him in restoring the “lost.” This means that we are compelled by the same love which allows us to see them as he sees them – as God’s dearly beloved children, his very own brothers and sisters, his friends, included from the very beginning of God’s plan.

The words that we use are important, so in our culture today we do not use the word lost to describe our friends and neighbors who do not know Jesus. They are simply our friends and neighbors.

So, to answer the question of how to relate with our friends and neighbors, we begin by asking ourselves, “how do we see them?” Do we indeed see them as Jesus does, as brothers and sisters, as friends? If we answer in the affirmative, then it means we love them. We will want to be with them, sharing life together. We will respect them, valuing who they are and what they have to say. Instead of ministering to them, we will do ministry together, and we will leave the conversion side of things to the Holy Spirit.

To consolidate these thoughts, we look to the example of Jesus. While on Earth he lived life with his family whom he loved. When he began his ministry, he was with them, loving them and sharing life. When his time on earth was coming to an end, he told them that he was sending another Comforter who “lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).  In our lives the Holy Spirit does not do ministry to us, he is living with and in us. It is a relationship of love.

This is how we relate to our neighbors.

Practical Ways to Build Neighborhood/Community Presence

Here are some things to think about and some questions to discuss as you reach out to your church neighborhood and/or church community.

By Aron and Joyce Tolentino, Pastors in Metro Manila

The call to participate

The ministry of Jesus Christ is to draw people back to himself. We trust that through the Spirit, he continues to move to open the minds and hearts of people to the gospel. As the church, we are called to join in the ministry of Jesus. This is an invitation to joyfully participate in his redemptive work in our churches, neighborhoods, and communities.

Editor’s note: The terms neighborhood and community are dependent on your church location. A local congregation in a neighborhood would focus on the one square mile around your church location. A congregation in a rural setting (community) might focus on the 5-10 square miles around your church location. Both terms are used throughout this article.

Many of us participate in small churches, and community engagement can seem quite daunting as we figure out where to start, which programs might help us, where to find manpower and resources, and what the end result might look like. A crucial component of community engagement is discernment.  How is Jesus moving?

This question is a fundamental one for our local church as well as our community. Taking time to assess our congregation and the neighborhood we are in is important to help ensure that our efforts at relationship building are authentic, relevant, and sustainable. As a team, it would be good to collectively think about where our neighborhood is and what they need, and then ask what we have that could help us respond. Who are the people in our neighborhood, and what can we offer them as a profound expression of love?

Embrace your uniqueness

Across the world and even within our respective countries, our congregations may look quite different from each other. But we can identify and utilize our unique characteristics and strengths to connect with the people around us. Our own local church, for instance, is multigenerational – with experienced members, seniors, and parents, as well as several young people who have been with us since their early teens and who have now grown into older students and young professionals. We are based in a metropolitan area with many mega churches, but while we are much smaller in comparison, there is a strong sense of family and intimate fellowship which has been appreciated by new people who have joined over the years. What does the unique composition of your local church look like? What attributes have helped facilitate growth or acted as enablers for ministry?

Build on relationships

Part of our internal assessment is looking at our existing connections. What relationships do we have that we could intentionally deepen? In our congregation, there are several teachers and educators, and one of our pastoral team members was the principal of a large public high school in the area covered by our church. In the past, GCI Philippines had conducted spiritual formation events for teachers, and our local church had supported members of the student council to attend our GCI summer camps. The familiarity from our previous engagements, and the goodwill and support of the principal who was also a church member, were factors that led our local church to choose this neighborhood to focus on. This led to opportunities for us to engage with the high school’s faculty and students more often, get to know them, and build trust through consistent presence as co-organizers of activities like teachers’ Bible study sessions and trainings of student leaders.

What relationships, networks, or connections does your local church have which you can build on?  Do you have a “person of peace” who could open doors for you to engage in the community? Do you have members who naturally have a heart for others, who are courageous in approaching strangers and making new friends? These people see their relationships in light of the gospel and can rally the congregation by being on the front lines as potential Love Avenue members.

Missional mindset

Not everyone has the make-up or inclination to be frontliners in the community, but we can help the church as a whole develop a missional mindset. This means always keeping the community in mind with whatever we do in church – including our liturgy, our facilities, our giving, our special celebrations, the way we welcome guests and fellowship with each other. In all we do, we consider the people beyond our four walls. Developing a missional mindset cuts across Faith, Hope and Love Avenues. How do we help our members understand our beliefs in a way that guides and motivates their missional mindset towards our community? As we reach out, how do we also usher people to and make them feel included in the life of the local church?

Meet people where they are

If you are just beginning to engage with your community, an initial challenge would be thinking up creative and memorable ways to draw in people and introduce the church to them. An alternative approach is to observe what people in the community are doing and assess where we can offer support. Jesus drew near to us through the incarnation; we too can draw near to the people in our community and demonstrate genuine interest in and care for them.

It is in spending time with our community that we better understand what the needs are, how we can help champion shared causes, and how to respond to real needs – whether these are for funds, people, expertise, or support in whatever form we have the capacity to provide. One of the things our local church has done is to take part in the high school’s annual fundraising drive to improve their facilities. Another is co-hosting monthly meetups of student leaders, which are drop-in meetings where our church members serve as resource speakers on leadership and values. These meetings were initially meant for members of the student council but because the teachers saw the value we added, the school later expanded these meetings to include heads and members of various student clubs.

As we reflect on how God has formed our local church and what characteristics and relationships he has given us, we should also discern what he is doing in the communities where we belong. Do we know the people surrounding us? What are their mission and values? Are there pressing needs we can respond to, gaps we can help fill, or ongoing initiatives with community ownership that we can help promote?

Courage to try

There are many considerations as we prepare to engage with our community in meaningful and intentional ways, but don’t let this hinder you from actually making a start. Following initial reflection, don’t be afraid to get out there and try. Begin in small ways – show up at a community event, introduce yourself, strike up a conversation. Encourage church members to get their feet wet. Leave room for mistakes and learn from them. Part of the discernment process is considering which approaches are working and what doors are opening, and prayerfully seeking the Spirit’s leading in what paths to take. It is still better to try, fail, and learn from it than to not try at all. All relationships, including the ones we are cultivating with our communities, take patience, consistency, and time. At the end of the day, the goal is to love our neighbors with the love we have received from God.

Church Hack: Hybrid Avenues

Providing both in-person and digital church services—hybrid services—has become the new norm. Healthy Church happens not just on Sunday, but throughout the week as well. Consequently, to have a thriving church community we need to create spaces in-person and digitally.

This month’s GCI Church Hack outlines digital engagement practices for each of the Avenues. To learn more, view and download this month’s Church Hack here:

 

 

Microsite Staff Page

The GCI Microsite is a resource we provide to help you have a professional and easy to customize a website. This month, we added the option to create a page to introduce your church staff. This page provides visitors and guests with the opportunity to begin to make connections with your staff and get to know some of the faces of your church.

The staff page is flexible, and includes the features included below:

  • You can title it whatever you want.
  • Staff is displayed either in a full width list for those with a bio, or as a photo directory for those without a bio.
  • People with a bio are always listed first, then those without.
  • Other than that, you can control the order people appear in the editor using the arrows on each person.
  • The page in the editor uses the same display format so you aren’t left guessing how people will appear on the main website.
  • All the information for each person is optional-you may include as much or as little as you like.
  • A picture is always displayed, and a person without a photo gets a generic “person” image.
  • As with all images in our easy website template, you can use the built-in tool to resize and crop your photo after you upload it.

In Their Own Language

To communicate God’s love effectively, it’s vital to know the language of the generation we are striving to reach. What questions do they need answered?

In June, we celebrate Pentecost, a day when we remember the public launch of the church. The church began in a way that signaled that all people were invited into the fellowship of believers.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. (Acts 2:1-6)

For the people who observed this miraculous event, they heard the good news in their own mother tongue, which sent the clear message that they were seen, valued, and included in this new thing that was happening. If only one language was spoken that day, the message would have been that Pentecost was only for certain people and not for everyone — not for those who did not speak the language.

Different generations speak different languages. I am not talking about languages like Mandarin, Haitian Creole, or Diné bizaad (Navaho). I am talking about the languages particular to the culture of the different generations. There is a significant body of work on what is called generational theory — the study of the characteristics, culture, and motivations of the various generations. For adults concerned with the discipleship of young people, it is imperative we pay attention to generational theory. If we are not aware of our own “cultural language,” we risk speaking to our children and youth in a way that they cannot understand.

Author and scholar James Choung provides insight on how generational theory can be used to inform Christian evangelistic efforts. For each of the four dominant generations, Choung articulates a core spiritual question. In other words, Choung explains the cultural language each generation speaks. The following table is based on the research Choung presented during a podcast interview for the National Association of Evangelicals (https://www.nae.org/choungpodcast/).

GENERATION BIRTH YEARS CORE SPIRITUAL QUESTION TO WITNESS TO THEM, START WITH…
Boomers 1946-1964 What is true? Apologetics; evidence
Gen X 1965-1980 What is real? Authentic, vulnerable testimonies
Millennials 1981-1996 What is good? Relevance of the gospel; mission
Gen Z or iGen 1997-2015(ish) What is beautiful? Justice; how God is making everything new

All of these questions are important to all people, but Choung’s work shows us the question we should try to answer first for each generation. With regard to young people, iGens value artistic expression and excellence. If Millennials are the “doers,” iGens seek to be the experts. They live in pursuit of the ideal, and they look for beauty even in the mundane. To iGens, a beautiful society is a just society, so issues of equity and fairness are important to them. When trying to communicate the gospel to iGens, we should focus on Christ and how he is making all things new. We should emphasize how Jesus is the end of all injustice, suffering, and despair, and he will one day usher in his eternal kingdom. iGens often carry a lot of trauma, causing them to be risk averse. We should introduce them to a God who has everything under control and whose plan to redeem all things cannot be stopped. We should also provide spaces for them to creatively respond to what they hear in ways that fit their culture.

As we celebrate Pentecost, let us be reminded of the importance of language. Let the presence of the Holy Spirit in us empower us to speak a language our young people can understand.

Dishon Mills, US Generations Ministry Coordinator

Gospel Reverb – Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Listen in as the one and only, Anthony Mullins unpacks the July lectionary passages:

July 3 – Proper 9
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 “Lord of the Harvest”
3:33

July 10 – Proper 10*
Luke 10:25-37 “Who Is My Neighbor?”
15:09

July 17 – Proper 11
Luke 10:38-42 “Distracted”
32:25

July 24 – Proper 12
Luke 11:1-13 “How Much More”
42:13

July 31 – Proper 13
Luke 12:13-21 “A Bumper Crop”
51:57

*Please note that in this episode the pericopes for July 10th are incorrectly referred to as “Proper 9” in the RCL the pericopes discussed are from Proper 10.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcast.

Program Transcript


Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins

Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill-seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.

The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.


Anthony: Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.

I’m your host Anthony Mullins. And it’s my joy to welcome this month… wait. Wait. There is no guest this month. I’m your guest. It’s sort of like the old Wrigley’s double mint gum commercial. Double your pleasure because I’m going to be your host and also your guest commentator on this month’s Bible passages. That’s right. We’re going to have great fun together, as we unpack the passages from the Revised Common Lectionary.

This is the first time I’ve gone solo. So, it’s a chance for me to say thank you to all of our wonderful listeners around the globe. Just last evening, a pastor told me in a group of other pastors that he listens to Gospel Reverb every week to aid him in sermon preparation. And what a gift it is to know this little podcast is serving a viable purpose in your life in ministry. And I’ll tell you this, we couldn’t do it without you.

So, what’s going on in my life? I ask my guests on Gospel Reverb about themselves, their story. My wife, Elizabeth, and I recently moved to Durham, North Carolina to live in close proximity to our daughters, Sarah and LeeAnna, and our granddaughter, Riley.

And we’ve also felt compelled, we think by Christ and his spirit, to consider planting a new Grace Communion International church in Durham, and it’s in an exhilarating, and it’s a daunting thing to plant a new church, especially in a city where you’ve only lived for a short time. We’ve been here since early December of 2021. We so appreciate your prayers that God’s will be done in our lives.

Vocationally, I continue to serve as a regional director for GCI in the U.S. working with approximately 40 churches and pastors in the Southeast. I’m also a trainer for the GCI coaching program. And on the side, I have the joy of serving you as the host of Gospel Reverb.

All right, with that said, let’s get to it. Shall we? Here are the five passages that we are going to talk about and discuss together:

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20        “Lord of the Harvest”                                    Proper 9 (July 3)

Luke 10:25-37                    “Who Is My Neighbor?”                                 Proper 10 (July 10)

Luke 10:38-42                   “Distracted”                                                    Proper 11 (July 17)

Luke 11:1-13                      “How Much More”                                          Proper 12 (July 24)

Luke 12:13-21                    “A Bumper Crop”                                            Proper 13 (July 31)

Let me read our first pericope for this month, which is Luke 10:1-11, 16-20. (This month, we’re going to focus on the New Revised Standard Version.)

It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 9, which is July the third.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

Jesus came to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God. And in this particular passage, he’s authorizing a wider band of disciples to go out and do the same thing.

He’s not sending them out to be door-to-door salespeople, hocking magazine subscriptions and lawn care services. He doesn’t want them to look like moochers or give even a whiff of being profiteers. He is telling them to go and bring peace, Shalom, to all who will receive it. And the rest of their message is pretty straight forward.

The kingdom of God is near you. They are proclaiming a whole new way of life, a way to live and to be in this world, a whole new way to orient, not just this or that sideline feature to one’s life but everything, the whole ball of wax, every jot and tittle of one’s existence. Even when Jesus tells his disciples to wipe the dust of the rejecting town off their feet, he still tells them to conclude their comments with yet one more reminder that the kingdom of God is near. And who’s to say that we cannot speak those words through tears of love and compassion. And Jesus talked about “go on your way or as you are going,” like we see in the great commission in Matthew 28. See, I’m sending you out as lambs.

And this is what cruciform living is all about. Cruciform is just a word that simply means having the shape of a cross. It is a life that looks self-sacrificial, a life of laying down one’s life for the other. And he’s saying (as we saw in Acts 1, when Jesus said, you’ll be my witnesses) we know that word, witness in the Greek language, it literally means martyr. It’s to lay down one’s life.

You will receive power by the Holy Spirit, God with you, a God who understands what it looks like to lay down one’s life. And I’m calling you, I’m inviting you into that same sort of cruciform living. This is the missio Dei, which is a Latin, Christian theological term that is translated as the mission of God or the sending of God.

God sends us. He says, I’m sending you out. Jesus is sending us as he was sent by the Father. And as Jesus was sent, we also go in the power of the Holy Spirit. And what do we say to people? Peace! Peace to this house. Peace be unto you. Peace be with you. This is what we find Jesus doing. Even as we see in other passages, where he shows up and the disciples are afraid, or they’re not living the missio Dei in the moment as he would have them do, his first word is peace be unto you.

And these are the words that our Prince of Peace have given to us. And that means even in the face of great consternation, great suffering, and affliction.

Just this week, the week that I’m recording this particular episode, we’ve had another mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas [U.S.], and it was just devastating, wasn’t it? To hear the news, to see the scenes, to see the anguish and the grief of parents and grandparents and siblings that have lost loved ones, young children.

And it just gets me thinking, if these events have left us heartbroken and weeping, which they have, imagine what God must be seen and feeling. God, the Creator, who entrusts us with his creation, with one another’s lives (and with his own life, in a sense) today, the Creator and the created once again, stand together, weeping and broken hearted over this senseless loss.

I no longer see these tragedies as problems to be fixed or behaviors to be corrected. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There are steps to be taken. Rather, I just viewed them as symptoms pointing to a deeper issue. And until we are willing to deal with the deeper issue, things aren’t likely to change. And the deeper issue is the human heart.

Whether by terrorist attack, through prejudice [and] discrimination against a minority group or political campaigns or in our personal relationships, the violence and mistreatment we perpetuate on each other first arises from an inner violence that poisons and fragments, the human heart. We need a change of heart.

We need a heart of peace. So where is the peace of God today? I think that’s a question many are asking. It’s a question I suspect God is maybe asking too. Where is the peace? It is a question that theologians and practitioners have wrestled with through ages and ages.

So, the question of theodicy—which ultimately is a question. Why does a perfectly good Almighty, an all-knowing God, permit evil? And I don’t know that I have a good answer for that. We live in a fallen world where brokenness is still running rampant in our world, but I thought I would share with you some quotes from Brad Jersak’s book, A More Christlike God. Here’s what he has to say about the question theodicy.

“What are we to make of the gaping abyss between the perfect goodness and infinite love of God over against the affliction, suffering, and evil in the world at large? How do they come together, if at all? This puzzle has recurred throughout the ages—ever since people became aware of the reality of both the heights of God and the depths of human misery. When I ask, “What is true about God?” and, “What is the character of the world?” the two realities don’t seem to match. The fundamental truth of God’s nature (which is love) seems irreconcilably incompatible with day-to day life in this world (which is affliction).

Rather than dazzling us with a clever answer, the Cross of our Lord arrests us. In a sense, it offers us an anti-theodicy. The love and the anguish—both present in the extreme—are astonishing. The goodness of God and the affliction of mankind is no mere problem, puzzle, or paradox. God’s love (a cross) and human affliction (a crucifixion) appear as a true contradiction. In bewilderment, we echo Jesus’ own cries, “God is good, but all is not well! Where are you?”

And the incarnation, (and by the way, that was end quote from Jersak’s book) the incarnation teaches us that God entered into the fullness of our affliction and experienced it unto death. And not just any death, but death on a cross. And it matters that our Lord who embodies peace, who in himself is Shalom, that we know that he didn’t stand off from some sort of antiseptic distance from our pain and sorrow and grief and affliction, but rather entered into the heart of our darkness.

What if a heart at peace is about loving our neighbor as ourselves, or more importantly, as Christ has loved us? It would mean that the other person, regardless of who she or he is, counts and matters as much as we do, which is the truth and the reality of who God is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The heart of peace refuses to lump masses into unknown people with lifeless categories, such as Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, Muslim, whatever, which makes them objects to be dealt with or enemies to be defeated. A heart at peace encounters everyone as a person. It looks another in the face and recognizes itself.

So, tell me, what do you see when you look in the face of another? This is a good question as we ponder this particular passage for Proper 9, and as we go on our way, sent out as lambs in the midst of wolves saying, peace to this house.

Our next passage is Luke 10:25-37. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 10 in Ordinary Time, which is on July the 10th.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

So, we began with a lawyer. True, this man was not a lawyer in the contemporary sense of that term. Rather, this is a religious man trained not by a law school, but in a seminary. He became a lawyer not by taking the bar exam, but by taking a Bible exam, if you will, in which he had to demonstrate his nimbleness in stringing together long and complex verses about God’s rules for life.

It was a perfectly legitimate area of scholarship, but it did have one drawback. When you spend your life parsing rules and commands and statutes and laws, you sooner or later conclude that the life of faith is all about doing certain things and not doing other things. So, the question for us is, do we have a lawyer’s heart?

Given all of that, it’s no surprise to hear this lawyer say to Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do?”

Did you catch that? His premise is predicated on what “I” must accomplish to inherit eternal life. Do you see the inherit problem? There is one thing the gospel makes clear. It is that in the long run, the answer to that question is you don’t have to do anything. You can’t do anything. You cannot bring anything, as it were, of value to God’s table to earn.

I’m not talking about effort. We continue to actively participate in the ministry and mission of our God. So, there’s effort in the ministry. Some days really feel exhausting, does it not? But it has nothing to do with the matter of salvation as if somehow to enter into it I must do something.

“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

You notice Jesus asking questions. I’ve long believed that we don’t talk enough in the church of Jesus Christ about the power of asking questions as a means of discipleship to really explore and help the other enter into a place of discovery.

I’ve read that Jesus as captured in the three synoptic Gospels and John, Jesus asked in the neighborhood of 350 total questions. Some of them are redundant—we see the same question that captures the same story in the various Gospel accounts, but 350 questions.

Now, let me ask you this. How many of those questions did Jesus answer himself in a direct way? Only three.  Only three times. He’s not looking just to give the answer. He’s looking to develop relationship. I often think of John 1: where John the Baptist is teaching, and the two disciples get up from his teaching because the lamb of God comes walking by and John the Baptist pointed him out.

And these two disciples are following Jesus, and they asked the question, where you are you staying? Which is another way of saying, are you the one? Are you the Messiah? The Anointed One? Are you the one we have heard prophesied about? And what does Jesus respond with? We’ll come and see.

The questions Jesus is asking his disciples are really come-and-see questions, like I want you to discover. I want you to think; I want you to ponder this. I want you to look at me and tell me, what do you think? I can just give you the answer. He could have just said to those disciples. Yeah. I’m the one, go be fed and be well, stay warm, and be on your way.

But Jesus invites us into relationship. He is a personal God, dealing with persons made in his image, included in the life of the Father and Son and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. This is what it looks like.

This is why I’m drawn to coaching. I mentioned early on in the podcast, just giving a brief description of what I’m involved in, I coach people in ministry. I coach pastors and ministry leaders, Avenue champions in the GCI context. I led our coaching program for several years. And I’m just drawn to the discipline of coaching, which is all about asking questions that elicits discovery, awareness, because we trust in coaching that the Spirit is at work in the other that we’re coaching, and they often know what needs to be done or the best approach. But sometimes, we just need somebody to ask the question that makes us think more deeply, more fully about whatever it is that we’re facing. I highly encourage anyone who’s listening to explore the discipline of coaching.

It’s a wonderful way, not only to help leaders, but as a process of discipleship. Sometimes we’re just so quick to want to give the answer because we know the answer, right? And so, we just want to tell people what we know. And I understand that impulse, but there is something beautiful about asking someone, what do you think?

Just as Jesus is doing with the teacher. The man asks, who is my neighbor? And his hope is that Jesus will say something to the effect—and I’m going to use Frederick Buechner’s (a former Presbyterian minister and author) wonderful embellishment. This is how Buechner would say it.

“Very well: henceforth a neighbor (hereafter referred to as the party of the first part) shall be defined as meaning a person of Jewish descent whose legal residence is within a radius of no more than three statute miles from one’s own legal residence, unless there is another person of Jewish descent (hereafter referred to as the party of the second part) living closer to the party of the first part than one is oneself, in which case the party of the second part is to be construed as the neighbor to the party of the first part and one is then oneself relieved of all responsibility of any kind to the matters hereunto appertaining.”

Oh, what a mouthful. It’s funny, but it’s sad because that’s the way we think. If you are looking for a loophole to maintain the fiction of your perfect love for God and neighbor, then that type of reply would help a great deal indeed. The people who would then count as your neighbors would be restricted to a handful of folks whom you already know and probably also already love. But to state the incredibly obvious that is not the answer Jesus gave.

Jesus does not give a legal definition, but instead tells a story. Why? Because he’s a God of covenant, not contract, as we heard a lot about in a previous episode with Jenny Richards.

He tells a story, a man was going down from Jerusalem, and that’s how it begins. The Greek text basically is translated a certain man.

Or could more colloquially be translated as some guy. Some anonymous fellow of indeterminate age of unspecified ethnicity of unknown origins was making a trip. He could be anybody. And that’s just Jesus’s point. He is anybody and everybody.

The lawyer probably wanted to interrupt Jesus right here and say, oh Jesus, what man are we talking about? Can you describe him? Is it anyone I might know? Is he Jewish, a Gentile? Gay or straight? Roman or Greek, slave or free? What man?

Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

This ordinary man, this everyday man, indistinguishable yet beloved of the Father. Go and do likewise.

Now at this point you assume that Jesus will say, you asked who your neighbor is, and now I’m telling you [that] your neighbor is that anonymous man in the ditch. That would make sense for Jesus to say that. The man had asked, who is my neighbor? And so, Jesus shows a faceless and nameless crime victim as his parabolic answer to the question.

But take very careful note. That is not what Jesus says. Instead. Jesus turns things around and ask now, which of these three passers-by acted as a neighbor to the mugging victim. This is a subtle shift in emphasis, but man, it packs a wallop. We tend to think like the lawyer; we think that what we need to do is scan the society around us and see who’s out there who would count as our neighbor.

But here Jesus says that figuring that out is far less important than making sure that you yourself act as a neighbor to everyone you meet. Who those other folks are in society, or how they treat you, what they look like, whether or not they seem like folks with whom you have some stuff in common is not nearly as important as making sure that whoever they are, you are their neighbor.

See the difference? Who is my neighbor? the lawyer asks. In the end, Jesus says, never mind that. Are you a neighbor?

Of course, the two questions are related. The implication of the parable is that indeed, everyone is my neighbor and that is why I must be a good neighbor to them. But the shift in emphasis in verse 36, reveals again, Jesus’ desire that we become bearers of love wherever we go.

This is the posture of our hearts. Our hearts are full of grace and mercy and compassion and love for both God and everyone else. And then we won’t be asking, who is my neighbor? Because it won’t matter. The question becomes irrelevant if you are being a neighbor.

So, the question is who is my neighbor? The better question is, am I being a neighbor? And as the passage shows, a neighbor is one who embodies mercy to others.

Truth is about recognition or re-cognition. When we hear truth, we already know somehow that it was true. Like somehow in our being, in our soul, we know that it was already true, but there is a deeper knowing once we embody what we know to be true. The truth has a way of being even more real to our souls.

Therefore, Jesus says, go and do likewise. Not from a legal perspective—that’s what you do to earn eternal life but because he knows that’s reality, the way the good, divine design of things are. If we do this, we will have a deeper knowing of what it’s like to be a neighbor as Jesus has been and continues to be.

Christians are called to bind wounds, not inflict them. And one of the ways that we have to always check ourselves is, are we being a neighbor because yeah, I may not go out and harm my neighbor, but are we walking on the other side [of the road]? There’s something about proximity, closeness that begets compassion, to see the hurt and the harm of another, ignites compassion within us.

And the word compassion (as many of us know it’s etymology) means to suffer with. It actually means to enter into, to sit with, to feel the pain of another.

Jesus said there’s a certain man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Consider first the physical remarkability of the journey. It is downhill all the way. Jerusalem stands 2500 feet above the level of the Mediterranean and Jericho lies 825 feet below it. Listen, that’s a drop of a better part of three-fifths of a mile. And it takes the man in question down into increasingly depressing territory. Without making too much of it, I’m disposed to take Jesus’ postulation of such a descent as a parable in itself, (and I’m taking some of this liberty from what Robert Farrar Capon has written in his book on the kingdom parables, the parables of grace, the parables of judgment) his downhill journey to his passion and death, and thus into the lastness, lostness, etc., that he now sees as the heart of his saving work. And as if to underscore the allusion, he adds a whole string of details that mark the man as a loser par excellence: he fell among thieves who stripped him and beat him up and went away, leaving him half dead. Score several points for my notion that the man who fell among thieves is the authentic Christ-figure in the parable of the Good Samaritan. [from Kingdom, Grace, and Judgement by Capon]

Let’s be good neighbors.

The next passage is Luke 10:38-42. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 11, an Ordinary Time for July 17th.

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has already set his face to Jerusalem. He could rightly be distracted and burdened with anxiety over his impending death on the cross. And yet we extraordinarily find him at the ease of his friends, just being with his friends. And in this encounter, we see Jesus entering into one’s anxiety, Martha.

And this is important. He does so without becoming anxious himself. This should be a profound lesson for all of us. He compassionately sits with us in our anxiety. Thanks be to God for that, by the Spirit, he shares in our affliction without becoming afflicted by anxiety himself. That’s good news.

And sometimes we want people to feel the same level of anxiety that we do, that somehow that demonstrates to us that they care like we care. It doesn’t mean if somebody is unanxious that they don’t care. We need God to be one who enters into our anxiety without becoming anxious himself, because he is the alpha and the omega, the beginning of the end. And he already resides in tomorrow and he knows in the end all will be well. All will be well, and all manner of things will be well, as Julian of Norwich said.

Let’s also not overlook the way that he values women. It’s no small thing that he’s entering into the home of these two women to sit down with them in an intimate setting without ever crossing any lines that would dehumanize them in any way, but he values them. He honors them. And so, it should be in the church of Jesus Christ.

It’s amazing how much folks have made out about this brief passage since the story itself, it’s quite spare in details. Thus, and not surprisingly, many commentators and interpreters over the years have rushed in to turn Martha and Mary into mere tropes, metaphors that stand for any number of things.

Is this a story on the value of contemplation? Or deeds-based ministry? Is this a story grinding an ax to address the role of women in ministry in Luke’s day? I don’t know.

There’s a lot of things going on, even in a small passage, but there’s some difficulties. First, the Gospel Luke, generally places a premium on service, on diakonia as it is in the Greek.

Yet Martha’s service is apparently criticized by Jesus in verse 40. And what’s more, earlier in Luke 10, (a passage we’ve already read) Jesus gave advice to the 72 missionary workers that when they are welcomed into someone’s house, they were to eat whatever was set before them in Luke 10:8. Yet, here Martha’s busy preparation to get a meal set before Jesus seems to be met with some disdain.

Also, Jesus has just told the parable of the Good Samaritan in which the bottom line is go and do likewise. So, help me understand! Did Jesus just pivot from advocating an active ministry of mercy and neighborliness to looking askance at a person who is doing a lot for someone who is content to do nothing but sit and listen.

Probably the only mistake we can really truly make in this incident is to make it an either-or scenario, to think dualistically about it. Given its placement and Luke, this story can at best highlight one kingdom value among others. The question, therefore, is not to ask whether this passage advises us generally to ask whether it is better to listen than to serve, to be contemplative or to be active.

But rather the question is in the larger kingdom-scheme of things, what do we learn? What particular aspect of life before the face of God is being addressed here? I think approach in this way, perhaps those who suggest that hospitality is a theme here, they’re onto something. How do we receive Jesus?

There have been times where I’ve made a choice and I knew deep within it was the only choice to be made. It was the right choice. And if I could do it all over again, I would make the same choice and do so with thanksgiving and gratitude. There also been times when I made what I thought was the right choice, but now can see it was not the right choice. There was a better choice to be. I would do things differently if I had chance to choose again, wouldn’t you? I’m sure you can imagine in your mind’s eyes, several things that you wish had done differently. Too often, we equate the choice we make and its subsequent approval or rejection with our goodness, our worthiness, our acceptableness, our faithfulness, our lovableness. That’s what most of history has done with Mary and Martha. Mary made the better choice, Jesus says.

And so, we can quickly conclude that we should be like Mary and not Martha. We are to sit and listen rather than me active and busy. Mary is acquainted with the contemplative life, and Martha with the active life. And much of the Christian history has seen the contemplative life as the more sacred pious, perfect life.

That’s one reading of this text. But is that it? If Jesus is saying that Mary, to the exclusion of Martha, is the way that we are to be, then the next time my wife asks me to run some errands or to help with the chores around the house, I think I might say, no, babe, you go ahead. I’m going to choose the better part and sit here with Jesus.

How do you think that’s going to go over, right? I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying. I know my wife doesn’t want that. Jesus, I think is making an observation, not a judgment. So, while we might distinguish between Mary and Martha, there is a common theme. The common theme rather is presence. Mary and Martha are two ways of being present.

Both ways are necessary, faithful, and holy. Don’t get that wrong. There is not simply one choice that is made forever and always. We are always to be discerning. The one thing needed for a particular time and a particular place in particular circumstances. What is the better part given our particular situation?

What are you up to Lord in the particularity of this moment? How do we be present, show up to the divine presence that is already and always before us? That’s the question. Some days Mary will be our guide and other days Martha will be our guide. Either way, we must choose. Some days that choice may mean sitting quietly and listening to the heartbeat of God within us, reading and studying, watching a sunset with our spouse or praying for the world.

Other days, and other moments, it may be speaking words of hope and encouragement, offering actions of compassion and hospitality, seeking forgiveness, and making amends or climbing a tree with a child. What is the one thing needed right now in this moment, not forever or what you think will fix all your problems and let you live happy ever after just for now. What is the one thing needed that will keep you awake, aware, open, receptive, and present to the presence of Christ by the Spirit?

Choose what is the better part, but hold your choice lightly, because there will be another choice to be made after that. And another one, after that. We choose our way into life and love and relationships and faith, and our choices matter because of that. And know this, the choices that we make today determine the stories we end up telling tomorrow.

So, our choices matter. I don’t want to put too much weight on. But we don’t want to deny the power and the profundity of the choices that we make. Choose Jesus, choose to actively join him where he’s at work and be amazed at the stories we will tell.

The next passage is Luke 11:1-13. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 12 and Ordinary Time, which is July 24th.

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
    Give us each day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Now, who taught you to pray? And what were you taught? Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that if I bow my head, closes my eyes, clasped my hands, was good, mostly, well-behaved, and I believe it with all my heart and told God what I wanted or needed, I would get it. Any of that sound familiar?

I suspect many of us were taught at some point. Or have lived with some sort of version of that understanding of prayer. I sometimes think of that as Coke machine theology. If you put in the coins of faith and good behavior and make the right selection, you get what you want.

And I kind of like Coke machine theology. I like it a lot. In some ways it’s reassuring. It makes sense, and it’s predictable. And it works great until it doesn’t, until the machine gives you a Dr. Pepper when you want a Coke or worst yet, steals your money, then what do you do? Kick the machine, put in more money and push the button harder, walk away vowing to never drink another Coke.

God is not and never was a divine Coke machine. And prayer is not a transaction between us and God. I don’t think Jesus ever intended, “ask, search, and knock” as a blank check on God’s account. His instruction to ask, seek, knock is in relationship to what we have come to call the Lord’s prayer. We’re to be persistent in aligning our lives to the hallowing of God’s name, giving awareness to God’s kingdom in our life and relationships, opening ourselves to the gift and sufficiency of this day, freely receiving and forgiving or giving forgiveness.

When Jesus teaches us about asking, searching, and knocking, he is not teaching a technique, a magic formula, an incantation, so that we can get whatever we want. I think he’s describing a certain posture, a way of standing before God exposed and responsive to a holy and life-giving Spirit. Prayers more about relationship and communion.

What do we pray for? The hallowing of God’s very name. That’s pretty cosmic, right? What do we pray for? The coming of the kingdom. Yeah. That’s pretty big too. What do we pray for? Daily bread and ongoing forgiveness. We pray to be forgiven by God, which is ours as a gift while we are also engaging in acts of forgiveness.

What do we pray for? That we’re not led into temptation. And when   is it that we don’t want to be tempted, right? Is it just for the next half hour or so, the balance of this particular day, just tomorrow? Or is temptation something we want to actively avoid forever and ever.

Let no one who hears us preach on this passage conclude that the Lord’s prayer is mostly about a list of certain requests. In a way, the two brief parabolic examples that Jesus gives, backs up this perspective on life as ongoing prayer. The “Friend at Midnight” story reminds us that prayer pops up all the time and does not wait for convenient seasons or moments. Prayer isn’t always polite. Prayer cannot be sequestered to safe corners of our lives.

Life is bumpy unpredictable. So also, will our prayers be as they occur across the whole sweep of a life such as that. And this is where we have to really think through our hermeneutic. As we look at scripture and our exegesis, our interpretation of it in that we have to be careful that we don’t become overly prescriptive.

There are times where things are prescriptive, do this and do that. This is what happens. More times than not, the passages, and this one in this case, it’s descriptive. It describes a relationship with God, what it looks like that he is for us, that he wants to give us the good things according to his will.

And he desires to be sought after in relationship, because guess what? God makes the first move. He sought after us. He went into the far country to find us in our brokenness and our sin, in our devastation. He is a seeking God. And he’s saying, that’s what relationship is. It pursues the other. And therefore, let’s pursue God in prayer.

Robert Farrar Capon says:

“In any case, the Lord’s Prayer, which is clearly a preface to the parable of the Friend at Midnight, is exceedingly odd in its content, it tis proportions and in its adequacy as a response to a request for a religious formula. It begins, simply, Father – an opening that to me speaks not of someone with whom we still have a relationship after certain pious or ethical exercises but of the One to whom we are already related by sonship. More than that, it suggests that for both the disciples and us, the sonship we have is precisely Jesus’ own – that we stand before the Father in him (in the beloved Eph 1:6) We pray, in other words, not out of our own dubious supplicative competencies but in the power of his death and resurrection. Or to put it most correctly, he (and the Spirit as well) prays in us. Prayer is not really our work at all.”

Now a brief word about the parable of the Friend at Midnight, I’ve heard this bite-sized parable preach as if the main point is persistence. Prayer gets results, almost shameless, persistent prayer. Listen, friends, loved ones. I’m for persistent prayer, but I’m against that being prescriptive. In other words, I don’t think if you nag God enough, you will eventually wear him down, and he will relent your quest and be conditioned to be good to you.

That’s how the parable is often taught. Jesus never gives credit—notice this—Jesus never gives credit to the friend’s request, as the reason he got what he wanted. This is profoundly important. God is already good. He already wants what’s best for you and for me, for humanity. We don’t have to condition God to be gracious toward us with persistent prayer.

He already is gracious to us revealed in Jesus Christ. This is again why it’s so important to look at this parable as descriptive, not prescriptive.

Our next passage is Luke 12:13-21. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 13 in Ordinary Time, which is July 31st.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 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.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 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?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

The parables aren’t cute little Sunday school stories with a clear and reasonable understanding. I’ve heard people say that. We’ve got to be more discerning than that. Parables are just the opposite because they turn our commonsense thinking on its head. The parables about the kingdom of God and the kingdom turns the way this world works upside down. If we ever need to come to scripture with an open mind, it’s when we come to the parables of Jesus.

I can’t tell you how many sermons I’ve heard from the parables, and the preacher will say something like this. The parable clearly means such and such. Tread carefully preachers of the word, teachers of scripture.

[Robert Farrar] Capon says this:

 “In resorting so often to parables, Jesus’ main point was that any understanding of the kingdom his hearers could come up with would be a misunderstanding. Mention “messiah” to them, and they would picture a king on horseback, not a carpenter on a cross; mention “forgiveness” and they would start setting up rules about when it ran out. From Jesus’ point of view, the sooner their misguided minds had the props knocked from under them, the better. After all their yammer about how God should or shouldn’t run his own operation, getting them just to stand there with their eyes popped and their mouths shut would be a giant step forward.”

End quote, as only Capon could say it.

The theology that created the problem, cannot be the same theology to resolve it. I’ll say that again, the theology that created the problem—if there’s a problematic theology to begin with, it cannot be the same theology that resolves it. Jesus was approached by man seeking Jesus’s input and judgment on a family squabble, the dividing of assets after the death of one’s parent caused then (and causes today, feelings to be hurt), especially when the cultural norm was to give more to the older son.

And this was a practical matter done to ensure the family name and wealth lived on well beyond the death of the father. This younger brother received what was due to him by the cultural norms of the day, but he wanted more. The younger brother approached Jesus with a question of greed cloaked in a dispute over fairness.

Jesus chose not to intervene on the younger brother’s behalf, as Jesus is not some celestial genie or judge. Jesus is the Savior of the world, all creation, revealing God’s good purposes for us. Jesus is not focused on patching up family disputes or incidental injustices.

[Robert Farrar] Capon puts it this way.

“(Jesus’ ministry) is the bearing of the final injustice – death – and the raising up from it of an entirely new and reconciled creation.”

Hallelujah, praise God. After being unwilling to settle the family squabble, Jesus moved to tell a parable, a rich man hit the agricultural jackpot. His farm had been producing enough to provide for him, but then he hit the bumper crop. The abundance he had was nothing in comparison to the yields from his field during the latest harvest. The rich man tore down the existing barns to store all of the grain and goods his fields had given him; the man had an abundance on top of abundance. His store of grains and goods was so great that not only did he tear them down, what he already had for the sake of storing more, but he also made plans to take a hiatus from the farm to relax—eat, drink, and be merry.

The word fool seems to be a throwaway line used by Jesus. The word “fool” (it’s only used four times in the Gospels, two times in Matthew’s gospel and two times in Luke’s gospel), but each time fool is used, Jesus uses the word to describe behavior contrary to God’s good purposes for creation. To be foolish is to act out of alignment with reality, with the reality that God has revealed in himself in the person Jesus Christ.

Foolishness then, according to Jesus, is not merely a flippant attitude, but instead, an obsession, a need for more. This hoarding is greed. I need more wealth for the sake of having more. Now, Jesus is not saying that wealth is wrong. That’s where the parable trips us up sometimes. This is not a parable about selling off all your possessions and then giving all the proceeds to the poor.

Jesus is warning the younger brother caught up in the family squabble that the possessions he has and the desire for more will one day possess him. Jesus is telling us that the possessions we have and the desire for more will one day possess us. The wealth accumulated by the rich fool blinded him of his foolishness of destroying the barns he already had so that he could accumulate more.

The rich fools use of the first-person language, along with his plans for a sabbatical without an end date, signals his true intentions. He was not storing up grain so that he would be prepared for famine or to be able to help a neighbor knocking on his door in the middle of the night, seeking three loaves of bread.

On some level, all of us are rich fools because we live in a world where greed, extreme greed—Capon uses the word “avarice”—is the driving force behind flawed economic systems, the desires where more and more homes, of overindulgent retirement plans. And listen, I’m not pointing the finger. I’m just simply saying we have this need for greed in our society. We want more, we clutch to our lives and our purposes for them rather than living into the new life in Christ.

Listen friends, a rich fool is living “success,” uber success, but that success can lead to an insatiable appetite for more, instead of a desire to leverage that wealth for the sake of others, which is generosity. And this is not, again, not a contractual thing, a have-to. This is who God is. He is the generous one.

He is the one who shared everything with us in Jesus. This is the life we’ve been called to, a life of generosity. And here’s the thing. Generosity—it begets generosity. I think when we’re generous with others, I find that people tend to respond. We want to be generous because we’re made in the image of a generous God.

Richard Rohr said this:

“It’s hard and very rare to call your own job into question. When Jesus called his disciples, he also called them away from their jobs, and their families too (see Matthew 4:22). Of course, jobs and families are not bad things. But Jesus called them to leave their nets, because as long as anyone is tied to job security, there are a lot of things they cannot see and cannot say.”

Jesus is not saying you have to leave your work, but I guess the question is: what are we putting our assurance in? What gives us a sense of security? Is it Jesus or is it our stuff? And I remind you once again, the kingdom of God doesn’t look like this world. And loved ones, if we want to disciple the world, the less like the world we are, the more impact we will have upon it.

The less like the world we are, the more impact we will have upon it. Let’s be kingdom people who out of the generosity of God, his very being, we live in generosity toward others. Amen.

Friends, thank you for allowing me to take this time to share some commentary on these passages. May the word of God richly dwell in our hearts. And may you be blessed as you study and pray and prepare to preach and proclaim the good news of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us pray.

Father, Son, and Spirit, what a joy it is to be your children to be included in your life, to be forever united in this Father-Son relationship through the Spirit. We are overwhelmed with your generosity toward us.

The Bible, holy Scripture is a gift. Thank you that it reads us, that we not only encounter Scripture to teach others, but we encounter it to be taught by the Spirit. Have your way, Lord. Teach us, and may we be prepared as we show up on Sunday to share the good news. May we be prepared, that we’re excited to say what you’ve given us to say, because we have been communing with you throughout the week.

Lord, we love you. And we thank you that you first loved us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thank you for being a guest of Gospel Reverb. If you like what you heard, give us a high rating and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast content. Share this episode with a friend. It really does help us get the word out as we are just getting started. Join us next month for a new show and insights from the RCL.  Until then, peace be with you!

Making Friends in Your Neighborhood w/ Anne Stapleton

Video unavailable (video not checked).

In this episode, Cara Garrity interviews Pastor Anne Stapleton. Together they discuss the best practice of Making Friends in Your Neighborhood.

“When you’re friends, you do stuff together. And then eventually, they’ll say, ‘What do you for a living?’ or ‘Why do you act the way you do?’ Then they’ll be more interested in finding out about you. And you can invite them to church, or you can feel natural inviting them to a church picnic, potluck, or even a church service. If you really want to get to know them and find the things that they are longing for, and if they are longing for more people like you that are friendly and nonjudgmental, then invite them to meet some of your friend from church. See where God takes it.”

Anne Stapleton, GCI Pastor in Lemon Grove, California

Main Points:

Today we’ll be diving into the Love Avenue practice of making friends.

  • “Making friends” sounds kind of elementary but is deeper, and often harder, than it sounds. Why is making friends a key practice of the Love Avenue? (4:37)
  • What can it look like to develop both members’ individual relationship building as well as corporate efforts to connect with people in the neighborhood? (14:40)
  • How can making friends in the neighborhood shape the ministries or activities of the Love Avenue? (29:25)

 

Resources:

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Program Transcript


Making Friends in Your Neighborhood w/ Anne Stapleton

Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Christianna Doele.

Cara: Hello all, and welcome to the GC Podcast. Christianna, here in the U.S. (where we are located) it is summertime.

What is one of your favorite things about the summer?

Christianna: I think the biggest thing is having the chance to travel. I feel like you don’t always have the chance to do that during the year. And I just love getting to take the time off and visit family or see friends and make some great memories along the way. That’s definitely a highlight of the summer.

Cara: Yes. I love that. One of my favorite things is pretty similar. Summer feels like a fun time of the year. There’s extra daylight time to get to hang out with people and to do those activities. And it makes me think of what we’ll be talking about on the podcast today.

We’ll be hearing from pastor Anne Stapleton about making friends as a key rhythm of the Love Avenue. So, what is something that characterizes a meaningful friendship for you, Christianna?

Christianna: I think caring is one of the biggest things that characterizes meaningful friendships to me—being invested and supporting and encouraging and caring for each other through the day-to-day challenges and those big moments in life too. I think it’s really central to the friendships that I have and that I hope to continue developing. So caring is really a foundation of good friendships and meaningful friendships.

Cara: Amen. Amen. Let’s go ahead and hear what Pastor Anne has to share with us.


Cara: Hello, friends and welcome to today’s episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host, Cara Garrity.

And today I am blessed to interview Pastor Anne Stapleton. Anne and her husband have been pastoring, just a few miles east of San Diego, California for over 20 years. This is where they raised their two children who are now young adults. And it’s where they’ve planted their roots into a local community. Anne loves people, enjoys organic gardening, and a good true crime show or podcast, and is passionate about building healthy community in the neighborhood of Lemon Grove.

Pastor Anne, thank you so much for joining the pod.

Anne: Oh, thank you for having me.

Cara: It’s a joy to have you! Before we go ahead and get started, I’d love to know what are you celebrating these days?

Anne: What am I celebrating? I am celebrating—a couple of days away from celebrating 32 ½ years of being married to my best friend, Mark.

I’m celebrating the birth of our newest Cornerstone member. His name is Leo Alexander Liev and he’s six weeks old and has just absolutely captivated my heart and getting me ready to be a grandmother one day down the road. I guess I’m—really what captivates my mind most of my waking moments is I’m really celebrating our congregation being in the liminal space, which basically just means we’re in between things.

And we’re in this in-between time—between what we’ve been doing and a big vision that God’s given us for our community. And I think about it all the time. Our congregation chooses one word to focus on at the beginning of each year. And this year, our word is “prepare,” and I really feel like 2022 is a year of preparation for us of getting outside of our comfort zone and being right in the middle of our community, reaching them relationally with the love of Jesus.

So, I’m excited to see how it’s all gonna come together. And I think I celebrate that every day.

Cara: Amen. Amen. I am so excited to see what God has in store for you all. And I love this idea of liminal space. So, thank you for sharing those celebrations with us. And today we’re going to be diving deeper into the Love Avenue practice of making friends.

I just want to get started, Anne, with asking you, making friends sounds like elementary, right? It’s something that we tell preschoolers to do, “Go make friends today.” But I think it’s deeper and often even harder than it sounds. So why is making friends a key practice of the Love Avenue?

Anne: Why is making friends keep practice? I guess I would say at the very core, it’s obvious. It’s because God is a relationship, and God’s economy is relationships. I say this all the time at our church—God is not about gold or money or things. He’s all about relationships and has existed eternally in relationship.

I think friendship is probably one of the best expressions of relationship. Even in a good marriage, you have to be friends. And I’ve been thinking—I’m glad you asked this question because I’ve been thinking a lot about how friendships have been affected by this pandemic. And in reaching out to our local communities, the studies are showing that the isolation that we’ve endured over the past two years has a lot of people really starving for friendships and authentic connection.

Also, you think about how friendships have been tested, relationships have been tested because people are disagreeing about so many things, right? Disagreements over politics, over justice issues, over the response to this COVID-19 thing that we’ve all been cursed with. And I guess the question really, when you’re thinking about a Love Avenue and meeting new people and sharing God’s love and the gospel with people, is: how can we be friends with people that believe differently than us?

I think that’s a key question when you’re talking about outreach and mission is earning people’s trust, right? Because people don’t trust very easily anymore. And if they think you’re just befriending them so you can get them to do something for yourself, like a selfish motive, or even try to get them to believe differently or do something differently, people don’t trust that. And I think we must, must, must learn how to love and befriend people who are different than us, and allow the Holy Spirit to find that common ground and allow the Holy Spirit to lead them to a place of hearing the gospel. But it starts with trusting relationships, absolutely.

Cara: And I love what you say about relationships being God’s economy because even when I think about this idea of making friends, I think about our God is a triune God. So, making friends is not just some pithy little thing that we say to kids as we send them off to school.

But it’s essential to who God is and who he’s created us to be. So, when you bring it back to, what does this mean in real life to be who God has created his people to be, we have to confront those questions. What does it mean to be friends with people who are not like us? That’s when it really gets to that depth and that difficulty where we have to wrestle with that.

I thank you for posing that challenging question. I think that’s really when the rubber hits the road, so to say, about what it means to participate in the person of God.

I wonder, what has it looked like for your church community to make friends in your neighborhood and what challenges and blessings have you encountered as you’ve done that?

Anne: I think for everybody right now, the biggest challenges is COVID, of course. It’s like, how do you go out in an environment where loving people means not getting too close to them or wearing a mask and you can’t see their expressions on their face? But thinking pre-COVID?

Let’s see, a couple of challenges come to mind just being a local church pastor of a smaller church. And that is that it just seems like finding connecting points for people to meet new people. I think when we’re kids (like you were talking about being friends), it’s so easy for kids to make friends. They go out on the playground. It’s proximity. They’re friends with everybody on the playground, right?

I think as we get older and we get more comfortable in our routines, it’s hard to find new people to make friends with. I just think that is one of the biggest challenges. Let’s say all of our friends are Christians, and we run in Christian circles, and we just don’t know anybody new, besides maybe meeting our neighbors on the right and the left of us wherever we live or in an apartment. I think that’s probably one of the greatest challenges is finding connecting points to build relationships that are natural and not awkward. And don’t feel forced. You’re not walking down the street, handing out tracks, you know what I’m saying?

I think you asked I think you asked how we’ve encountered, how we’ve handled it.

Cara: Yeah. What does it look like for you?

Anne: For us, one thing that we’ve tried to do in our community is, first of all, just to be present. We just show up to stuff, even if it might feel a little uncomfortable.

And we try to be generous. Probably at least a decade, we’ve done a dozen free yard sales, where we just give away stuff. And that puts you in a stance of generosity and just trying to bless people. And it makes people curious. And so, it strikes up conversations.

Before COVID, we started something at the local farmer’s market called “The Give It Away Project.” And, it was like a free yard sale, but it was every week. We set up two booths, and we would just give away clothes. We would collect donations and people loved giving stuff to us to donate, and then we would donate stuff out.

We’d always have people come and go, why are you doing this? What do you mean it’s free? Why is it free? And we would just—it gave us permission to have wonderful conversations with people. For our church, it gave some of our senior members, who are pretty much at home all the time and had just have a couple close friends, [a chance] to get out and meet people of all ages and have conversations and just share God’s love.

It wasn’t like they were trying to sell anything or get people to even come to our church. It was just a way for them to start building relationships with people. And we did see people coming back every week and them knowing our names and we’d know their names. And then we’d see them other places in our community. We go to other events and set up booths and just give stuff away.

Right now, during the pandemic, we’ve been picking up trash every Tuesday at 7:00 a.m., going around and picking up trash and meeting a totally different element of community, a lot of unsheltered people, people that have been outside all night. We get to see them when we’re out picking up trash, and we’ve invited city council members to come. They’re coming out and helping us.

And so, we’re just trying to be present and use what God’s given us to build more relationships.

Cara: Yes. And one of the things that jumps out at me from what you shared that y’all have done is the consistency of your presence. Continuously being present in your neighborhood and the posture of your presence, that generosity showing up without expectation.

So, the consistency of presence, that’s incredible.

Anne: That is so important. I’m so glad you highlighted that. Because just to go out and do one big event and blow it out and then you’re not there anymore, it just doesn’t have the same effect. And honestly, when we first started doing free yard sales, that’s how it was.

We’d go out and we’d do this big, free yard sale and give away all this stuff. And people would drive in, grab a lamp and then drive off, and we would never see them again. And so, we rethought the whole process and said, you know what we need? Consistency. So that’s when we started “The Give It Away Project.” And they knew every single Thursday, we were going to be out there, and they would come look for us.

And they started giving us donations like money. “Here’s a couple dollars.” They’d just took a bunch of shoes and some dishes, and they were so grateful that they wanted to give back, as well. So, it fostered that.

But the consistency—I still bump into people that I met for those eight weeks before the pandemic that we did “The Give It Away Project.” And I’m really sad that closed everything down and we had to stop the project, but God will open other doors. It’s all a learning experience. So, we just have to just go with the flow of things.

Cara: Absolutely. And to even think of that impact (in only eight weeks), that consistency can have.

When we think about—again, coming back to this elementary idea of making friends—most of us don’t make friends with somebody meeting them just one time. Every once in a while, maybe something does happen, you really hit it off. But normally, relationships develop over time spent with somebody. I love that you’ve “hit the nail on the head” with that consistency of showing up and being present in the neighborhood with people.

I’m curious what can it look like to develop both members’ individual relationship-building, as well as the church’s corporate efforts to connect with people in the neighborhood? Because I see these as simultaneous expressions or rhythms.

Anne: In my opening sermon for the year, casting vision for this year and introducing the word “prepare,” I told the congregation, we’re going to use the word “bless” as an acronym to prepare us this year for going out into the community. And just to give a little more detail, the vision that we feel God has given us is to stop renting from other churches because we’ve done that for the last 20 plus years and get our own small retail space right in the heart of Lemon Grove, where Broadway and Lemon Grove Avenue connect. And there’s a huge 2-ton lemon right there at that corner. And have our space be very much like a coffee shop that is fostering conversations. So, I like to say we’re going to build community through connection over coffee.

As we prepare for that, we’re going to use the word “BLESS.” And what it stands for—and I think this kind of answers your question—is the B stands for “begin with prayer.” And that is where it always starts. God, please make an appointment for me, help me bump into somebody today that needs to just feel loved and know you more.

Then the L stands for “listen well.” And we’re going to spend a lot of time this year practicing listening without judgment, listening without thinking about what you want to say next, but just to really be fully present in a conversation. And I think that is something that we can all get better at. I know for my myself, that’s always something I need to be practicing and that’s individual and corporate as well.

And then the third one, the E is “eating together,” and I can’t wait till masks can come off and we are eating together and not worrying about germs. And I think something happens when you share a meal together. Breaking bread is just beyond communion, taking a little thimble of juice and a cracker. I think breaking bread is sharing our lives together over meals. And so, I’m looking forward to doing that.

And then the two S’s—the first S stands for “serve with love.” And then the last one is “share your story.” So, the very last thing is when you start talking! And you start sharing the gospel, if you want to say God’s story, your story and how you share the gospel, it all begins with prayer, listening, eating together, serving them, and then you share your story and allow God to infuse your story with his Spirit.

And I think the trust is built through the B, the L, the E, and the S and then you get to the last one, and then they’re ready to hear your story, because you’ve earned that. You have that relational collateral where they’ll trust what you say that you really care about them. And you’re not just trying to get them to join your church or do something for yourself, which feels selfish.

Cara: Right. Thank you for sharing that, that BLESS acronym. (I think is the right term for it if I’m remembering correctly.)

Anne: I should give credit. Actually, I heard that acronym about 5-8 years ago at an Exponential conference, and I just have always remembered it. And I think about it often when I’m building a friendship with somebody. I think about, “Anne, just pray for them right now.” Just pray silently. I think we have to learn that technique of praying while we’re talking, praying while we’re listening. And I just go down the BLESS when I’m trying to build new friendships in the community.

Cara: Yes. And I think, together as a church community of those who are already gathering together as the church in Lemon Grove, you guys are corporately being prepared, but in a way that also is equipping members to be making friends in their personal encounters. And even the idea of creating this space where you can have coffee meetings and things like that is creating a corporate space and creating opportunities corporately as a church community, while also acknowledging that our participation in Jesus’ mission of relationship and making friends and joining him in the world isn’t restricted to only when we’re all together. And so that’s what I love about what you shared and how you guys are approaching this—it’s for the both / and, the corporate spaces and when we’re just walking around the streets for whoever God may have us encounter, when we’re minding our own business in our daily activities and rhythms. The both / and—the corporate and the individual.

Anne: Absolutely.

Cara: As we’re learning and we’re growing in these habits of building these relationships in our neighborhoods, what are some of the habits or ways of thinking that you think can get in the way of making authentic friendships?

Anne: What can get in the way? First thing that pops into my head is just the need to be right. So many times, people choose being right over relationships and I—our congregation, they’re probably sick of hearing me say this, but I’m always talking about relationships. And I tell them, I choose relationships over being right.

So, if I need to just swallow and breathe and not have to say, I disagree with that. Not that disagreement is bad and sometimes having a healthy debate can be really invigorating, but I think what I’m talking about is having a: this is what a Christian looks like or this is what people should be doing.

And then when somebody comes into your worldview or maybe sits across the coffee table from you or at a coffee shop and they look differently and they believe differently and they behave differently, it can make people uncomfortable if they’re not prepared for that. And I think so many times people think that being a Christian is getting other people to behave a certain way and it’s really not.

And I think that hinders how the world views Christians, as judgmental and I don’t know, it wound up too tight. And I think developing, learning to develop, to be comfortable with people, letting people be themselves and really finding out who they are. And instead of going, “Well, you shouldn’t feel that way, or you shouldn’t think that way, or you shouldn’t dress that way.”

But to really just meet them where they are, like the way Jesus would and listen to them and hear them and allow them to be that. It’s better to know the truth and not have them pretend to be something they’re not because you’re all wound up too tight.

Aim to be comfortable, because I think if somebody sits across from you, that is the opposite of you, it is uncomfortable, right? Maybe they’re politically the opposite of you or they are an atheist, or they don’t believe in God, and you do, or just, they dress differently. Because we like to be around people that are like us. Let’s just be honest. So, it makes us comfortable and the way that we feel right. It’s, “Oh yeah, this is the way that it should be.”

You said, what can we do to maybe challenge that or get rid of some things that get in the way? And I would say maybe make it a spiritual practice to get to know people who are not like you, like to just be able to sit in their presence and not have your body language—which is 70% of your communication—not be all like uncomfortable and nervous and just be relaxed and be able to listen to them. And finding that common ground of what they enjoy and finding where Jesus is at work in their life. Because I truly believe that Jesus is already out in my community doing all kinds of great stuff, and he’s working with people. I just get to go participate with that and sit down with somebody and see—and maybe help them see—how God is already at work in their life.

And I think it’s just learning to relax a little bit instead of trying to change people or be moral police or get them to a third thing. “That’s all good, what you just said, except you need Jesus, as well.” Yes! They need Jesus. In fact, Jesus has already got them.

And so, to just relax into that and not have to feel like trying to conform them into your mold of what you think a Jesus follower looks like, and maybe pull it out of them instead of trying to squeeze them into something.

Cara: You said something that I think is really profound to see that as a spiritual practice. I think that is so profound, because it is! It speaks to, how are we viewing God? How are we understanding his kingdom, his ministry, his mission in this world and our participation in it, what he’s up to in our midst, and the lives of those around us. And what you said that he’s already here and at work and in the lives of those that we meet, whether we’re comfortable or not, that is profound.

And so that is a spiritual practice of really recognizing God in places that maybe we might not expect to see him, and in people we might not expect to see him. But learning to see people through a Christ lens and see him at work in the making of friendships. That’s incredible.

Anne: It just takes the pressure off, right? Like I don’t have to go convince somebody to believe something differently than what they already believe. I just, I get the opportunity to participate in pulling out what is already there. God is the one who put in our hearts the desire to have fringe.

He’s the one who gave us that human need to connect. Babies, if they’re not touched and held die, right? We need each other and that’s a core thing that God stamped in every single human being, whether they call on his name or not. And so, to participate in that and help them see that is from a Creator. I don’t know.

It makes it exciting for me and it relieves the pressure. I can just enjoy people for who they are. I don’t have to get them to sign a contract by the end of a conversation that I believe in Jesus and he’s my Savior here. I’m going to say this little sinner’s prayer, sign the contract, and I’m done, and then I move on to the next person.

I think that’s harmful to the gospel, honestly.

Cara: Yes. Yes, because it’s like you said, it’s pressure. And that pressure almost, it sounds like, comes from this idea of, we are the ones to make something happen. We are the ones that have to save this person. Not, God is already at work, and we are participants in that.

That’s an important distinction that I think that you’ve drawn out, Anne. That’s awesome. Anything else that you would want to speak to in that sense? Barriers or habits, ways of thinking that get in the way of us building authentic relationships?

Anne: I guess just anything that is a barrier to a relationship. Being too busy (and I could be guilty of that) too busy doing the task. Sometimes I’ll get so focused on the task that I can dismiss the people. And I need to make sure that I’m always inviting people into the task.

I would say being busy. Being right. Those are obstacles. Judging people or just trying to make people look like me. Think like me. Those are all barriers to friendships, honestly.

Cara: And I like what you say about the task. I think busy-ness—that’s huge. But it’s not either / or, a lot of the times—tasks or people. What you said, you can invite people into the task with you.

Anne: That’s where some of the best friendships are made, honestly, when you’re doing something together.

Cara: I love that.

And as we’re practicing this and making friends in the neighborhood, how can making friends in the neighborhood shape the ministries or activities of the Love Avenue?

Anne: You’re going to get sick of hearing me say this, but I think all activities are to build and invest in relationships. So, if you have a program that’s not building relationships then cut it, or reshape it, redo it, nothing is too sacred. I think relationships are sacred. And so, everything needs to be about that. Everything.

At the end of every service for the last 16 years maybe, we say (this is what we say at Cornerstone), “We will live with Jesus, love with Jesus, and lead people with Jesus. And it used to be, we used to say, “We will live like Jesus, love like Jesus, and lead people to Jesus.” That’s how we first used to say it.

And about five years ago, we said this is not theologically correct. Jesus isn’t over here or over there, and we’ve got to grab somebody and lead them to him. We’re doing all of this with Jesus. It’s all about the relationship with Jesus with Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s the relationship we have with the triune God and then participating with a relationship that he already has with the other person and that he has with us. And it’s this symbiotic thing.

So, we say it every [Sunday], “We will live, love, and lead.” That our hashtag. It’s our motto. Even the smallest child knows. That’s what Cornerstone is about—living with, loving with, and leading with Jesus. So, it’s all about relationships. That’s how it is. Everything.

I think that’s how making friends shapes what we do at Cornerstone. We’re friends with God, and we’re friends with each other, and we’re friends with the world.

Cara: And when we actually make friends, and it becomes a reality and not just a conceptual thing, then that becomes a real thing that truly does shape the ministry.

It really does become a priority. And as you said, then we can prioritize this. If something is not helping to advance relationships, then we can cut it. Because we know what it means and what it looks like to be building those friendships in our neighborhoods.

And I imagine too, as we build that reality, we start to learn the practicalities of what does build relationships in our particular neighborhoods and what doesn’t, because every neighborhood is a little bit different or sometimes a lot, a bit different.

What would build relationships in one neighborhood might be different from another. And so, I think there’s a little maybe even trial and error. And as you get to actually know people in your neighborhood, you’ll know what activities do build relationships and what don’t.

Anne: That’s true. That’s true.

Cara: Anne, what advice do you have to share with our listeners who are getting started in the ministry of friend making?

Anne: I guess, bless them, begin with prayer. And like you said, maybe your neighborhood is a suburb with a lot of kids and maybe you have kids. And you can go out and start something, do an activity, rent a bouncy house, and invite all the kids over.

I think the prayer is where you have to (and I know this is a theological word) but you have to exegete your community. You have to know who they are and what they care about and where’s your common ground in that?

And, you might be a grandmother and you don’t have any kids, but you love kids, and you could set up, you could help them run a lemonade stand, or you could do something.

It’s beginning with the prayer. And then listening (back to the B L E S S—begin with prayer.) Listen. Because that’s where you’ll find out what they’re interested in. If you’re listening, you’re having conversations and then all of a sudden you realize, oh, they like to fish, and I know somebody in my church who fishes and then you can connect them.

And I think that listening is such a key part. And it’s being a friend first before just trying to find a friend it’s and it’s doing life together. And when you listen, you’ll hear those things. Like maybe it’s a book they read and maybe you think, oh, I need to start a book club. I’ll start a book club. I found three people who love to read or listen to books-on-tape (or not tape, audiobooks. Sorry, dating myself there.)

And then of course, eating together (the E in BLESS.) Make some space, even in COVID, you could do something outdoors, have a picnic on your front lawn with your neighbor.

What I try to do is connect my church family with my neighbors that live to the left and right of me. And we do different things, like I’ll invite, I’ll do a block party. Right before COVID, we did a block party for Christmas in our neighborhood. And there hadn’t been one (that we knew of), and all kinds of people came walking down the street with their desserts and we were out in the front yard.

And then I invited our church. “Come over, make friends with the people that are in my neighborhood.” And it’s just finding the common ground. And once again, just truly caring about them.

They can tell the difference. If they think it’s a church hosting an event to get people to come to their church, they’ll be turned off, at least in California. That’s not a cool thing. But if they think you care about them, just because you care about, then you’ve earned their trust and now you can become friends and do life together. And you can do the other S: serving them with love and sharing your story.

But I would say something else too is I think people fear making friends because they’re afraid maybe they won’t know what to say. Or they won’t have anything in common and the conversation will stall out. And I guess what I could say to that is just learn how to ask good questions. Just go online and look up 50 top questions for making friends or something, and if you can ask a good question and get the other person talking, then your work is done.

You know what I mean? Then you can just relax and listen and ask a follow-up question. But they say, an interesting person is an interested person. So, if you want to be an interesting person, just be interested in the person and it will flow.

And the friendship will blossom in ways that you couldn’t imagine, rather than you coming in thinking you have to be all that. “Oh, I’ve got to know everything. And I’m from one decade and they’re from another decade, and what in the world would I have in common with them?” You’re both human beings. You both maybe live on the same street or wherever you’re making your new friend.

And just find that by asking questions, what are they interested in? And what do they, how do they spend their spare time? What interesting TV shows have they seen lately? There are just all kinds of ways to (you have to do a little work) prepare yourself, have a couple of go-to questions that you can ask a stranger and then listen. And I think it’ll come more naturally than some of us fear.

Cara: That is some great advice. Thank you for sharing that with our listeners.

As we start to close up our time today, is there anything that we didn’t touch on or something that I didn’t ask you about that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Anne: It’s all about relationships. I did share that about 10 times! No, I can’t think of anything specific, but I guess, put on the lenses of relationship, put on the glasses and start looking everywhere. And I think you’ll see people hungry for relationships everywhere you go.

The cashier at the grocery store, the guy at the gas station. And if you just smile and make yourself fully present, instead of on your phone or busy or thinking about the next thing you have to do, I think God opens doors for relationships everywhere. And honestly, that is going to be a great harvest for the church coming out of the pandemic, as things really start opening up, there are going to be so many people who maybe even forgot how to have a conversation with a person face to face.

And if we’re not scared and we’re willing to dive in and love people well and listen well, I think we’re going to be able to make a lot of friends. And then, when you’re friends, you want to do stuff together. And then eventually they’ll say, “What do you do for a living?” Or they’ll say, “Why do you act the way you do?”

And maybe there’ll be interested in finding out more about you, and you can invite them to church. And it would feel natural. It would feel natural to invite them to a church picnic or a potluck or even a service. If you really get to know them and find the things that they’re longing for.

And if they’re longing for more people like you that are friendly and nonjudgmental, invite them to meet some of your friends from church and just see where God takes it. I’m not saying hide church from people, but I am saying is make the relationship and the friendship the more important thing and allow God to naturally open doors to invite them to your church and your church activities.

Cara: Yeah, becomes transformational rather than transactional.

Anne: Absolutely well said.

Cara: Amen. Thank you so much for sharing all these incredible insights. And I believe that our listeners will have a lot to continue to pray about and to discuss with one another in their local context.

And now is a segment of our podcast where it’s time to get a little bit silly. So, I have a few random questions for you

Anne: Uh oh.

Cara: We’ll see if your fear is warranted by the end. So, if you’re ready, I’m just going to ask a few random questions and you can tell us the first thing that comes to mind. All right.

If you could only listen to one genre of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I know it’s an unfair question.

Anne: That is so unfair. For the rest of my life? Seriously. Wow. I’ll give you the first thing that popped into my head and that is kind of new—how else would you say? Instrumental new age kind of music. I love turning it on in the background when I’m journaling or when I’m praying or when I’m just even working around the house.

It calms my spirit. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good ‘80s rock band too, but I don’t think I could listen to that for the rest of my life, but I could listen to a wonderful, piano melody, or just like an instrumental music softly behind me that just sets the mood.

I think that’s probably what I would listen to the rest of my life.

Cara: Nice. All right. Are you a book version or a movie version person?

Anne: I think I’m a movie version. I like audio books too, but I just, I have a hard time sitting still and reading a whole book. I don’t know why, I guess I just have so much I want to do so I love audio books.

I’ll stick earbuds in my ears and go to work and go out and do stuff, garden or compost, and I’m listening to my books on tape, but I love a good movie.

Cara: Oh, yeah. There’s no shame in that game. If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?

Anne: Instantly become an expert? Probably. I think I would be an addiction counselor. I run across so many people that are really struggling with addictions of all kinds. And I would love to really know how to actually help them move through that, to the point of overcoming that, or at least being able to manage that addiction and live life well.

So, I think that. It might have something to do with coaching that I really think there’s some skills that I don’t have in dealing with addictions that I would love to have and be an expert at.

Cara: Amen. This next question is it’s make or break. Are you team dog or team cat?

Anne: I’m allergic to both.

Cara: So, team none! Alright, I’ll accept it.

Anne: If I had to choose, I would take a dog. I’d take a big dog over a cat, probably

Cara: Your favorite childhood game?

Anne: I guess I like building things. I’m a visual hands-on person. So, I guess I would have to say Tinkertoys or Lincoln Logs. Does anybody remember what those are? I loved building things with Tinkertoys. Yeah.

Cara: All right. And last one, what is your favorite type of weather?

Anne: San Diego. I love the sunshine.

Yeah, I couldn’t probably live in the Pacific Northwest. I would probably be depressed all the time. I love a good 70-to-80-degree day. That is perfect for me. And I live in the right place for my temperament. I was born in Colorado, by the way. I have enjoyed not having snowy winters, but that’s just me. And some people think it’s boring, but that’s okay. I get to live in San Diego, right?

Cara: That’s right.

Pastor Anne, thank you so much for taking your time to join us today. It’s our practice with GC Podcast to end the show with the word of prayer. So, would you be willing to pray for our listeners, churches, pastors, and ministry leaders in GC?

Anne: Sure.

Father, Son, and Spirit, thank you for the loving relationship that you have shared with us. You’ve invited us into that generative, generous relationship that you’ve been in for all eternity. And so, my prayer today is for all that are listening that we could just grow in that.

And we can rest in it, we can play in it, and we can participate in it. And take that joy and that beauty of the friendship we have with you to everyone we meet and truly spread the gospel and be on mission by loving people well and loving the way you’ve loved us. So first it starts with us, just really resting in the love that you have for us and reciprocating that friendship and getting to know you better.

And then taking that out to the human beings that you’ve created. And loving them well, by being friends with them, being friendly, and getting to know them well. Help us to be better listeners. Help us to be generous in even how we view them.

And help us to trust you that you’re the one already at work in their lives, and it’s not up to us to change other people. We get to just participate in loving them well, and that’s a blessing to us.

God, please bring us through this pandemic, to where we can really embrace people with hugs, and we can eat together. And we can really be an instrument in your hands to help people who have been isolated by this pandemic. And we can be a moving force in our communities to help people to heal and to connect.

Thank you for Grace Communion International and where you’re leading us. And I just pray for the future of this denomination and all who are in it and all who will join in this coming year. And I pray this in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

Cara: Amen.


Cara: I really appreciated Anne’s statement that relationship is God’s economy because our God is a God of relationship. Making friends is critical in sharing in God’s life and being his church. What made an impression on you?

Christianna: I loved the BLESS acronym. I think that is such a great way for us to envision how we develop relationships. And how we really make sure that we create space for common ground for those expressions of caring. And then also for those moments and opportunities where we can really be able to share God’s love in those relationships.

So, I think that is a great takeaway and a good way to remember how we want to be engaging with others and creating those meaningful friendships.

Cara: Yeah. And a practical way to remember too, right? It’s an easy thing that you can carry around with you and keep in mind.

Christiana, can you tell us how we can find out more about participating in Love Avenue ministry?

Christianna: To find out more, you can visit resources.gci.org/love to explore the GCI Love Avenue resources and the Love Avenue toolkit.

Cara: Thank you so much, friends. Thank you for joining us today. We really appreciate you listening in on the GC Podcast. If you like what you heard, go on ahead and give us a rating where you listen to the podcast. It helps us share the conversation.

Until next time, keep on living and sharing the gospel.

We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast. We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at info@gci.org. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.

 

Sermon for July 03, 2022 – Proper 9

Speaking of Life 4032 | True Boasting

Dealing with sickness can become expensive very quickly. Even for the characters in the Old Testament, health care was expensive and unpredictable. Listen to Greg as he shares the story of Naaman, a prideful man who becomes sick. Eventually, he realizes that there is only one true Healer who can fully restore him inside and out.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4032 | True Boasting
Greg Williams

Have you ever had a medical bill that made you cringe? Regardless of where you fall in debates over how you should pay for healthcare, there is one thing everyone can agree on. Good care is priceless. This is as true today as it was three millennia ago.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the story of Naaman.

Naaman was a successful commander, competent warrior, and a well-regarded statesman. Yet the Bible reveals that he also suffered from a skin condition. In the ancient world, all dermatological conditions were lumped into the same category – leprosy.

Help for Naaman came through a young, humble servant in his home. She told Naaman’s wife that the Lord’s prophet Elisha had the power to heal.

We pick up the story in 2 Kings, where we find Naaman with a letter from his king written to the king of Israel:

So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
2 Kings 5:5-6

It seems that even in the 9th century BC, specialized health care was expensive! The wealth that Naaman brought with him was significant, enough to buy a large swathe of land.

The prophet Elisha heard about the letter and told the king to send Naaman to him. When Naaman arrived, Elisha sent a messenger telling Naaman to go bathe in the river Jordan seven times before he will see him in person!

This is the turning point in the narrative. Until this point, Naaman has relied on his own importance, resources, and power. But none of these things are considered in Elisha’s treatment plan. Naman is furious that Elisha won’t even see him and he leaves in a huff.

Fortunately, his servants intervened saying, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”

Convinced Naaman washes in the river Jordan seven times, and is healed!

Humbled and restored, Naaman wants to present Elisha with a gift, but Elisha refuses payment or privileges. Naman realizes the riches of God’s glory, and promises that any boasting he does in the future will not be of his own strength, but of the provision of God.  

The story of Naaman’s healing is the story of abundant Grace. It tells of how kings, generals, and warriors are powerless to change the things that really matter to us, but God’s grace is all-powerful. Naaman returned to Aram boasting in the one true God of Israel and the grace-filled deliverance God gave him.

Echoing these words, a millennia later the apostle Paul calls us to boast “in the cross of our Lord Jesus.” Like Naaman, we are powerless to heal ourselves – physically and spiritually. But we can boast in the one who restores us, redeems us, and fills us with grace. We boast in Jesus Christ.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 30:1-12 • 2 Kings 5:1-14 • Galatians 6:1-16 • Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The theme of this week is boasting in abundant grace. Our call to worship Psalm praises the glory of God as one who is with us through the good and the bad times. In 2 Kings 5 we read of the story of Naaman, who wants to pay tribute to Elisha for the healing he received from God but learns that his desire to declare God’s glory is all that is needed of him. Paul gladly declares in the book of Galatians that his only boast is in Jesus Christ and all he has done for him. Luke shares that when the disciples returned from declaring the coming of God’s kingdom, excited by the miraculous works they had done, Jesus reminded them that their true boast is in their own salvation.

No Time to Gloat

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

If you have ever watched a sport, played a multiplayer video game, or worked in a competitive field, it is likely you’re no stranger to the concept of showboating. Whether it is the athlete concocting an elaborate dance, a shrill voice declaring you’ve been “pwned” in your headset, or a colleague shamelessly sharing their promotion and pay increase with their new subordinates, there is one thing everyone can agree on – gloating is only enjoyable for the victor.

Many sports have rules against showboating – it is unsportsmanlike, a concept that can be traced back to wars and conflicts. Online gaming networks have rules against harassment that often cover unsportsmanlike conduct. Most workplaces would frown upon a superior vaunting their relative wealth. Yet again, these are all things some of us have or will experience regularly. Gloating is deeply ingrained in our sinful nature.

When the seventy-two disciples were sent out by Jesus to declare the coming of God’s kingdom, a group including fishermen and tax collectors, without formal training or experience, were thrown into the deep end of evangelical ministry. Let’s read the passage:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’” (Luke 10:1-11)

No time for vengeance and burials

It helps to consider the context of the seventy-two disciples in this passage. Though they follow and believe in Jesus, they knew they did not fit the mold of your average rabbi’s student. Our passage follows on the heels of Jesus being rejected by a local community. The twelve disciples wanted to call down heavenly fire to consume the village, and Jesus had to rebuke them. Then when he called for more disciples, he stressed to all of them the great cost of following him.

In these passages in Luke 9 and 10, Jesus is teaching his disciples a new way of responding. When Jesus is wronged, they want vengeance, and he rebukes their response. When he calls others, they are not ready to follow, and they lose out on the opportunity to become part of his ministry. Yet these seventy-two have passed that test, and now they are given power – the power to bless and heal and the power to speak against those who do not respond to the gospel message.

Even while Jesus tells them they are being sent out as lambs among wolves, like the amateur competing against the professional, he gives them power and authority. And the authority Jesus granted to them would have been unlike anything they might have expected. He told them to heal people while they fulfilled the role usually left to a prophet of proclaiming the kingdom. Alongside John the Baptist, they are proclaiming the coming of the Lord to the towns they entered.

Like Jonah to the Ninevites, the disciples have a single message to those who reject them – change and repent. It is important to note that they are told that their symbolic action is a warning and a call for repentance, just as Jonah’s warning to the Ninevites. This warning represents God’s sincere desire for people to turn back to him and be saved.

Gloating in another’s victory

But the real feather in the cap (or so they think) of the disciples comes in their report back to Jesus:

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:16-20)

The disciples are thrilled and excited. They have done what Jesus has done; they’ve declared the kingdom, healed the sick but there is something more… they’ve cast out demons! The amateurs have beaten the pros!

It is interesting that Jesus does not say anything positive about this experience other than to confirm the impact of their work upon Satan’s designs. There are many churches that have created identities based upon the casting out of demons, yet when it is done in Scripture, it is a non-event in the eyes of Jesus. In the presence of his sovereignty, the defeat of Satan was never in question.

When Jesus tells them, “I saw Satan fall…” he is highlighting three things. He is making a powerful statement about his divinity – no earthly human witnessed Satan’s fall. He is commending the work for the kingdom that the disciples have done – they are participating in the downfall of the enemy. And he is pointing out that the defeat of Satan is a done deal – overcoming the demons and gloating about it is akin to gloating over a defeated enemy. Though they participate in the downfall by casting the demons out, the disciples are not the cause.

Satan is the strong man that Jesus has already bound; the disciples’ power over the demons was never the point. In fact, the disciples sharing of the coming of the kingdom was a far greater act!

Rejoice in our heavenly place

Jesus calls on his disciples to rejoice in their salvation. This is the real cause for boasting and joy! The athlete who scored the goal, the gamer who defeated his friends, the colleague peacocking his promotion are all symptoms of misplaced pride. We were made to boast, but sin has twisted our boasting toward ourselves and not God. As the apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 6, we are made to boast in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us.

Let us learn to boast in what really matters.

Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins W1

Video unavailable (video not checked).

July 3 – Proper 9
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 “Lord of the Harvest”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Program Transcript


Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony—W1

Let me read our first pericope for this month, which is Luke 10:1-11, 16-20. (This month, we’re going to focus on the New Revised Standard Version.)

It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 9, which is July the third.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

Jesus came to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God. And in this particular passage, he’s authorizing a wider band of disciples to go out and do the same thing.

He’s not sending them out to be door-to-door salespeople, hocking magazine subscriptions and lawn care services. He doesn’t want them to look like moochers or give even a whiff of being profiteers. He is telling them to go and bring peace, Shalom, to all who will receive it. And the rest of their message is pretty straight forward.

The kingdom of God is near you. They are proclaiming a whole new way of life, a way to live and to be in this world, a whole new way to orient, not just this or that sideline feature to one’s life but everything, the whole ball of wax, every jot and tittle of one’s existence. Even when Jesus tells his disciples to wipe the dust of the rejecting town off their feet, he still tells them to conclude their comments with yet one more reminder that the kingdom of God is near. And who’s to say that we cannot speak those words through tears of love and compassion. And Jesus talked about “go on your way or as you are going,” like we see in the great commission in Matthew 28. See, I’m sending you out as lambs.

And this is what cruciform living is all about. Cruciform is just a word that simply means having the shape of a cross. It is a life that looks self-sacrificial, a life of laying down one’s life for the other. And he’s saying (as we saw in Acts 1, when Jesus said, you’ll be my witnesses) we know that word, witness in the Greek language, it literally means martyr. It’s to lay down one’s life.

You will receive power by the Holy Spirit, God with you, a God who understands what it looks like to lay down one’s life. And I’m calling you, I’m inviting you into that same sort of cruciform living. This is the missio Dei, which is a Latin, Christian theological term that is translated as the mission of God or the sending of God.

God sends us. He says, I’m sending you out. Jesus is sending us as he was sent by the Father. And as Jesus was sent, we also go in the power of the Holy Spirit. And what do we say to people? Peace! Peace to this house. Peace be unto you. Peace be with you. This is what we find Jesus doing. Even as we see in other passages, where he shows up and the disciples are afraid, or they’re not living the missio Dei in the moment as he would have them do, his first word is peace be unto you.

And these are the words that our Prince of Peace have given to us. And that means even in the face of great consternation, great suffering, and affliction.

Just this week, the week that I’m recording this particular episode, we’ve had another mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas [U.S.], and it was just devastating, wasn’t it? To hear the news, to see the scenes, to see the anguish and the grief of parents and grandparents and siblings that have lost loved ones, young children.

And it just gets me thinking, if these events have left us heartbroken and weeping, which they have, imagine what God must be seen and feeling. God, the Creator, who entrusts us with his creation, with one another’s lives (and with his own life, in a sense) today, the Creator and the created once again, stand together, weeping and broken hearted over this senseless loss.

I no longer see these tragedies as problems to be fixed or behaviors to be corrected. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There are steps to be taken. Rather, I just viewed them as symptoms pointing to a deeper issue. And until we are willing to deal with the deeper issue, things aren’t likely to change. And the deeper issue is the human heart.

Whether by terrorist attack, through prejudice [and] discrimination against a minority group or political campaigns or in our personal relationships, the violence and mistreatment we perpetuate on each other first arises from an inner violence that poisons and fragments, the human heart. We need a change of heart.

We need a heart of peace. So where is the peace of God today? I think that’s a question many are asking. It’s a question I suspect God is maybe asking too. Where is the peace? It is a question that theologians and practitioners have wrestled with through ages and ages.

So, the question of theodicy—which ultimately is a question. Why does a perfectly good Almighty, an all-knowing God, permit evil? And I don’t know that I have a good answer for that. We live in a fallen world where brokenness is still running rampant in our world, but I thought I would share with you some quotes from Brad Jersak’s book, A More Christlike God. Here’s what he has to say about the question theodicy.

“What are we to make of the gaping abyss between the perfect goodness and infinite love of God over against the affliction, suffering, and evil in the world at large? How do they come together, if at all? This puzzle has recurred throughout the ages—ever since people became aware of the reality of both the heights of God and the depths of human misery. When I ask, “What is true about God?” and, “What is the character of the world?” the two realities don’t seem to match. The fundamental truth of God’s nature (which is love) seems irreconcilably incompatible with day-to day life in this world (which is affliction).

Rather than dazzling us with a clever answer, the Cross of our Lord arrests us. In a sense, it offers us an anti-theodicy. The love and the anguish—both present in the extreme—are astonishing. The goodness of God and the affliction of mankind is no mere problem, puzzle, or paradox. God’s love (a cross) and human affliction (a crucifixion) appear as a true contradiction. In bewilderment, we echo Jesus’ own cries, “God is good, but all is not well! Where are you?”

And the incarnation, (and by the way, that was end quote from Jersak’s book) the incarnation teaches us that God entered into the fullness of our affliction and experienced it unto death. And not just any death, but death on a cross. And it matters that our Lord who embodies peace, who in himself is Shalom, that we know that he didn’t stand off from some sort of antiseptic distance from our pain and sorrow and grief and affliction, but rather entered into the heart of our darkness.

What if a heart at peace is about loving our neighbor as ourselves, or more importantly, as Christ has loved us? It would mean that the other person, regardless of who she or he is, counts and matters as much as we do, which is the truth and the reality of who God is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The heart of peace refuses to lump masses into unknown people with lifeless categories, such as Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, Muslim, whatever, which makes them objects to be dealt with or enemies to be defeated. A heart at peace encounters everyone as a person. It looks another in the face and recognizes itself.

So, tell me, what do you see when you look in the face of another? This is a good question as we ponder this particular passage for Proper 9, and as we go on our way, sent out as lambs in the midst of wolves saying, peace to this house.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life:
  • Naaman really wants to pay for the healing he received but is told in no uncertain terms he can’t. Why do you think Elisha stresses the importance of his healing being free?
  • Naaman was a successful general who had fought campaigns against Israel – why do you think God chose him to heal out of all the lepers of the time? Consider reading Luke 4:27.
From the Sermon
  • Why do you think we get tempted to gloat when we win in a competition?
  • We are often told “don’t boast”, yet Paul has told us that boasting is actually a good thing, when we are boasting in what Jesus has done. Given that context, how does that change how you think about showboating and boasting?

Sermon for July 10, 2022 – Proper 10

Speaking of Life 4033 | Filled

“Is the glass half empty or half full?” In other words, are you pessimistic or optimistic? In the struggles we can face, it’s tempting to see the glass as half empty. Paul reminds us that whenever we feel empty or lost, we have a good Father who completely fills that void with love and understanding.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4033 | Filled
Heber Ticas

Aristotle is quoted as saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” He was one of the first to observe that on Earth, there are no naturally occurring spaces where nothing exists. The moment that a vacuum or empty space begins to develop, some form of matter will quickly fill it. You have seen this law of nature in action whenever you open a vacuum-sealed jar. You hear the “pop” of air rushing in when you open it.

This natural phenomenon says something about God. Out of his abundant goodness, he wants to fill all of creation with something of himself. This includes us – those made in his image. God wants to fill us with everything that Jesus is. Unfortunately, all of us have things that get in the way: bad habits, impure motives, selfish desires, and other manifestations of sin. These are the things that interrupt our relationship with God and negatively impact our relationships with others.

God does not address sin by creating vacuums, rather he fills us with the heart and mind of Christ so there is no longer room for sinful things. It is Christ living in us that allows us to love God and love others.

In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul had to address false teaching that was infecting the Christian community. Instead of simply calling for the heresy to be removed, he prayed for the believers to be filled. Notice what he said:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you
to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
Colossians 1:9-12

When we consider our own spiritual health, it is natural to focus on the things we want to change. We may ask God to remove our sinful tendencies without giving much thought to what we would like to see take up that space. In those moments it is important to remember that God wants to fill that space – that vacuum – with himself. His desire is to fill us with his love and his life that we can share with others. Because of his grace, we can look forward to the day when sin will be no more because everything and everyone will be completely filled by Jesus.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 82:1-8 · Amos 7:7-17 · Colossians 1:1-14 · Luke 10:25-37

The theme for this week is God empowers believers to act justly. The call to worship Psalm tells us that God, in his role as judge, commands human rulers to pursue justice and help those in need. In Amos, we see the prophet compelled by God to challenge the highest human authority in the land, the king of Israel, for promoting unfaithfulness to the Lord. In Colossians, Paul commends his audience for their faithfulness to the gospel. His prayer for them is to be filled with Christ so they can continue to produce good fruit. Finally, in Luke, Jesus defines “neighbor” and sets a high standard for loving others.

Who is My Neighbor?

Luke 10:25-37

A man is walking down the street and is approached by someone who appears unwashed, with soiled and tattered clothes, and smells of alcohol. The man gives the person the title of “homeless” in his mind. The homeless man is clutching a cardboard sign with his unfortunate circumstances scrawled in thick black marker. His entire life is reduced to a couple of sad sentences and a plea for help. With red, weary eyes, the homeless man looks at the man and asks, “Can you please spare some change?”

Now, the man has a decision to make. He has money in his pocket. Maybe it is not a lot of money. However, he knows that he has more than the homeless man, whose entirety of possessions are stuffed into plastic shopping bags at his feet. Should the man give the homeless man something, knowing that he could spend that money on booze? Won’t that be making his problems worse? Will he be crippling the homeless man by making him dependent on charity instead of on hard work? Or, by not giving him money, is the man depriving a fellow human being in need of a warm meal to eat? Isn’t the man, who believes himself to be a Christian, supposed to help the poor? But, when do the needs of the poor encroach upon the man’s personal needs? Maybe the problem is that the smallest bill the man has is a $20. Does he really want to give $20 to a stranger? He absently wonders if it is rude and selfish to ask a person wearing rags for change. All of these questions and more race through the man’s mind as he averts his eyes and walks away without saying a word.

I think we can all identify with this classic moral dilemma to some extent. If you are anything like me, you found the story a bit unsettling because it hits so close to home. For all of us, the situation touches on a fundamental question, “What do I owe my fellow human being?” Few questions are more important. The question lies at the heart of every government law, every company policy, and every rule of etiquette. What do I owe my fellow human being? The answer to this question shapes every human interaction, philosophy, and social structure. Yet, as we look at our society and our history, it seems like humanity struggles to come up with good answers to this question. Poverty is still with us. Homelessness is still with us. Sexism is still with us. Racism is still with us. Child abuse is still with us. Human trafficking is still with us. If we truly cared for others, if we made sure that everyone had what they were owed, would not these things disappear? What do I owe my fellow human being? The truth is, apart from God, we do not have any hope of adequately answering this question.

Thankfully, Christ gives us the answer to this fundamental question. What we owe our fellow human beings is to be a good neighbor to them. However, what does it mean to be a good neighbor? Jesus defines neighbor in such a way that becoming one is a lifelong pursuit. Let’s look his profound teaching, commonly referred to as the parable of the Good Samaritan:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

In this conversation with the expert in the law, Jesus did something extraordinary. The expert asked, “And who is my neighbor?” The way the man phrased the question placed himself in the role of judging neighborliness. In other words, he was asking Jesus how he was to decide who was worthy of his love and concern. The expert in the law assumed his own neighborliness and wanted to know how to tell who was deserving of it. In his response, Jesus flips the legal expert’s question on its head. After telling a righteously disruptive story, Christ asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The way Jesus phrased his question makes neighborliness something that can only be determined by the person in need. According to Jesus’ teaching, neighbor is not something that we judge in ourselves, rather it is something we strive for others to testify us to be. Are we going to be a neighbor to the person in need? Our personal neighborliness cannot be assumed. Every day Christ-followers are called to participate in the life and work of Jesus, being led by the Spirit, prayerfully hoping to bring glory to the Father by being a neighbor to someone in need of one.

Jesus’ beautiful concept of neighbor is challenging for all believers. It is a high standard to reach because it requires us to show care for every person we encounter. We naturally want to define neighbor for ourselves. Like the legal expert, we want to decide for ourselves who is worthy of our attention and care. We unconsciously develop our own rationale for deciding who gets excluded from our love. Following Christ means giving up a vote in who is and is not our neighbor. It calls on us to see all human beings as our neighbor. Not all neighbors will see us as neighborly unless we provide them with what they want. It’s vital to understand we are called to serve and be servants to others, but they are not called to be our masters. Jesus is our master.

Our neighbor is the one the Spirit leads us to and the one the Spirit leads to us. We have no say in how they look, how much money they have, how they smell, the color of their skin, the country of their origin, their gender, their class, language spoken, political affiliation, or attitude. We cannot even control whether or not they say “thank you.” Whomever the Spirit causes us to encounter, they are our neighbor, so we must be neighborly. While we may acknowledge this truth, we may still struggle with figuring out how to live this out. How do we go about being a neighbor? Are there limits to neighborliness? For answers, we turn to Christ’s teaching. There are three things I would like us to take away from the parable.

Being a neighbor is defined by Jesus

First, the most important fact about the parable of the Good Samaritan is that Jesus is the one telling the story. He is the one who defines “neighbor” because he is the source of neighborliness. In telling the parable, Jesus designates the Samaritan as the neighbor. Given the ethnic and religious animosity between Jewish people and Samaritans, naming the Samaritan as the hero of the story was scandalous to Jesus’ audience. In addition to a not-so-veiled condemnation of prejudice, Jesus makes the point that he will use whomever he wishes to be a neighbor. In our own strength, we are self-focused and incapable of pure neighborliness. However, when he is the one narrating our story, we can be extraordinary neighbors. It is only in Christ that we can truly love others, so we must be dependent upon him.

Being a neighbor requires action

Second, being a neighbor often requires action on our part. In the parable, the status of priest or Levite did not make either man a neighbor. Perhaps they even said prayers as they passed by the man left for dead on the road, but that still did not make them neighbors. Similarly, being a Christian does not necessarily mean that we are being neighbors. James talks about the need for us to show our faith by our deeds (James 2:18). We are not able to intervene directly in every situation, but whenever we can, we should act as a neighbor. In the story Jesus told, the actions of the Samaritan can be summarized into three categories: place-sharing, promotion of health, and provision.

Place-sharing: The first thing the Samaritan did was go to the place where the beaten man lay. The Samaritan occupied the same physical space as the survivor and was moved with compassion — he occupied the same emotional space. Place-sharing is a term attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and refers to an empathetic relationship that is based upon Christ as the ultimate Place-Sharer, which causes people to mutually share joys and sorrows. We can assume that neighborliness requires proximity, which we achieve through place-sharing. We must see ourselves as linked to those in need of a neighbor. Our own well-being must be intertwined with theirs. Otherwise, the care we offer is often condescending or laced with ulterior motives.

Health promotion: The next thing the Samaritan did in the parable was promote the health of the survivor. He treated and bandaged the man’s wounds. Similarly, being a neighbor may require us to seek the social, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being of those whom the Holy Spirit causes us to encounter. We, too, should seek to bandage wounds. This cannot be done apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We need to look to him to discern what people truly need. It is important to note that what a person asks for and what they need are sometimes two different things. In the story I told in the beginning of the message, a man was asking for money. In some cases, money is exactly what the person may need. In other cases, the person may need us to listen to their story with compassion. Maybe a smile and kind word is what is needed. In some cases, the Spirit will move us to buy the person a meal. The point is we will not know how to promote the health of another person unless we are willing to submit to the Spirit.

Provision: The last way in which the Samaritan showed himself to be a neighbor was through provision. Two denarii was enough to provide the man with food, water, and shelter. On top of that, the Samaritan offered to pay for any additional expenses incurred by the innkeeper as he saw to the survivor’s basic needs. The survivor still needed things like clothes and medical care, and the Samaritan could not disengage until those needs were met. Our impact on our neighbors should be tangible if they are unable to meet their basic needs. Sometimes that is direct aid, but other times our neighborliness takes the form of helping our neighbor access available services and resources. In any case, we should not overlook those who cannot meet their basic needs. In Acts, we see members of the Christian community selling their possessions in order to provide for the poor. How far are we willing to go to provide the basic needs of our neighbors?

Our neighborliness requires action, which takes the form of place-sharing, promotion of health, and/or provision.

Being a neighbor has a cost

This brings me to the third point I would like us to take away from the parable of the Good Samaritan: being a neighbor is inconvenient and costs us something. This is why, as Christ-followers, we must imitate our Lord and embrace interruptions. We must appreciate discomfort and inconvenience. We cannot expect to follow Christ in comfort. We cannot expect opportunities to be a neighbor to line up with our calendar or agenda. How much of Jesus’ ministry took place while he was on his way someplace else? Similarly, the Samaritan was on his way someplace else. Who knows what business was delayed by being neighborly? The oil and wine applied to the survivor’s wounds had another intended purpose. The money paid to the innkeeper was earmarked for something else. On top of that, the Samaritan risked his very life because he had no idea if the robbers were still in the area. Stopping for the survivor could have made the Samaritan the next victim. Yet Jesus is asking us to do what is necessary to be a neighbor. We may have to wake up every day asking the Holy Spirit to interrupt us for his purposes. We should pray to be moved out of our comfort zones so that we can be a blessing to others. May we not be like the priest and Levite who were so wrapped up in being religious that they neglected to be good.

Being a neighbor is inconvenient, costly, and sometimes involves risk. Perhaps we will not have to risk our lives like the Samaritan. However, allying with the poor, the outcast, the sick, and the abandoned may have a social or relational cost. People may speak poorly of us or break relationship with us if we share the place of those our society values least. However, in being a neighbor we become more like Christ, the perfect neighbor. When humanity sinned, we became mortally wounded spiritually. Like the man on the road to Jericho, sin destroyed us and left us to die on the side of the road. God saw us with empathetic eyes, and Jesus drew near to us. Jesus became one of us and shared our place. Through his broken body and spilled blood he healed our wounds and made us better than healthy. He made us new. Even now, Christ is preparing a place for you and me. His provision is perfect and will never end.

What do I owe my fellow human being? Christ provides the answer and he, himself, is the answer. He is the one writing our story and is the source of neighborliness. He directs our actions and makes us neighbors. He perfectly showed us how to live interrupted and inconvenienced for the Father’s glory. May we imitate him as we encounter those whom the Spirit brings into our path. May they look upon us and see a neighbor. May they look upon us and see Christ.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • What are some things or activities that make you feel filled by Christ?
  • Can you think of a time when God took something away so that you could be filled with something better?
From the sermon
  • Why is it important to place-share with those to whom we would like to be neighborly?
  • Can you think of a time when God interrupted your plans in order to give you an opportunity to be a neighbor?
  • Looking at the encounter between the man and the “homeless” man, what are some neighborly ways we can react to being asked for money?

Sermon for July 17, 2022 – Proper 11

Speaking of Life 4034 | Mrs. Fidget

Mrs. Fidget from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves, demonstrated a warped expression of love leaving her supposed “loved ones” miserable. Her “love” was more about love for herself. Have you experienced this? Like Martha and Mary’s story, we sometimes miss what’s important because we are focused on the wrong thing. May we focus on the correct thing, setting our eyes on the One who gave us life. Let us learn to love others as Christ has loved them.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life Script 4034 | Mrs. Fidget
Greg Williams

In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves, Lewis writes a descriptive picture of love gone bad. He introduces us to Mrs. Fidget, who is known for living for her family. But it turns out that this is not a complementary description. Mrs. Fidget displays a distorted expression of love that makes the objects of her love miserable. For example, Lewis writes:

“For Mrs. Fidget, as she so often said, would ‘work her fingers to the bone’ for her family. They couldn’t stop her. Nor could they—being decent people—quietly sit still and watch her do it. They had to help. Indeed, they were always having to help. That is, they did things for her to help her do things for them which they didn’t want done.”

Lewis had other humorous descriptions of Mrs. Fidget that painted a picture of someone serving themselves in the name of “love.” Have you ever known someone like that? Someone who tries to control you on account of looking out for your best interest. “I’m only doing this for you” they might say. They give gifts no one wants that end up being demanding burdens. Lurking behind their posture of “love” is a deep-seated self-interest. Their “love” for others is really a love for themselves.

This distorted love may be easier to spot in someone else, but have you ever seen it in yourself?

It may sneak into our actions more than we think. Even Martha, who welcomed Jesus into her home, seemed to be slipping into this trap while serving him. The story relays that Martha’s sister, Mary, is listening to Jesus while sitting at his feet. Mary is exactly where she needs to be. But Martha begins to act a little like Mrs. Fidget:

“But 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.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’”
Luke 10:40-42 (NRSV)

Jesus was gentle, but he wasn’t going to let Martha rob Mary of the words of life he was giving her. Maybe we need to hear Jesus’ gentle correction ourselves and ask ourselves if we are focused on the more important things of life – following Jesus, and loving others as he loved them.

Either way, Jesus opposes the Mrs. Fidget approach to life, where we get so distracted serving others with self-seeking expressions of love that we neglect what they need and what we need – to stay focused on Jesus. This is the better part, Jesus says, which cannot be taken away from us.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 52:1-9 • Amos 8:1-12 • Colossians 1:15-28 • Luke 10:38-42

This week’s theme is devotion to God’s word. The call to worship Psalm contrasts lying, evil plotting, and devouring spirits, with one who puts their trust in the love of God. The Old Testament reading from Amos speaks of accusations from the prophet against Israel that will amount to a coming time of famine of God’s word. The text from the Epistles comes from Colossians, beginning with a hymn about Christ’s role in creation and his relationship with God, and ending with some implications of his reconciling work. The Gospel reading from Luke has Jesus commending Mary for paying attention to his words, while gently corrected Martha for being distracted by her task.

Unexpected Expectations

Luke 10:38-42 (NRSV)

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…”

Your name may not be Martha, but who can’t relate to those words? Are we not often “worried and distracted by many things”? These are the words spoken by Jesus to a woman who by all accounts seems to be doing exactly what everyone would expect her to be doing. According to all the cultural norms of her time, she has checked all the boxes for hospitality. So why is she being rebuffed by Jesus?

To answer that question, it will be helpful to consider another story alongside this one: The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke wrote both stories to comprise a section that began with an expert in the law asking Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The expert wants a scorecard to use to justify himself. He is given one: to love God and love neighbor. This is followed by the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which we see a priest and Levite failing to love a neighbor. The one who showed true hospitality was a Samaritan, from a group the Jews looked down on with contempt. Jesus provided a twist to the story the law expert wasn’t expecting. This was covered in last week’s sermon.

Today we come to our passage of the two sisters, Martha and Mary. Mary is at Jesus’ feet listening to his words, and Martha is too busy with her tasks to pay attention to him. Jesus tells Martha that she demonstrates a failure to seek the greater things. Both stories can be seen as a failure of hospitality, a failure to love God, and a failure to love neighbor.

But wait, how can that be with Martha? After all, the passage begins with:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. (Luke 10:38 NRSV)

How is she being inhospitable to Jesus? Do you have that question when you read this story? If not, let’s walk in her shoes a little in that “certain village” where she lived. First, Martha clearly welcomed Jesus and his disciples into her home. Surely that’s one point for hospitality for our scorecard! We are not told explicitly in the text, but we do know that Martha is not just hosting Jesus alone. He seems to come with some of his disciples, too. That’s potentially a lot of guests! Let’s give Martha another point for going the extra mile. Second, the “certain village” Martha lived in was in a culture that had placed high expectations on hospitality. And for women particularly in that culture, Martha was in complete compliance with all that was expected of her. She was busy doing the tasks that would qualify her as a good host. According to this scorecard, it is hard to cast Martha as being inhospitable to Jesus.

Let’s go one step further! How are Jesus and Mary doing on the hospitality scorecard? The next verse gives us a picture.

She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. (Luke 10:39 NRSV)

Mary, who was probably the younger sister, who is living in the same house, is breaking all the rules. She should be helping her sister with the chores. Instead, she is just sitting at Jesus’ feet listening. And since Jesus is a rabbi, she gets another demerit for taking a position reserved only for men in that culture. How dare she sit at a rabbi’s feet as if she were a disciple? Shouldn’t Mary be the one in need of reprimand? And on that note, what about Jesus himself? He is allowing Mary to sit there and break all these cultural rules Martha is working so hard to obey. What’s more, Jesus ends up rebuking Martha, who is his host. Proper rules of hospitality would never allow a guest to rebuke his host. It seems Jesus too does not score well.

So, what is going on here? Why is Luke telling this story in this way? His purpose comes into view when we look at the broader context of this section. Jesus had been preaching and teaching about the kingdom and the radical obedience it brings. In the preceding chapters, for example, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration demonstrates that something radically new has taken place. This means being his disciple would have radical implications. In the follow-up story of the Good Samaritan, we see a radical new obedience to the well-known law of loving God and neighbor which breaks and resists cultural, ethnic, and religious barriers. With the arrival of Jesus and the kingdom he brings, you can expect the unexpected. And that is what is going on in our story with Martha and Mary. Cultural expectations are not scorecards to measure one’s own “hospitality” or “love” to God and neighbor. Being a disciple of Jesus is far more radical than checking off the right boxes.

So, Martha and Mary start in the right place. They do show hospitality to Jesus by having him into their home. But it is after that we begin to see Martha struggling to receive Jesus on his terms. The problem emerges in verse 40.

But 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.” (Luke 10:40 NRSV)

Martha is distracted. We are told explicitly what is distracting her, namely, “her many tasks.” The words Luke uses to describe this do not leave room for interpreting Martha’s distraction as a neurotic obsession. She’s not being a workaholic here. It is stated as an objective fact that there are simply many tasks to be done. Her situation is real, it’s not all in her head. There is also no indication of indictment on Martha for poor time management or any other fault for being in this predicament. Luke is not inviting us to blame Martha for having more on her plate than she can handle alone. Maybe the best question to ask here is, “What is Martha being distracted from?” That’s key!

The answer to that question becomes obvious when Jesus commends Mary for listening at his feet. As important as all the tasks are in the name of hospitality, they are secondary to the primary task any host should have towards a guest. And that is simply to pay attention to the guest. Mary is paying attention to Jesus while Martha is distracted. She is not paying attention to Jesus or to his words. Notice the language of Martha when she comes to him in her frustration. She refers to herself four times in two sentences: my, me, myself, me. Martha is distracted by Martha. And in her distraction, she has ceased to be hospitable even by cultural norms. A host would never tell their guest to settle a family dispute. That was a faux pas! This is what happens when secondary things become primary. We not only fail in the primary, but we eventually fail in the secondary as well. And when this happens, much is lost.

Martha has not only lost sight of her role as host, but she has lost sight of who is in her house. Martha knows who Jesus is, but in her distraction, she asks, “Lord, do you not care…” Do you see what has happened? Martha has been so distracted by focusing on herself that she has forgotten who Jesus is. If there is anyone in the house who cares about Martha, we can be sure that it is Jesus. Martha has also conditioned her hospitality to Jesus by her own terms. She expects Jesus to conform to the cultural norms that she is pursuing. Martha wants Jesus to put Mary in her place, the place that Martha is currently inhabiting. Instead of being a disciple of Jesus, she has put herself in the place of a rabbi. She is expecting Jesus to answer to her, and for Mary to follow suit. In her self-focus she has failed in both loving God (Jesus) and her neighbor (Mary). And with that, Luke has made his point. The kingdom Jesus brings is a radical reorientation from self onto Jesus, who enables us to love others. We can’t rely on cultural scorecards to justify our selfishness. Check all the boxes you want, if Jesus is ignored, it amounts to nothing!

But Jesus doesn’t leave us turned in on ourselves. He cares for us too much for that. Look how he gently responds to Martha:

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NRSV)

Jesus calls her by name twice. Maybe this is his way of letting her know that he is more aware of her than she is. Our self-focus does not put us in a better position of knowing ourselves. Jesus knows and sees us far better than we ever can. Here is another unexpected expectation Jesus brings in his kingdom: the more we pay attention to Jesus, the more we will come to know ourselves. His words are true and are the only reliable source of truth about who we are, no matter how countercultural that may sound in our world.

After gently addressing her by name twice, he doesn’t gloss over where she is and how she is responding. Grace doesn’t ignore our selfishness by patting us on the back and telling us we are wonderful and amazing just the way we are. No, grace will deal with all that does not align to who we are becoming in Jesus. Grace doesn’t settle, thank God! In Martha’s case, Jesus tells her that she is “worried and distracted.” Other translations say she is “anxious and troubled.” The first word, worried or anxious, in the Greek is used to convey the entanglements of life in the world. It’s the same word used when Jesus tells us not to “worry” in Luke 22.

The second word, distracted or troubled, in the Greek is a very colorful expression that roughly means “you are putting yourself in an uproar.” This is not a pretty picture Jesus has reflected back to Martha. Essentially, she is so entangled with trying to comply with the culture instead of following Jesus that she is disrupting the entire house. She’s making a fool of herself. This can’t be easy for Martha to hear but hear it she must if she is going to escape her self-imposed distractions. It won’t be easy for us to hear either, but we can trust that listening to Jesus’ words is a path into life, not away from it.

The Body of Christ in every culture since its inception must hear these words. We are called to listen to Jesus and to follow him. The culture around us does not dictate our focus. When we let it, we create chaos and division in the house of God. But Jesus doesn’t just tell us what is out of place. He goes on to tell Martha, and us today, the great secret that slices through all the distractions that divide and distort our attention—“There is need of only one thing.

That can be a breath of fresh air if we have ears to hear it. Just one thing! That certainly simplifies things, does it not? Well, yes and no! It’s simple in that it is just one thing. But it is complex when we understand that the one thing is a real, dynamic, and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. But like Jesus says about Mary, she “has chosen the better part.”

The text is not telling us we can ignore all the tasks that are thrust upon us. At some point Martha, with the help of Mary, will need to tackle the tasks that come from hosting Jesus and his disciples. But those tasks are secondary, not the “better part.”

This text leaves us with one final thought. Not only does Jesus tell Martha that “Mary has chosen the better part” but he makes it clear that it “will not be taken away from her.” How comforting to know that as we give our attention to Jesus, we can rest assured that he will never comply with the demands of others to take us away. He will never tell us that we need to start listening to some other voice other than his. He is still the Word of Life and he will always be speaking to us. We follow him and him alone. That can also be encouraging when we are tugged by so many competing tasks for our attention. Jesus is not going anywhere. When we turn to him, even if we have been distracted or have made a fool of ourselves, we can trust that Jesus will still be there.

When our lives get hectic and full, we can take comfort that Jesus really does care, and he is not condemning us when we can’t get it all done. He comes to us and gives himself to us. The “one thing needed” is to pay attention to him, to listen to him, and to remain at his feet. Everything else is secondary. When we sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his words, we can have peace in knowing we are right where we are supposed to be. If saying yes to Jesus means saying no to the expectations of culture and others, so be it. As we pay attention to the “guest” we can also rest in how he is working with others. We don’t have to fear when others are not conforming to our ways of thinking and doing. Jesus cares for them too. As we go to be hospitable in our world we first sit and listen to Jesus who speaks his words of life to us. In this we find ourselves participating in the eternal life that we have inherited in Jesus – a life of loving God and loving neighbor.

Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins W3

Video unavailable (video not checked).

July 17 – Proper 11
Luke 10:38-42 “Distracted”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Program Transcript


Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins—W3

The next passage is Luke 10:38-42. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 11, an Ordinary Time for July 17th.

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has already set his face to Jerusalem. He could rightly be distracted and burdened with anxiety over his impending death on the cross. And yet we extraordinarily find him at the ease of his friends, just being with his friends. And in this encounter, we see Jesus entering into one’s anxiety, Martha.

And this is important. He does so without becoming anxious himself. This should be a profound lesson for all of us. He compassionately sits with us in our anxiety. Thanks be to God for that, by the Spirit, he shares in our affliction without becoming afflicted by anxiety himself. That’s good news.

And sometimes we want people to feel the same level of anxiety that we do, that somehow that demonstrates to us that they care like we care. It doesn’t mean if somebody is unanxious that they don’t care. We need God to be one who enters into our anxiety without becoming anxious himself, because he is the alpha and the omega, the beginning of the end. And he already resides in tomorrow and he knows in the end all will be well. All will be well, and all manner of things will be well, as Julian of Norwich said.

Let’s also not overlook the way that he values women. It’s no small thing that he’s entering into the home of these two women to sit down with them in an intimate setting without ever crossing any lines that would dehumanize them in any way, but he values them. He honors them. And so, it should be in the church of Jesus Christ.

It’s amazing how much folks have made out about this brief passage since the story itself, it’s quite spare in details. Thus, and not surprisingly, many commentators and interpreters over the years have rushed in to turn Martha and Mary into mere tropes, metaphors that stand for any number of things.

Is this a story on the value of contemplation? Or deeds-based ministry? Is this a story grinding an ax to address the role of women in ministry in Luke’s day? I don’t know.

There’s a lot of things going on, even in a small passage, but there’s some difficulties. First, the Gospel Luke, generally places a premium on service, on diakonia as it is in the Greek.

Yet Martha’s service is apparently criticized by Jesus in verse 40. And what’s more, earlier in Luke 10, (a passage we’ve already read) Jesus gave advice to the 72 missionary workers that when they are welcomed into someone’s house, they were to eat whatever was set before them in Luke 10:8. Yet, here Martha’s busy preparation to get a meal set before Jesus seems to be met with some disdain.

Also, Jesus has just told the parable of the Good Samaritan in which the bottom line is go and do likewise. So, help me understand! Did Jesus just pivot from advocating an active ministry of mercy and neighborliness to looking askance at a person who is doing a lot for someone who is content to do nothing but sit and listen.

Probably the only mistake we can really truly make in this incident is to make it an either-or scenario, to think dualistically about it. Given its placement and Luke, this story can at best highlight one kingdom value among others. The question, therefore, is not to ask whether this passage advises us generally to ask whether it is better to listen than to serve, to be contemplative or to be active.

But rather the question is in the larger kingdom-scheme of things, what do we learn? What particular aspect of life before the face of God is being addressed here? I think approach in this way, perhaps those who suggest that hospitality is a theme here, they’re onto something. How do we receive Jesus?

There have been times where I’ve made a choice and I knew deep within it was the only choice to be made. It was the right choice. And if I could do it all over again, I would make the same choice and do so with thanksgiving and gratitude. There also been times when I made what I thought was the right choice, but now can see it was not the right choice. There was a better choice to be. I would do things differently if I had chance to choose again, wouldn’t you? I’m sure you can imagine in your mind’s eyes, several things that you wish had done differently. Too often, we equate the choice we make and its subsequent approval or rejection with our goodness, our worthiness, our acceptableness, our faithfulness, our lovableness. That’s what most of history has done with Mary and Martha. Mary made the better choice, Jesus says.

And so, we can quickly conclude that we should be like Mary and not Martha. We are to sit and listen rather than me active and busy. Mary is acquainted with the contemplative life, and Martha with the active life. And much of the Christian history has seen the contemplative life as the more sacred pious, perfect life.

That’s one reading of this text. But is that it? If Jesus is saying that Mary, to the exclusion of Martha, is the way that we are to be, then the next time my wife asks me to run some errands or to help with the chores around the house, I think I might say, no, babe, you go ahead. I’m going to choose the better part and sit here with Jesus.

How do you think that’s going to go over, right? I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying. I know my wife doesn’t want that. Jesus, I think is making an observation, not a judgment. So, while we might distinguish between Mary and Martha, there is a common theme. The common theme rather is presence. Mary and Martha are two ways of being present.

Both ways are necessary, faithful, and holy. Don’t get that wrong. There is not simply one choice that is made forever and always. We are always to be discerning. The one thing needed for a particular time and a particular place in particular circumstances. What is the better part given our particular situation?

What are you up to Lord in the particularity of this moment? How do we be present, show up to the divine presence that is already and always before us? That’s the question. Some days Mary will be our guide and other days Martha will be our guide. Either way, we must choose. Some days that choice may mean sitting quietly and listening to the heartbeat of God within us, reading and studying, watching a sunset with our spouse or praying for the world.

Other days, and other moments, it may be speaking words of hope and encouragement, offering actions of compassion and hospitality, seeking forgiveness, and making amends or climbing a tree with a child. What is the one thing needed right now in this moment, not forever or what you think will fix all your problems and let you live happy ever after just for now. What is the one thing needed that will keep you awake, aware, open, receptive, and present to the presence of Christ by the Spirit?

Choose what is the better part, but hold your choice lightly, because there will be another choice to be made after that. And another one, after that. We choose our way into life and love and relationships and faith, and our choices matter because of that. And know this, the choices that we make today determine the stories we end up telling tomorrow.

So, our choices matter. I don’t want to put too much weight on. But we don’t want to deny the power and the profundity of the choices that we make. Choose Jesus, choose to actively join him where he’s at work and be amazed at the stories we will tell.

 


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Have you known any “Mrs. Fidgets” in your life? What was your experience?
  • Can you think of times you have acted like a “Mrs. Fidget” yourself?
  • Can you think of ways we “do things for others” when in reality we are really doing it for ourselves?
From the Sermon
  • How often do you feel like Martha, “worried and distracted by many things”?
How did seeing The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the story of our text being intentionally put together by Luke help in understanding the story? Did it add to your understanding or create more questions?
  • Have you ever read this story and felt like Martha had a good point? Have you ever wondered why Martha was being corrected by Jesus? Do you have a better answer to that question after the sermon? Do you have more questions? Share.
  • Discuss what Martha is being distracted by and what she is being distracted from. Which is the bigger issue, and how does this shape your understanding of the story?
  • Do you ever feel like Martha when she asked, “Lord, do you not care?” From the story, can you see how being distracted from attending to Jesus can bring us to a place to question his love? Discuss.
  • What significance do you see in Jesus calling Martha by name twice?
  • Discuss how we, like Martha, may be trying to keep up with cultural scorecards instead of paying attention to Jesus. How might listening to Jesus call us to break cultural rules?
  • Was it comforting to hear Jesus say that the one thing needed would not be taken away from Mary? How did this speak to you?

Sermon for July 24, 2022 – Proper 12

Speaking Of Life 4035 | Debt Forgiveness in Christ

In one way or another, most of us have experienced financial debt. Whether it be borrowing money to buy groceries or getting a loan for your education, debt can haunt us. But there is another type of debt that cannot be paid off by any currency, goods, or services. Sin. But through Christ, our debts are completely wiped clean. Through him, we are forgiven and restored, free from all bondage!

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life Script 4035 | Debt Forgiveness in Christ
Cara Garrity         

In The United States of America, more than 44 million people have outstanding school loan debt – amounting to more than $1.5 trillion that is currently owed. The forgiveness of school loan debt is currently one of the hot-button issues in American politics right now.

Many of the borrowers are paying thousands of dollars every year but are finding it nearly impossible to get out from underneath this mountain of debt. Those who have just recently graduated are starting to realize that they will be paying on these loans into their senior years. The prospect of having to carry that load for most of the rest of their lives seems overwhelming.

While the topic is controversial for some, debt forgiveness is not a new concept. Part of the “Year of Jubilee” we read about in the Old Testament includes debt forgiveness every 50 years. We can also see debt forgiveness in ancient Babylon in the “Hammurabi Code”. Hammurabi ruled the Babylonian empire for 42 years. During his reign, he instituted four different general debt cancellations. The writings confirm that these were designed to ensure that the poor were not exploited and oppressed by the rich and that the widows and orphans were not burdened.

We also see debt forgiveness as far back as the 8th century BC practiced by the Egyptians. When the Rosetta Stone was finally deciphered in 1822, they found the inscriptions confirming debt cancellation. You can only imagine the relief brought about by the canceling of one’s debts. But these are just physical debts.

The Apostle Paul, who was well-schooled and was most likely educated about these historical practices, wrote about a more important debt to the Colossian Church:                                             

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.
Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV)

Before Jesus came, we were all under a great mountain of debt. There was no possible way for us to get ourselves out from underneath this burden. Until Jesus, there was no debt forgiveness in sight.

You may remember Paul’s oft-quoted statement “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He said this to believers in Rome, reminding them that when Jesus went to the cross, he took all sin and all the trespasses of mankind with him. Everything was forgiven and we are now able to live free from the burden and demands of sin. We are redeemed citizens of the kingdom of God. Never again to be oppressed and ruled over by sin and death. All the charges against us have been nullified in Christ.

But the work of Christ goes so much further than just the forgiveness of sin and the release of the bondage to sin. We have been made alive with Christ, and it is through him that we are able to triumph in this life and the next.

Furthermore, unlike the ancient civilizations of Babylon and Egypt, where you could find yourself back to being in debt, we have died to that debt once and for all – we will never be under a system of spiritual debt again. 

Although, in this life, you may find yourself in debt due to buying a home or a car or taking out a school loan that you might be paying on until your grandkids are grown, just know that spiritually you are never going to be a debtor.

We are released from the oppression of sin and are living debt-free in Christ, who has freed and raised us into new life!

I am Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 85:1-13 • Hosea 1:2-10 • Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19) • Luke 11:1-13

The theme for this week is the generosity of God. In our call to worship Psalm, we see the psalmist extoling the many virtues of God, including the proclamation that the Lord will indeed give what is good. In Hosea, we see God telling the prophet that he will be generous to Judah even after Israel has turned away. In Colossians, Paul reminds us how generous God was in forgiving us of all our sins and making us alive with Christ. And in Luke 11, Jesus shows us by way of a parable how much more generous God is than our earthly fathers and friends.

How Much More is our Heavenly Father…

Luke 11:5-13

If you were a child of the ‘70s or earlier, chances are, your parents may have given you a Christmas present that could have caused grievous bodily harm to either yourself or others. Gifts that, if they were given out today, would result in calls to Child Protective Services faster than you could say, “Red Rider BB Gun” or “Lawn Jarts.”

Pocket knives and pellet guns were at the top of Santa’s list, as were the now-banned, sharp, steel-tipped lawn darts. But after far too frequent post-holiday trips to the E.R., parents began to finally wise up regarding their apocalyptic Christmas present choices.

There is someone we never have to worry about when it comes to giving, and that is our heavenly Father. He knows exactly what we need and gives generously to us out of his wise and loving care.

Today we are going to be looking at a conversation that Jesus had with his disciples. Instead of answering a simple question of theirs, in Jesus’ typical style, he turns this into an opportunity for story time. It is through this story that he communicates how much more generous is our heavenly Father to us than our earthly fathers, and how much more generous he is as a friend to us than our earthly friends. Today’s text starts off with a passage most of us are familiar with.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:1-4)

The disciples requested Jesus to teach them to pray as John the Baptist’s disciples prayed. In Luke’s telling of this, he has Jesus giving an abbreviated form of what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer. Because of its brevity, and because Jesus quickly moves on to a parable, it doesn’t appear that Luke is concerned with making sure this prayer gets cemented into a word-for-word liturgy to be passed down through the eons of church history. N.T. Wright said: “The Lord’s Prayer is not so much a command as an invitation… to share in the prayer-life of Jesus himself.”[1]

It would seem that what Jesus is communicating through this story isn’t about how, or what to pray, but more importantly, about knowing the character of the one we pray to.

What led the disciples to ask Jesus how to pray? Earlier in Luke’s Gospel (chapter 5), we have the Pharisees making comparisons between Jesus’ disciples and John’s disciples. They noted that Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast and pray like John’s did. Perhaps the disciples of Jesus felt that there was competition between the two camps.

Jesus will go on to make the point that prayer is not about performance, it’s about acknowledging God and experiencing intimacy with him. The next thing that Jesus does is tell his disciples a parable. But Jesus does something a little different. He asks them to put themselves in the story.

 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:5-10)

The disciples are asked to see themselves as having received a guest in the middle of the night. As a host, you are unprepared as you find yourself without any bread to offer your nocturnal out-of-town guest. The disciples would have recognized this as a not quite so uncommon event in their day and age. Many people travelled at night to avoid the heat of the day. They travelled when it was cooler and more comfortable. Receiving a guest late at night would not have been uncommon.

Hospitality seems to be a lost art in our society today, but back in first-century Palestine, it was taken quite seriously. If someone came to you for lodging, then you put them up. And if you put them up, then you also were responsible for feeding them. But what happens when your cupboards are bare?

The disciples were asked to picture themselves going to their next-door neighbor and having to ask them for food so they could feed their guests.

Jesus shows the likely outcome of encountering a grumpy, sleepy-eyed neighbor who just wants you to go away. Afterall, everyone is already in bed, and if that neighbor has to get up, more than likely he will be waking the entire household (animals and all). The inconvenience to that neighbor would have been no small thing.

None of what Jesus is describing here would have been far-fetched. He was using a real-world example of what would occasionally happen, and what the result was likely to be. Jesus is drawing them into his example to feel the full weight of each of the characters in this story.

The road-weary guest is probably famished, and now he may feel bad about the tough position he has just put his host in. The last thing that the host wanted to happen was to have to wake his neighbor because he was caught being a neglectful, ill-prepared host. But the greater offence would have been in allowing the guest to starve, which would bring shame to his entire family. His only recourse is to get his neighbor to comply with his desperate request. The sleeping neighbor doesn’t want to wake his entire family and whatever animals he has, as this would cause quite the scene.

Finally, we have the resolution through the sleeping neighbor granting the urgent pleas of the host. And not because they were such good buddies, but as Jesus put it, because of his shamelessness. He knows that this neighbor of his is in a tight spot, so he bails him out.

The disciples are realizing that in this story everyone is asking for something. But none of these things are being asked or answered out of pure relationship. It is all about saving face or persistence or playing on someone’s sense of ethics and expectations within their culture. None of this is describing how our heavenly Father reacts to our prayers.

Jesus tells his disciples to ask, seek, and knock and that by doing so they will get what it is they are inquiring about. In fact, he seems to say the same thing in two different ways from verse 9 to verse 10. So, is this saying that anything we want from God is automatically answered? All we need to do is ask and all is ours, no questions asked? Well, we can see from real life that this is not the case. We all know people that we have prayed for, who not only didn’t get well but passed away. We prayed for broken marriages that were in trouble only to see them end up in divorce. If you haven’t done so already, pray that you win the lottery tonight, and let me know how that turns out. More on this in a moment. Let’s continue.

 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

Jesus is now asking his disciples to reflect on a human level. He describes how our deeply flawed fathers are capable of providing everything we need physically. They wouldn’t needlessly put our lives in danger. This would be unthinkable. We are under their protection and receive their provision. Fathers have a sense of obligation in these matters.

Then Jesus makes the comparison between earthly fathers and our heavenly Father. If our earthly fathers (as evil as they are) know how to give good gifts, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.

This reminds me of Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” If you read the rest of that chapter, you will see that the prophet is talking about how much greater God’s goodness is than our own.

The statement made by Jesus, “How much more…” is the punchline. It is the climax to this story – to this event that Luke records for us. It is not about teaching us a specific formula for how to pray. It is not teaching us to pray until we get our way. And it is certainly not about bringing God down to the level of our fickle expectations. Jesus is teaching us about how much greater God is as a friend than all those represented by his story. And how much greater God is as a Father than those who already protect and provide for us.

Unlike the sleeping friend, God does not try to shut us up or turn us away. God gives as a friend. A friend who never needs to be convinced of our need. He is aware of it far more than we are. Our motivations in asking do not impress him. He is already willing. We will never inconvenience him. We are in fact, told to enter into his throne room boldly. God is not reluctant and does not despise our asking. God does not hold out on us.

Unlike earthly fathers who can only provide for us physically, our heavenly Father is after far more. He is desirous of our spiritual well-being and will make sure that we are taken care of. He is what the disciples were told to ask for. It was the Holy Spirit that was to be asked for and sought after. It is through the Holy Spirit that we know the overwhelmingly generous mind and heart of God towards us and all his creation. The Holy Spirit shows us just “how much more is our Father in heaven” than anything else.

[1] https://books.google.com/books?id=MMRwL3OBI4sC&pg=PA132&dq=%22so+much+a+command+as+an+invitation%22+%22share+in+the+prayer+life%22&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj757PA4uL3AhWND0QIHRCnB8cQ6AF6BAgEEAI#v=onepage&q=%22so%20much%20a%20command%

Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins W4

Video unavailable (video not checked).

July 24 – Proper 12
Luke 11:1-13 “How Much More”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Program Transcript


Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins—W4

The next passage is Luke 11:1-13. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 12 and Ordinary Time, which is July 24th.

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
    Give us each day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Now, who taught you to pray? And what were you taught? Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that if I bow my head, closes my eyes, clasped my hands, was good, mostly, well-behaved, and I believe it with all my heart and told God what I wanted or needed, I would get it. Any of that sound familiar?

I suspect many of us were taught at some point. Or have lived with some sort of version of that understanding of prayer. I sometimes think of that as Coke machine theology. If you put in the coins of faith and good behavior and make the right selection, you get what you want.

And I kind of like Coke machine theology. I like it a lot. In some ways it’s reassuring. It makes sense, and it’s predictable. And it works great until it doesn’t, until the machine gives you a Dr. Pepper when you want a Coke or worst yet, steals your money, then what do you do? Kick the machine, put in more money and push the button harder, walk away vowing to never drink another Coke.

God is not and never was a divine Coke machine. And prayer is not a transaction between us and God. I don’t think Jesus ever intended, “ask, search, and knock” as a blank check on God’s account. His instruction to ask, seek, knock is in relationship to what we have come to call the Lord’s prayer. We’re to be persistent in aligning our lives to the hallowing of God’s name, giving awareness to God’s kingdom in our life and relationships, opening ourselves to the gift and sufficiency of this day, freely receiving and forgiving or giving forgiveness.

When Jesus teaches us about asking, searching, and knocking, he is not teaching a technique, a magic formula, an incantation, so that we can get whatever we want. I think he’s describing a certain posture, a way of standing before God exposed and responsive to a holy and life-giving Spirit. Prayers more about relationship and communion.

What do we pray for? The hallowing of God’s very name. That’s pretty cosmic, right? What do we pray for? The coming of the kingdom. Yeah. That’s pretty big too. What do we pray for? Daily bread and ongoing forgiveness. We pray to be forgiven by God, which is ours as a gift while we are also engaging in acts of forgiveness.

What do we pray for? That we’re not led into temptation. And when   is it that we don’t want to be tempted, right? Is it just for the next half hour or so, the balance of this particular day, just tomorrow? Or is temptation something we want to actively avoid forever and ever.

Let no one who hears us preach on this passage conclude that the Lord’s prayer is mostly about a list of certain requests. In a way, the two brief parabolic examples that Jesus gives, backs up this perspective on life as ongoing prayer. The “Friend at Midnight” story reminds us that prayer pops up all the time and does not wait for convenient seasons or moments. Prayer isn’t always polite. Prayer cannot be sequestered to safe corners of our lives.

Life is bumpy unpredictable. So also, will our prayers be as they occur across the whole sweep of a life such as that. And this is where we have to really think through our hermeneutic. As we look at scripture and our exegesis, our interpretation of it in that we have to be careful that we don’t become overly prescriptive.

There are times where things are prescriptive, do this and do that. This is what happens. More times than not, the passages, and this one in this case, it’s descriptive. It describes a relationship with God, what it looks like that he is for us, that he wants to give us the good things according to his will.

And he desires to be sought after in relationship, because guess what? God makes the first move. He sought after us. He went into the far country to find us in our brokenness and our sin, in our devastation. He is a seeking God. And he’s saying, that’s what relationship is. It pursues the other. And therefore, let’s pursue God in prayer.

Robert Farrar Capon says:

“In any case, the Lord’s Prayer, which is clearly a preface to the parable of the Friend at Midnight, is exceedingly odd in its content, it tis proportions and in its adequacy as a response to a request for a religious formula. It begins, simply, Father – an opening that to me speaks not of someone with whom we still have a relationship after certain pious or ethical exercises but of the One to whom we are already related by sonship. More than that, it suggests that for both the disciples and us, the sonship we have is precisely Jesus’ own – that we stand before the Father in him (in the beloved Eph 1:6) We pray, in other words, not out of our own dubious supplicative competencies but in the power of his death and resurrection. Or to put it most correctly, he (and the Spirit as well) prays in us. Prayer is not really our work at all.”

Now a brief word about the parable of the Friend at Midnight, I’ve heard this bite-sized parable preach as if the main point is persistence. Prayer gets results, almost shameless, persistent prayer. Listen, friends, loved ones. I’m for persistent prayer, but I’m against that being prescriptive. In other words, I don’t think if you nag God enough, you will eventually wear him down, and he will relent your quest and be conditioned to be good to you.

That’s how the parable is often taught. Jesus never gives credit—notice this—Jesus never gives credit to the friend’s request, as the reason he got what he wanted. This is profoundly important. God is already good. He already wants what’s best for you and for me, for humanity. We don’t have to condition God to be gracious toward us with persistent prayer.

He already is gracious to us revealed in Jesus Christ. This is again why it’s so important to look at this parable as descriptive, not prescriptive.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • If all our sin has been forgiven, why do we sometimes struggle with forgiving ourselves or maybe others?
  • What does a sin-debt-free life look like to you?
  • Name some specific ways in which God has been generous to you over the last few months.
From the Sermon
  • If we ask, seek, and knock, why don’t we always receive the answers that we want?
  • How has God’s generosity towards you changed your generosity towards others?
  • Do you think God needs to be constantly reminded about our prayers or that he rewards our insistent prayers?
  • How God has been generous with you?
  • How does the friendship of God appear in your life?

Sermon for July 31, 2022 – Proper 13

Speaking of Life 4036 | Not So Buried Treasure

What treasures or valuables do you work to keep safe? Jewelry from a grandparent? Your dream car or home? Or the latest smartphone with all the bells and whistles? Whatever it may be, these things can easily become our idols and distract us from what is important. In Colossians, Paul tells us that we never have to fear losing the true treasure—Christ. The treasure of having a relationship with Jesus is beyond any worldly desire.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life Script 4036 | Not So Buried Treasure
Greg Williams

You have probably heard this funny story about a man who did not want to part with his money. I’ll give you the short version if you haven’t heard it.

There was a greedy old miser who loved his money so much that he made his wife promise that she would put every cent he had in his casket after he died. Well as it so happened, he did die, and just before they buried him his wife put a box in the casket. Her friend asked her if she really carried through with her promise to bury him with all that money. She replied, “I sure did! I’m a good Christian and I’m going to keep my word. I gathered up every cent he had, put it in my bank account, and wrote him a check.”

That story gives me a chuckle, but it also makes a good point. We admire the wife for her wise solution to the problem. At the same time, we recognize the foolishness of a man who thought material possessions secured his life.

Now, if you are a believer, you know you have an abundant life secured in Jesus, a life of riches beyond measure. It’s no funny matter when we lose sight of this reality and settle for worldly loose change. But, let’s face it, in our materialistic world, there is always something shiny to distract us. So, here is a little reminder of how we can keep our eyes on the reality we have in Christ, so we don’t play the fool this side of the grave.

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”
Colossians 3:1-5 (NLT)

I hope that will be a helpful reminder to you the next time you are tempted to settle for worldly wealth. The treasure that we have in knowing Jesus and Jesus knowing us is wealth beyond measure.  

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

And hey, if you still want to take your money with you, give me a call. I’ll gladly write you a check.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43 • Hosea 11:1-11 • Colossians 3:1-11 • Luke 12:13-21

This week’s theme is restorative love. The call to worship Psalm is a psalm of thanksgiving that provides a moving portrait of God’s steadfast love. The Old Testament reading from Hosea is one of the most well-known and touching depictions of Yahweh’s unwavering love for a recalcitrant Israel. The epistolary text comes from Colossians 3, where Paul sketches a profile of those who live in union with Christ and participate in his compassionate love. The Gospel reading from Luke presents a parable from Jesus aimed to restore fearful and greedy hearts back to their loving God.

Rich Toward God

Luke 12:13-21 (NRSV)

Our text today begins with,

“Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13 NRSV)

The crowd referenced here is the crowd that has “gathered by the thousands” found at the beginning of this chapter. The crowd was so big we are told people are trampling each other. This is a chaotic scene from which someone is trying to speak to Jesus. Crowds can be distracting, especially chaotic crowds. Perhaps we may feel like we are this “someone in the crowd” who has a request for Jesus. Maybe you are feeling trampled by the “crowds” that are crushing in on you from every side. Our lives so often place us in “crowds” that make our days and nights chaotic and even threatening. And being surrounded by thousands in the same crowd, we may also feel insignificant, forgotten, and overlooked. In these chaotic crowds in which we live, we too may call out to Jesus with our request. We may think Jesus doesn’t see us and he is unaware of our situation. Have you been there? Maybe you are in that crowd today.

If so, this story invites you to hear Jesus speaking to you personally. He sees you and he is more aware of your situation than even you are. Let’s face it, when we are being trampled and crushed by crowds, surrounded by chaos, and jostled about, we are probably not seeing our situation as clearly as we think. Fear has a way of clouding our thoughts, over-accentuating some things we should ignore while ignoring other things that are important. But Jesus is not distracted or thrown off by crowds. He remains focused on his purpose and plan for you, and he doesn’t change what he is saying. He’s steady, consistent, and he sees clearly through the crowds. As we go through this story, I encourage you to picture the chaotic crowd surrounding Jesus. At the same time, picture Jesus looking at you in the crowd. Notice he is not worried. He is not afraid of the crowd, and there is no panic or concern in his voice. This is how he addresses us even today in our chaotic and crowded lives. It seems he knows something we don’t. He is not worried. He is full of peace and not triggered or thrown off by our concerns. He’s not just another random frantic and frenzied citizen in the crowd. He is the one we can listen too. He sees much further than we do, and his words to you today invite you to share his peace and assurance in your time of chaos.

Have you ever been in a classroom or maybe a conference where someone has been talking on a subject for a while and then someone raises their hand and makes a comment or asks a question that has absolutely nothing to do with what was being said? It’s one of those eye-rolling moments when you want to say, “Where have you been for the past hour? Have you not heard anything that’s been said?” That’s pretty much what the “Someone in the crowd” does when he says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

If you go back to the beginning of this chapter, you will see that Jesus has been speaking to the crowd about some pretty heavy issues. He is talking about how to respond in the face of death. He has dropped weighty words about not fearing those who want to kill you, but rather to fear God who cares for you. He talks about the consequences of denying the Lord and of blasphemy. He talks about what to do when you are asked to defend yourself against rulers and authorities – pretty heavy and hard-hitting topics. And through it all, he has one consistent and resounding point. Do not fear and do not worry. God has not forgotten you, and he cares for you. Then out of nowhere, you get this one person in the crowd who says, “Hey Jesus, can you get my brother to give me what’s mine?” You can imagine the eyerolls from those who had actually been listening to Jesus. Where did that come from?

Now, a good public speaker at this point would probably just ignore the comment and stay on topic. But Jesus does far more. He engages the person and still stays on topic. Let’s look at how he does this.

“But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:1 NRSV)

First, he addresses him as “friend.” Have you ever had someone address you as friend, and you know that means that they are about to tell you something that may sound unfriendly? That’s about the size of it. Jesus is not being inauthentic here; he is simply trying to soften the blow. He wants the man to know that what he is about to say to him is coming from a place of friendship. Meaning, you can trust that what is being said is for your good. Jesus is not positioning himself against this person, even though the individual has attempted to hijack the moment for his own personal gain. This is important for us to remember when we hear Jesus speaking to us. He comes to us as our friend and the best friend we could possibly imagine. He never intends us harm. So, even when he tells us something we don’t want to hear, we know where it’s coming from. He can be trusted.

Second, Jesus asks an interesting question: “Who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” How often does Jesus ask this question of us when we come to him? The “Who” question. We see all through the Gospel stories Jesus asking this question directly of those who come to him. “Who do you say that I am?” When we come to Jesus with our questions and our requests, it is important to know who he is. Otherwise, we may not be in a position to receive anything from him. If I happened upon Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and asked him to help me find my seat in his stadium, and he offers me to sit with him, I may miss out on enjoying the game in a luxury suite if I had mistaken him for an usher. Knowing who Jerry Jones is would be really important in that situation. That crude analogy may only work for Cowboy fans, but I hope you get the point. Knowing who Jesus is will have a big effect on what we are able to receive from him. He may be offering us far more than what we are asking.

This particular man is asking Jesus to settle what appears to be a dispute between him and his brother over dividing their inheritance. It was not inappropriate for someone to ask a rabbi to arbitrate over such dealings. But to ask Jesus in the middle of his message is not only to miss what Jesus had been talking about the whole time, but it is to miss knowing who this particular rabbi is. He has confused the Son of God with another run-of-the-mill lawyer.

Jesus does not become offended. He wants to help this man – and us today – to receive from him what he has for us. We don’t know the situation between the brothers, but clearly, this man wants what belongs to him and he wants it now. He is focused on himself, and he sees an opportunity to enlist Jesus to his cause. And that is a mistake of a very high order. May we take seriously the correction Jesus intends in his question. Jesus was not sent by the Father as just another person we can use to get what we want. Jesus will not be manipulated and used as a means to our own ends. He is Lord and King and the Author of life. He is not the means to the life we have been trying to build for ourselves. He is our Life!

Now Jesus has this to say to the man and to all of us in the crowd:

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.” (Luke 12:15 NRSV)

Jesus is getting to the root of the issue here. This is probably not what the man wanted to hear, but it is what Jesus had been trying to say all along. Life is not about possessions. If we think it is, we will continue to live in fear. He does not go off topic. He uses the man’s off-topic request as an opportunity to further make his point. Jesus warns about “all kinds of greed.” Greed is not just wanting more money; it’s just wanting more. Can you see how fear will feed greed? When possessions and anything of this world are seen to be the essence of life, then we will fear losing those things. In fear, we will try to accumulate more and more in hopes of securing our own life. There will never be enough even when we have plenty. But the opposite is true when we know who Jesus is. Even when we don’t have enough, we will have more than plenty. Our cups will overflow. And there is no fear in Jesus. No one can take him away. He is the gift from the Father that will never be taken back. We can rest in him and stop striving to secure our own lives. Our lives are secure in Jesus. And in case the man still doesn’t get it, Jesus chooses to add a parable to his teaching.

Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.” (Luke 12:16 NRSV)

Notice how Jesus begins the parable. It is the land that is doing the producing, not the rich man. That seems to be a subtle hint with where Jesus is going. The rich man is rich by grace, not by the works of his own hands.

And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” (Luke 12:17 NRSV)

The sentence, “And he thought to himself” is literally, “debated within himself.” The rich man is in self-dialog. He is not seeking anything from anyone outside of himself, which means he is in no position to receive from another. And what is he concerned about? Storing his crops. Fear is developing into greed. The land has provided for him abundantly, but he is fearful that he will run out of food. So, instead of trusting the land to produce next year, he will take matters into his own hands.

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.” (Luke 12:18 NRSV)

Notice the orientation of the rich man. It’s all about him. He’s thinking for himself, he’s talking to himself, and whatever he does, he will do it himself. This is a self-reliant person who doesn’t seem to have any room for others in his life. And how sad that instead of enjoying what he has, he launches into a demanding work project to secure his future. His plan involves tearing down the things he built in the past and replacing it with something larger. Are you scratching your head at why the rich man would want to tear down his existing barns instead of just adding more to them? That seems a bit odd, does it not? Perhaps it indicates an underlying problem of greed.

The rich man seems incapable of being satisfied with what he has. Not only does he want bigger barns, but he also won’t be satisfied until what he has is destroyed. Fear and greed certainly hinder being rational in our plans and decisions. And one more observation may be worth mentioning. Notice what never entered the rich man’s plans. He never entertains another option for the overflow of grain and goods, namely that of sharing it with others. No thought of giving it to the hungry and poor. No thought of using it to be a blessing to others. He only wants it for his own enjoyment. But, ironically, instead of resting and enjoying what he has, the rich man is working himself to death out of fear of not having more in the future.

And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12:19 NRSV)

This is the rich man’s hope. He wants to reach a point that he is completely self-sufficient. In a sense, you could say he wants to one day be able to say to himself, “Well done me, now enter into your own joy.” And that joy is articulated as “relax, eat, drink, be merry,” which is the proverbial expression of living life for one’s self in the present with no expectation of any future life or judgment. The rich man is not held up as a godly man, but rather as a man deep in hedonism, unaccountable to anyone.

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. (Luke 12:20-21 NRSV)

This conclusion sets this parable as one of a kind. It is the only parable in the Gospels where God appears as one of the characters and speaks. And this distinction marks the only place in the parable where another voice appears, disrupting the rich man’s inner self-focused monologue. Maybe Jesus knew we needed a jarring parable that breaks through our illusory belief that our life is only what we make it. It shows that the rich man has been foolish in thinking and living as if he is the only one in the room. He has forgotten to listen to God, much like the man wanting Jesus to settle a dispute wasn’t listening, either. What about us? Are we listening now?

The sin Jesus is locating is not that the man had lots of money or how he gained his riches. Following a common theme Luke brings out in his Gospel account, the sin is simply that the rich man is hoarding his riches instead of living generously with it. Underneath this sin is a fear manifested by greed. The rich man is unable to trust his future to anyone but himself. In this way, he is unable to be rich toward God. Another way to say it is he refuses to live by grace and opts instead to live in an attempt at self-sufficiency. In this way, he is unable to receive what God richly provides, and therefore is not “rich toward God.”

With this parable, Jesus has put his finger on what is really needed for the person in the crowd who wants Jesus to intervene in his inheritance dispute. This person, like you and me, needed to see Jesus as our rich provision. He is God’s grace to us, and we live by his word, not by our own words of self-counsel. The person in the crowd was not receiving what Jesus was giving him in that moment. Jesus’ parable was a way to redirect the person’s focus from himself and onto Jesus.

I pray this parable helps us today as well, to redirect our attention to one who is our life. In Christ, we have nothing to fear. We can receive what he has for us, and in doing so, escape the trap of greed and be generous with all the Lord gives us. Only those who truly receive from the Lord, by trusting him fully to be their life, are free to truly give generously, for there is no fear that their generosity will deplete the eternal storehouses of God’s care and provision.

Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins W5

Video unavailable (video not checked).

July 31 – Proper 13
Luke 12:13-21 “A Bumper Crop”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Program Transcript


Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins—W5

Our next passage is Luke 12:13-21. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 13 in Ordinary Time, which is July 31st.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 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.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 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?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

The parables aren’t cute little Sunday school stories with a clear and reasonable understanding. I’ve heard people say that. We’ve got to be more discerning than that. Parables are just the opposite because they turn our commonsense thinking on its head. The parables about the kingdom of God and the kingdom turns the way this world works upside down. If we ever need to come to scripture with an open mind, it’s when we come to the parables of Jesus.

I can’t tell you how many sermons I’ve heard from the parables, and the preacher will say something like this. The parable clearly means such and such. Tread carefully preachers of the word, teachers of scripture.

[Robert Farrar] Capon says this:

 “In resorting so often to parables, Jesus’ main point was that any understanding of the kingdom his hearers could come up with would be a misunderstanding. Mention “messiah” to them, and they would picture a king on horseback, not a carpenter on a cross; mention “forgiveness” and they would start setting up rules about when it ran out. From Jesus’ point of view, the sooner their misguided minds had the props knocked from under them, the better. After all their yammer about how God should or shouldn’t run his own operation, getting them just to stand there with their eyes popped and their mouths shut would be a giant step forward.”

End quote, as only Capon could say it.

The theology that created the problem, cannot be the same theology to resolve it. I’ll say that again, the theology that created the problem—if there’s a problematic theology to begin with, it cannot be the same theology that resolves it. Jesus was approached by man seeking Jesus’s input and judgment on a family squabble, the dividing of assets after the death of one’s parent caused then (and causes today, feelings to be hurt), especially when the cultural norm was to give more to the older son.

And this was a practical matter done to ensure the family name and wealth lived on well beyond the death of the father. This younger brother received what was due to him by the cultural norms of the day, but he wanted more. The younger brother approached Jesus with a question of greed cloaked in a dispute over fairness.

Jesus chose not to intervene on the younger brother’s behalf, as Jesus is not some celestial genie or judge. Jesus is the Savior of the world, all creation, revealing God’s good purposes for us. Jesus is not focused on patching up family disputes or incidental injustices.

[Robert Farrar] Capon puts it this way.

“(Jesus’ ministry) is the bearing of the final injustice – death – and the raising up from it of an entirely new and reconciled creation.”

Hallelujah, praise God. After being unwilling to settle the family squabble, Jesus moved to tell a parable, a rich man hit the agricultural jackpot. His farm had been producing enough to provide for him, but then he hit the bumper crop. The abundance he had was nothing in comparison to the yields from his field during the latest harvest. The rich man tore down the existing barns to store all of the grain and goods his fields had given him; the man had an abundance on top of abundance. His store of grains and goods was so great that not only did he tear them down, what he already had for the sake of storing more, but he also made plans to take a hiatus from the farm to relax—eat, drink, and be merry.

The word fool seems to be a throwaway line used by Jesus. The word “fool” (it’s only used four times in the Gospels, two times in Matthew’s gospel and two times in Luke’s gospel), but each time fool is used, Jesus uses the word to describe behavior contrary to God’s good purposes for creation. To be foolish is to act out of alignment with reality, with the reality that God has revealed in himself in the person Jesus Christ.

Foolishness then, according to Jesus, is not merely a flippant attitude, but instead, an obsession, a need for more. This hoarding is greed. I need more wealth for the sake of having more. Now, Jesus is not saying that wealth is wrong. That’s where the parable trips us up sometimes. This is not a parable about selling off all your possessions and then giving all the proceeds to the poor.

Jesus is warning the younger brother caught up in the family squabble that the possessions he has and the desire for more will one day possess him. Jesus is telling us that the possessions we have and the desire for more will one day possess us. The wealth accumulated by the rich fool blinded him of his foolishness of destroying the barns he already had so that he could accumulate more.

The rich fools use of the first-person language, along with his plans for a sabbatical without an end date, signals his true intentions. He was not storing up grain so that he would be prepared for famine or to be able to help a neighbor knocking on his door in the middle of the night, seeking three loaves of bread.

On some level, all of us are rich fools because we live in a world where greed, extreme greed—Capon uses the word “avarice”—is the driving force behind flawed economic systems, the desires where more and more homes, of overindulgent retirement plans. And listen, I’m not pointing the finger. I’m just simply saying we have this need for greed in our society. We want more, we clutch to our lives and our purposes for them rather than living into the new life in Christ.

Listen friends, a rich fool is living “success,” uber success, but that success can lead to an insatiable appetite for more, instead of a desire to leverage that wealth for the sake of others, which is generosity. And this is not, again, not a contractual thing, a have-to. This is who God is. He is the generous one.

He is the one who shared everything with us in Jesus. This is the life we’ve been called to, a life of generosity. And here’s the thing. Generosity—it begets generosity. I think when we’re generous with others, I find that people tend to respond. We want to be generous because we’re made in the image of a generous God.

Richard Rohr said this:

“It’s hard and very rare to call your own job into question. When Jesus called his disciples, he also called them away from their jobs, and their families too (see Matthew 4:22). Of course, jobs and families are not bad things. But Jesus called them to leave their nets, because as long as anyone is tied to job security, there are a lot of things they cannot see and cannot say.”

Jesus is not saying you have to leave your work, but I guess the question is: what are we putting our assurance in? What gives us a sense of security? Is it Jesus or is it our stuff? And I remind you once again, the kingdom of God doesn’t look like this world. And loved ones, if we want to disciple the world, the less like the world we are, the more impact we will have upon it.

The less like the world we are, the more impact we will have upon it. Let’s be kingdom people who out of the generosity of God, his very being, we live in generosity toward others. Amen.

Friends, thank you for allowing me to take this time to share some commentary on these passages. May the word of God richly dwell in our hearts. And may you be blessed as you study and pray and prepare to preach and proclaim the good news of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us pray.

Father, Son, and Spirit, what a joy it is to be your children to be included in your life, to be forever united in this Father-Son relationship through the Spirit. We are overwhelmed with your generosity toward us.

The Bible, holy Scripture is a gift. Thank you that it reads us, that we not only encounter Scripture to teach others, but we encounter it to be taught by the Spirit. Have your way, Lord. Teach us, and may we be prepared as we show up on Sunday to share the good news. May we be prepared, that we’re excited to say what you’ve given us to say, because we have been communing with you throughout the week.

Lord, we love you. And we thank you that you first loved us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • In what ways do we foolishly think material possessions can secure our life?
  • The scripture cited in the video said that “a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” What are some things of this world that we are tempted to worship beyond money?
  • The scripture also said we should “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” What are some things of heaven we can think of that will help us turn our eyes from the things of this world?
From the sermon
  • Could you identify with the “someone in the crowd” who wanted Jesus to settle a dispute? What ways do you identify? What ways do you not identify?
  • Did it help to picture Jesus being calm and not worried when speaking to the person in the crowd? How does it help knowing Jesus is not worried or concerned about the things we fear?
  • What did you think of Jesus’ handling of the man’s disconnected question? What does this say about Jesus for you?
  • How does knowing Jesus is truly your “friend” help you hear words from him that you don’t want to hear?
  • Can you think of times when someone tried to use Jesus to get what they wanted? Have you seen yourself do this?
  • What connections did you make from the sermon between “fear” and “greed”?
  • What part of the Parable of the Rich Man stood out to you the most? What was Jesus saying to you today through his parable?