GCI Equipper

The Holy Spirit and Your Team

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” This quote, from Acts 15, gives us a good biblical example of working as a team toward good decision making.

Full transparency, I used to be better at asking the Holy Spirit to bless what I was doing than to listen and watch to see how I could participate in what he was already doing. I was living under one of the misconceptions about the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, there are several misconceptions about how the Holy Spirit works in our lives and in the lives of our congregations. One of my pet peeves is the assumption that the Holy Spirit always works in the moment rather than in the planning. It comes across as if the Holy Spirit is reactive and impulsive, rather than guiding our lives 24/7. Here are a few Holy Spirit statements I’ve heard in my several years of ministry:

  • Sermon preparation is simply reading the text several times in a week and then allowing the Spirit to inspire you on Sunday.
  • You don’t need notes for your sermon, that prevents the Holy Spirit from inspiring you.
  • The Holy Spirit woke me up this morning with a message I’m supposed to give the congregation.
  • I never prepare a sermon because the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit will preach through us, and I don’t want to get in his way.
  • I don’t plan an agenda for our leadership meetings, I trust the Holy Spirit to bring up what needs to be brought up.
  • Why do we need a budget? God provides our needs. If God wants us to do a specific ministry, he will provide the funds to do so.
  • All this Love, Hope, and Faith Avenue stuff you are putting on us is not allowing the Spirit to guide our church.
  • God told me to get the congregation involved in this ministry (outreach) and I’m not resting until we all get involved.
  • I don’t think through what to pray about; I allow the Holy Spirit to guide me.
  • The Holy Spirit gave me the perfect plan for our congregation. Let me share it with all of you. (Who would argue against the pastor, and much less the Spirit?)

A common theme in these statements is the perceived “coming and going” of the Holy Spirit. It’s almost as if we believe the Holy Spirit shows up when he needs to (or when we beg him to come) and is off doing something else the rest of the time. He shows up on Sunday morning to inspire our preaching, but he must be doing something else on Thursday or Friday when we are preparing the sermon. He shows up at a leadership meeting, but he is apparently too busy to help us plan an agenda for the meeting. Yes, I’m being a bit snarky to make a point. Jesus didn’t teach the disciples about a helper or advocate who comes and goes; he taught about a helper and an advocate who lives in us. While we could quote numerous passages about the Holy Spirit, let’s just focus on a few verses and look at what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit in the Lord’s Supper Discourse. Perhaps this will help us see the Holy Spirit’s involvement in our lives, ministries, and missions.

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:16-17 NRSVA)

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

 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. (John 15:26 NRSVA)

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: (John 16:7-8 NRSVA)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14 NRSVA)

I recommend you stop a moment and ask the Triune God to help you see what you need to see from the above passages. What do they tell you about the Holy Spirit? Then I encourage you to talk to your leadership and ask what they see in these passages. Here are a few questions for discussion:

  • What does Jesus mean by advocate? How does that apply to our missions and ministries?
  • Do these passages imply a Spirit who comes and goes? What do they say?
  • Where is the Spirit? What does this truth imply?
  • What does the Spirit declare? What does this mean for your congregation?
  • What does it mean the Spirit will glorify Jesus?
  • What does it mean the Spirit will prove the world wrong?

We can join the apostles in saying, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” when we share in the Holy Spirit’s goal of glorifying Jesus through our Faith, Hope, and Love Avenues. When we collaborate with the Holy Spirit in the dreaming phase, as well as in the preparation and implementation of our Faith, Hope, and Love Avenues, we will see success because we are participating with him, rather than simply asking him to bless what we are doing.

The Holy Spirit loves living in you, teaching you, and pointing you to Jesus. He loves helping to prepare messages and agendas for meetings. He loves praying with you, reminding you of people and things to pray about. He loves working collaboratively with you and your teams – working together to help you become the healthiest expression of church you can be. And he loves when we participate with him in bringing others to Jesus and being helpers of their joy.

Thank you, Holy Spirit. We pray for more receptivity to your lead.

Rick Shallenberger

Toward Healthy Church

Some GCI definitions for you and your leadership team

For the past several years we have focused on various aspects of healthy church, and we’ve done our best to stay true to our definitions, enabling you and your leadership teams to all speak the same language. Still, we’ve received several queries about how we define specific terms and we’ve been asked for some clarification. Since knowing language is important, let’s add clarity so that all of our GCI congregations and Fellowship groups are speaking the same language. We’ve linked several of the terms to videos presented by our GCI President. We have also included a number of linked articles we hope you will share with your teams.

 

 

Healthy Church

GCI President Greg Williams has encouraged us to be the healthiest expression of church we can be. A healthy church is focused on Jesus and is being led by him in the Great Commission of loving our neighbors, sharing the teachings of Jesus, and growing in faith, hope, and love. This link shares an article Greg wrote in 2018 about Healthy Church. Here is an article sharing how some of our pastors and leaders defined this in their own terms. Here is the Healthy Church Buzz.

Healthy Pastors/Leaders

Healthy churches start with healthy leadership. In GCI, we emphasize Team Based – Pastor Led congregations and fellowship groups. This article explains the difference between pastor-led, team-based, and Team Based – Pastor Led.

Three Avenues

We’ve tried a number of good motivating slogans over the years including believe, belong, become, and inward, outward, upward. This article explains why we chose the three avenues of Hope, Faith, and Love.

  • The Faith Avenue is about discipleship. As individual believers, are we growing in our walk with Jesus? Are we growing deeper as a community of Christian believers?
  • The Hope Avenue is about worship. Is Jesus being proclaimed in our church gatherings? Is corporate worship inspiring and are lives being transformed?
  • The Love Avenue is about engaging in our church neighborhood and witnessing to the love of Christ. Are we out there daily as we see demonstrated by Paul in Ephesus? Are relationships being built and cultivated so that witnessing happens naturally?

Check out the Three Avenues Buzz.

Hope Avenue

The Hope Avenue is summed up in the word worship. Worship is our response inside of Christ’s perfect response. We participate in the objective reality of Christ’s vicarious life of faith, prayer, worship, thanksgiving, and self-offering to the Father. Jesus is our eternal high priest who sweeps us up into divine worship. The Hope Avenue is a calling on the ministry to inspire and bring hope to the congregation on a Sunday worship. Under the guidance of a capable lead pastor and able ministry team, the healthy church knows their purpose for when and why they meet – to commune with Jesus. Here is an article that discusses three important elements of the Hope Avenue. And here is the Hope Avenue Buzz.

Faith Avenue

The Faith Avenue is summed up with the word discipleship. Christian discipleship is the disciplined habit of thinking and acting in Christ. Discipleship is growing closer to Jesus, becoming more like him, and moving deeper into Christian community with other believers. The calling on the ministry is to create spaces where disciple-making and spiritual growth can be nurtured. The Faith Avenue is where community is built through small groups, Bible study, missionaral and recreational activities. Here is an article on building Faith Avenue teams. Check out the Faith Avenue Buzz.

Love Avenue

The Love Avenue is summed up with the word witness – sharing God’s love and life with others. The GCI mission statement is Living and Sharing the Gospel. The sharing part includes reaching out to others and showing the love of Jesus to neighbors in practical ways. The Love Avenue is the person and presence of Jesus calling us to love, inviting us to join him in making new disciples, and empowering us through his Spirit to build the church and expand the kingdom. Pastors and ministry leaders are called upon to engage the community with tangible acts that reflect the love of God. It is the love of Jesus that compels us to proclaim the message and connect with those who don’t yet know they are reconciled. This article focuses on the why of reaching out to our neighbors. Here is the Love Avenue Buzz.

Avenue Champion

Champion, in this reference, does not mean winner. It might be helpful to think of it in the way we use the verb: to support, advocate, promote a cause. An Avenue champion is a person who supports the cause of the Avenue. We do not expect our Avenue champions to be experts or someone who has surpassed others in a competition. An avenue champion is the one who leads a team to support the congregation and pastor. More than a cheerleader, an Avenue champion works closely with the pastor, the team, and the congregation to fulfill the mission of the particular Avenue.

A Conversation with Paul…

A candid conversation with the apostle Paul about sharing the gospel[1], part 2.

By Michael Morrison, GCS President

“Paul, last time we talked, you talked about how sin has impacted us. You used the analogy of pottery and said we are like pottery that is broken beyond repair. Then you said rather than start over with new clay, Jesus demonstrates his love for us by putting us back together, with the end product being better than the original.”

 

“That’s right. Do you have a follow-up question?”

“I like the pottery analogy; it’s almost like we are in a factory and Christ started the machinery working again. Is that what you are saying?”

“No, it’s not a mechanized procedure. Emotion is part of it. God doesn’t want robots doing ‘correct’ behaviors – he wants thinking, living beings choosing to love. Love isn’t programmed – it is chosen. And here the pottery analogy breaks down, because in this case the pottery can’t be put back together again unless the pottery wants to be put back together. The pottery needs to understand what the end result is, and to want it.

“We know what love is because Christ Jesus showed us what it is, and the goal is that we want that so much that we are willing to live for it.

“Christ’s love compels us,” I wrote in one letter. That doesn’t mean that it forces us to do something we wouldn’t otherwise want to do, as if we have no say in the matter. We don’t just sit around waiting for Christ to ‘compel’ us to do things. But ‘compel’ is a strong word, and I chose it intentionally.

“I’m saying that this is our motivation – we want to do this because of what Christ has done for us. We are so moved by what he did, and we want to participate in that way of life, that we want to do what he did. We can’t die for others the way he did, but we can live for others, and we look to him for direction on what needs to be done. We don’t just rush in risking our life just for the sake of risking our lives in order to demonstrate our love.

“The desire to do what Christ wants is so strong for me that I used the word ‘compel.’ Although I did have a choice, I felt like it was the only reasonable thing to do. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel – not because God is going to zap me if I fail, but it’s like you’re at a game show and you purposely choose the pile of rags rather than the pile of cash. You’d be kicking yourself in the shins for the rest of your life. That’s how I’d feel if I didn’t do what Christ wants me to do.

“Other believers have different choices. Not everyone in Philippi was supposed to join my traveling party, or even to go north into Romania. Some were supposed to stay in Philippi, to be citizens of heaven in the city there, like settlers in a foreign land. Christ lays different things on the hearts of different people, but the point is that we should love him first, and that will mean following him, too. We look forward to an eternity filled with this depth of emotional commitment, and it begins now.”

“I understand now why you risk your life to preach; you enjoy it. And each of us should enjoy to some extent the challenges involved in love, in thinking of others first. It can make us feel good to do something good.

“But I still have the original question: Why is it important to preach the gospel, when, even if we don’t, people are eventually going to find out that Christ paid the penalty for them? Is it just so that people sin less?

“For example, my neighbors are decent people, good neighbors, assets to the community. They are comfortable with what they have; they don’t seem to be worried about sin or death. They don’t feel any need for what Christ can give them. I don’t know how to make the gospel seem attractive to them – I would just be disrupting their comfortable world, and they might have less of the things they like. The cash looks like a pile of rags to them.”

“Yes, some people just don’t find the gospel very attractive, and they don’t seem to be hugely selfish people. They love their families, they do good to their neighbors, they help one another through difficult times. They get to experience a little bit of the love that Christ made us for.

“Not everyone responds – when I preached in the Roman Empire, only a small percentage responded, and I rejoiced at this small percentage. But I didn’t write much about what happens to the others. God will take care of them in the way that he knows is best. I have some ideas of what he might do, but without any specific revelation from God, perhaps it’s best just to say that he’ll take care of them. Meanwhile, I’ll do the best I can with what he has called me to do.

“But if I think about it, it does trouble me that so few respond. I have great anguish in my heart about the Jewish people. You’d think that, of all people, they’d be the most responsive to a Messiah who took care of the sin problem. But no, most of them don’t seem to understand why the Creator would have to die to solve the problem. I don’t claim to completely understand it myself, but I know that Christ didn’t die for nothing. If some other way could have worked, then God would have proceeded in his plan without letting his Son be killed.

“I’d really like for my own ethnic group to get the picture. I’d even be willing to trade places with them, that I would go back to my self-righteous ways, if they could get the picture. But that’s not really an option, is it? And besides, I wouldn’t want to go back to a life of disrespect for Christ, knowing what I know now of how much he loves me and what he did for me.

“Trading places is not really an option. I can’t un-know how good Christ is. And there’s no point in seeking good (the salvation of many people) by evil means (turning myself away from Christ). It wouldn’t work, but still, I have anguish. I wish they’d get the picture – if not for their own sake, then for Christ’s sake. I would really like for him to be given greater honor, greater respect, greater allegiance, greater success in his plan for growing love within us.

“Evangelism is really about honoring Christ, about telling people how good he is – but he and his plan for multiplying love cannot be separated. We want people to accept the gospel for their own good, even if they don’t perceive it as good right now, because it honors Christ and his sacrifice for them. He wants to bring greater good to them, and we trust that he knows what the greater good is. So this is good for people, even people who don’t think they need it right now. It’s a win-win situation. Honor to Christ, and good for the people as well.

However, the details aren’t up to me. I don’t choose who will respond; I don’t even choose where to go. Sometimes the Holy Spirit sends me in a different direction. I’m not the one in charge.”

“Yea, the Holy Spirit. Why doesn’t he do all the work? Isn’t he already in all the places we want to go? Isn’t he already at work in the people? Wouldn’t he do a better job than we would?”

“Well, we might think so, but we have to admit that he knows more about it than we do. He is accomplishing a work in us at the same time as he’s doing it through us, to reach other people. And besides, the Spirit isn’t working in the people in the same way that he’s working in us.

“Christ reconciled the world, but there was no noticeable change in the way that people lived when Christ died and rose again. People were still dead in their trespasses and sins; they were enslaved by this alien force called sin. It’s still messing up their lives, and they still need the gospel to start them on the road to freedom.”

“Doesn’t that affect believers, too? Don’t we all sin to some extent or another? Some atheists seem to have better behavior than some believers. Does the Holy Spirit really make a difference?”

“Yes, I admit that some atheists are better behaved. But as I said, it’s not just a matter of behavior – it’s a matter of whether people are doing it to honor Christ, whether they are doing it out of allegiance to him and his plan. The well-behaved atheist still has the problem of seeing the self as the final judge of what’s right and wrong, and that is the fundamental problem of humanity.

“The problems we see in the world come from people looking to themselves as the ones who can define what’s right and wrong. Once a person turns to the Lord, then there is hope for long-term improvement, but when a person looks to the self, there’s not much hope. God can take care of the details, once the basic orientation of the heart is changed. We don’t see it as fast as we’d like, either in ourselves or in other believers, but we trust that the Spirit is doing his work.

“Consider for example the atheists who live across the street from you. Is the Spirit working in their lives? Maybe, but there’s no evidence of it. We can claim that he is doing something, but unless we can describe what kind of work is being done, it’s an empty claim.

“We have no biblical proof that the Spirit works in everyone in the same way, so we can’t claim to know, when we don’t. Maybe all he’s doing is biding his time, waiting for something to happen so the real work can begin. All we can do is trust that God knows how to do his work better than we do. We trust him on the timing and on the method.

“We can share the gospel with such a person – or really, only part of the gospel, because it’s so big that we can’t share it all at once. Some people might respond to one part of the gospel, some to another; we just don’t always know what’s going to work. But we share something with the person, in the hopes that Christ will receive more honor, and the person will experience more of his joy. We are motivated by our love for Christ, and he lives in us to love the people, as well. These two motives are inseparable.

“We aren’t here to build a bigger church for ourselves – we are here to do what Christ wants, to enjoy the ride, and to grow in the process. Maybe our church will grow, maybe it won’t – that’s up to him. But we do our part to bring him honor.

“And we aren’t doing it just to get decisions for Christ, to get people to say yes and to say a prayer, and then we go our separate ways. The mission we are given is not to get people to say yes – it’s to make disciples. We do that only if we stick around, if there’s an ongoing relationship. That often means they come to our church. We desire that not for our own benefit, but for theirs, and for Christ. It’s part of making disciples.

“We want to focus our efforts in places where we can make disciples. It’s not wrong to share the gospel with a stranger whom we will never see again, but that’s not our primary method of operation. We want to focus on people we will see again, and we try to see them again and again and maybe have more opportunities to talk about how good Christ is.

“What worked for me may not work for you. I sat in the marketplace, and made tents while talking with people who were passing by. That might not work well in your social setting. Try something different.

“Get out and talk to people. Be friendly. Let them know what you believe. Learn about their lives, what they think, and maybe you’ll see what part of the gospel message addresses their hopes and dreams. In your society, you really don’t have much to lose, and no matter how they respond, Christ is honored by your attempt, and sometimes by their response as well. It’s his plan, and he wants us to be part of it.”

[1] Sometimes the distinctive voice of Paul can be seen, but for the most part, Paul speaks in a manner that is closer to my own; he puts it in language I can understand.

Church Hack: A Welcoming Church

Have you considered how it might feel to be a first-time guest in your local worship service? Or to attend a connect group or church event for the first time? While long-time members may be very comfortable surrounded by familiar faces and friends, it is easy to forget how that first encounter with church might feel. This month’s Church Hack shares best practices for developing welcoming Hope, Faith, and Love Avenues. #GCIchurchhacks

To view and download this month’s church hack visit: https://resources.gci.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/2022-CH8-A-Welcoming-Church.pdf

Why is Place-sharing Valuable?

Watch these interviews with Place-sharing practitioners and hear their stories about how place-sharing has transformed them in their participation in Jesus’ ministry.

Click the images below to watch the corresponding video.

Follow Their Passions

Recently, my wife Afrika Afeni Mills had her book Open Windows, Open Minds published. She affectionately referred to it as her “book baby,” because it truly was a labor of love. Despite the tremendous endurance it takes to bring a book into existence, I saw something inside Afrika come alive as she spent myriad hours writing, editing, and researching. My wife has been a teacher, coach, literacy director, director of diversity equity and inclusion, and a bunch of other things in between. However, I have never seen her more professionally satisfied than she is now. For me, it is wonderful and inspiring to see.

While Afrika is good at lots of things, her book represents the intersection of several of her passions. She believed that God was working through her to do something important, and he had been molding and shaping her through her life experiences for this moment. The Lord put in her a deep desire to see a world where every child feels a sense of belonging, and that desire fuels her passion. Afrika’s passion would not let her quit, even when she faced setbacks and challenges. It drove her to create something beautiful.

When it comes to the discipleship of children and youth, their passion is an often untapped resource. In our efforts to help young people have a deeper encounter with Jesus, we can overlook the things for which they care deeply. Their passion for dance, drama, sports, comic book heroes, music groups, etc. is often the key to helping them see Jesus more clearly.

Robert came to a youth group I led for a while, yet he did not engage in spiritual discussions. Noticing that he always wore headphones, one week I asked him who he was listening to. He mumbled the name of a popular hip-hop artist, probably half expecting me to give him a lecture about his “devil music.” Instead, I shared with Robert some of the artists I enjoyed. He was clearly passionate about music, and we had a lengthy conversation about who we thought were the greatest rappers. The next time I saw Robert, I suggested that he integrate some Christian hip-hop artists into his playlist. Surprised that there was such a thing as Christian hip hop, Robert agreed to listen to some of the artists I suggested.

The next time I saw Robert, I asked him about the music. He was surprised by how much he liked it and asked me several times, “They’re Christians?” He confessed that he thought following Christ meant giving up your passions, which in this case was music. That was the opening that allowed me to have my first conversation about Jesus with Robert. I was able to tell him that Jesus put that passion for music in him and does not want to take it away. In fact, Jesus wants to enjoy music with him. He saw Jesus differently from that moment on.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul advises, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11). We should serve God with passion; however, that is challenging if we are told to serve the Lord without integrating the things we care about.

Children and youth ministers are wise to ask their young people about their passions and tailor their relationship-building efforts based on their answers. Even better, wise children and youth ministers take the time to learn about the things their young people care about as an act of love. We should let the passions of our youth help us guide them into deeper relationship with God and each other. When we take the time to find out what they care about and affirm that Jesus put that passion in them, we help them see that God is relevant and he cares.  So, when the challenging times come, that passion will help them keep their “spiritual fervor” and build resiliency.

I pray that we would follow the passion of our young people, helping them see the God who made them with love.

Dishon Mills

Generations Ministry Coordinator, US.

Gospel Reverb – Justified w/ Walter Kim

Video unavailable (video not checked).

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins talks to Dr. Walter Kim about this month’s lectionary passages. Walter serves as the current President of the National Association of Evangelicals – a position he has held since January 2020.  He also serves as teacher-in-residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, after ministering for 15 years at Boston’s historic Park Street Church.

To know more about Walter, visit the link below.
walterkim.org/about


October 2 – Proper 22
Luke 17:5-10 “Keeping the Faith”
15:26

October 9 – Proper 23
Luke 17:11-19 “Lord, Have Mercy!”
24:13

October 16 – Proper 24
Luke 18:1-8 “Persistent Prayer”
32:46

October 23 – Proper 25
Luke 18:9-14 “Justified”
42:25

October 30 – Proper 26
Luke 19:1-10 “At the Table”
49:49

Resources:

Quote from Beyond the Bright Blur by CS Lewis, “The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’”


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


Justified w/ Walter Kim

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 I’m delighted to welcome this month’s guest, Dr. Walter Kim. Walter serves as the current president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a position he has held since January 2020. He also serves as teacher-in-residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, after ministering for 15 years at Boston’s historic Park Street Church.

He has spent nearly three decades preaching, writing, and engaging in collaborative leadership to connect the Bible to the significant intellectual, cultural and social issues of the day. He serves on the boards of Christianity Today and World Relief, and on the Advisory Council of Gordon College. Walter received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, his M.Div. from Regent College in Vancouver, and his B.A. from Northwestern University, and he is a licensed minister in the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.

You have a lot going on, Walter. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you for joining us today. And for those in our listening audience, who may not be familiar with you, your family, and your work, we’d love to know a little bit about your story. Would you mind sharing?

Walter: Of course, thank you, Anthony, for the privilege and joy to connect with you in this context.

Yeah. I think one of the things that would be important to know is the story that got me to this country. I’m a son of a refugee and immigrants. My father had escaped from communist China and literally crossed the river in a barrel with his family to get to South Korea, where he eventually met my mother.

And they had gotten married and then moved to America in the mid-sixties at a time where you couldn’t do simple things like Google, what does it mean to be an American? You just get over here. And America was at a time where there had been, not too long ago, the assassination of President Kennedy and the turmoil of the civil rights movement that was peaceful but met with violent opposition. And the country was just going through a lot, and it was really difficult for an immigrant to figure out: what does it mean to be American when being an American itself was contested?

And that sense of being caught in a search for identity is in some ways a part of my journey to Jesus. So, I was born in New York City, but we moved around a lot when I was a kid. And so even a particular location was difficult for me to identify with. So as a family, we’re trying to figure out what does it mean to be American, to hold onto our Korean heritage? What does it mean to be located in one place, as we found ourselves for a variety of reasons, moving?

So, when I first heard about Jesus in my high school years, there was a sense that I was coming home. There was a deep sense in which the search for identity and place and location was finally met.

And it was met in Christ, the one who transcends any particular location, any particular story, and yet in his presence is deeply personal and transformational. And in many ways, this kind of immigrant experience has helped me understand the nature of the Christian life, that we are in the world, but not of the world or the story of scripture. That from the get-go, the Abraham story is a story of migration to the promised land.

And we have this image in 1 Peter 2, of all of us, brothers and sisters, that we are aliens and strangers in this world. So, there’s this sense that has been always a part of my own personal journey, but it’s also been a part of my faith journey of, what does it mean to be faithful in the world, to participate robustly in the redemption of the world? But at the same time, to recognize that’s not our ultimate home, that we have a home elsewhere. And that’s in some ways been extremely redemptive in my own sense of personhood.

The call to ministry happened during my college years, and I ended up on staff with Cru at that time and was in new England, where I met my wife. We eventually got married and decided to go study at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. And once again, there had an experience that really helped us bring together different parts of our lives.

It was very international experience being on the Pacific Rim. We encountered Asian Christianity in a much more robust way than we had ever previously. The international global context of Regent College in which people from a wide range of nations were represented, but also a very eclectic denominational mix of Regent College.

And it really was eye opening. It was expanding of our sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and the beautiful diversity that exists within the global church. It also helped me bring some discipleship to my mind. I think because my conversion was such a radical kind of conversion into faith, I never really had a theology and discipleship of the mind. I had this kind of passionate conversion to Jesus. I wanted to be a missionary of some sort. I wanted to be a campus worker eventually, or a pastor.

But it was during my Regent college years that I had this increasing awareness that God actually was concerned about discipling my mind, not just my heart, engaging me, not simply in evangelism— though that is absolutely important to the proclamation of the gospel—but the implications of the gospel for all dimensions of life. And that’s where I decided maybe I should pursue this PhD.

I have academic interests and inclinations, maybe I should work within a university context, a secular university context, and try to be a faithful witness to Jesus in that context. And so that’s when I went off to pursue my degree at Harvard. And yet there was once again another twist—being involved with a church, Park Street Church (a 200 plus year old church that has been very much a part of American Christianity and evangelical Christianity) and attending there as a graduate student. And then eventually both my wife and I came on staff at Park Street Church and served as pastors there. We discovered at Park Street, a vision of the local church that was in touch with the University (Boston being of university city), but deeply engaged with the issues that all cities face, an urban, complex context.

And so, we were as likely to see in our pews a world class physicist sitting right next to someone who was homeless, just coming off the Boston common, looking for a warm place to sit for a few hours. It was a beautiful place to be both a congregant then eventually a pastor.

And it was this cohesion of the gospel in word and deed, the life of the mind and kind of this act of faith that was transformational of the heart that really recaptured for us a sense of all the things that potentially could happen through a local church. So, the Lord had used these various nudges in my life to redirect us into local pastoral ministry. And Park Street was also where our two kids were born and raised (I have two kids). My wife and I have very much appreciated doing life together in ministry at Park Street.

And then eventually here in Charlottesville. We moved when this position with the NAE arose in 2020 and have stepped into it with all the complexities that represents.

Anthony: Yeah. As I listen to you talk, Walter, I can’t help but think that God is preparing us always for what he’s prepared us for.

And your past has prepared you for what you’re doing now. And I can only imagine—you took on this role in January 2020, and then, oh, this little thing called the pandemic. And I can only imagine how that is added complexity to what God is calling you to do, but we are thankful for you.

Listen, before we dive into the five Bible passages for this month, I would like to ask you a question. Your work with the NAE has you interacting, collaborating with many church denominations, Christian organizations. What would you say is the greatest challenge? And I know there are many, but what would be the greatest challenge facing the church of Jesus Christ and what gives you hope in the face of that challenge?

Walter: I think as you said, Anthony, there are many challenges, and that’s always been the case that the church has faced many challenges.

And in many ways the challenges are different depending on where you are located in the world. So global Christianity and its various aspects will differ in terms of what persecuted church in east Asia or various parts of the middle east may be encountering is different than the church seeking revitalization in Europe, Western Europe.

And that itself is different from what the church is experiencing in Africa. And the explosive growth of Christianity in Africa in which theology is barely keeping up with the actual growth that’s actually happening.

It really depends on where you’re at, but I would say there are some similar themes that I would say is very much true of the American context, that is true in various ways regardless of where you are in the world. And that is holding together the personal and public dimensions of faith. I think for many of us, our encounter with Jesus is profound and transformative on a personal level.

And so, we understand and have an imagination for dimensions of life in which prayer is a part of discipleship in which ethics and the ways that we handle personal relationships or marriage relationships, family dynamics, that’s an understood part of the Christian life. But when it comes to the role of Christianity in civic engagement or society at large that becomes much more complicated.

And I think the church in its various locations often struggles with: I get the personal dimension. Jesus has changed my life personally and so I need to be committed to transformation ethically as a person or sharing the gospel with my neighbor, person-to-person.

But the public institutional, societal transformational impact of the gospel or what the local church means? Not simply as an amalgamation of individual Christians who are helping each other individually walk better with Jesus, but what does it mean to be a corporate entity called to a community context, living within a national social context? That becomes so much more difficult and it’s in part why oftentimes in different parts of the country in America and certainly throughout the world, faith always runs the risk, Christianity always runs the risks of being overly politicized, of becoming a part of power structure.

European history represents this. Different challenges that exist in the global church represents this, and the tensions that we experience in American evangelism certainly represents this. And that all comes back to what I feel to be a weakness, that is often the case for followers of Jesus. We get the personal transformation; we’ve experienced it. But we have a much harder time understanding how Scripture would order our corporate life, our communal life, and our national life, especially in a pluralistic society.

Anthony: Yeah. Here in America, we think individualistically, don’t we? And I appreciate the fact that in a role, like what you have, that we have to think beyond just the person and think systemically and corporately and what that looks like to be a good neighbor.

It’s like the lawyer in the parable, The Good Samaritan, who’s my neighbor? And Jesus turns it on its head. Are you being a neighbor? And ultimately, I think that’s what the collective church has to ask. Are we being a good neighbor?

It’s that time! Let’s look at the five passages that we’re going to unpack together.

Luke 17:5-10                     “Keeping the Faith”                                       Proper 22 (October 2)

Luke 17:11-19                   “Lord, Have Mercy!”                                      Proper 23 (October 9)

Luke 18:1-8                        “Persistent Prayer”                                        Proper 24 (October 16)

Luke 18:9-14                     “Justified”                                                         Proper 25 (October 23)

Luke 19:1-10                     “At the Table”                                                 Proper 26 (October 30)

I’m going to read our first pericope which is Luke 17:5-10. This month, we’re going to focus on the NASB. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper22 on October 2 in Ordinary Time.

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” But the Lord said, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.

“Now which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him after he comes in from the field, ‘Come immediately and recline at the table to eat’? On the contrary, will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 10 So you too, when you do all the things which were commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

If you had the faith the size of a mustard seed was our Lord Jesus’s response to the apostles request for more faith. Walter, what is Jesus ultimately communicating or was he communicating to them and revealing to us by the holy spirit?

Walter: Yes. This is such a challenging passage because we all have experienced moments in our prayer life in which we utter, like the father, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief,” in this sense, in which we are asking God to even help us pray better.

But I’d like to put this passage in its actual broader context. So, when I hear that the apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” Why are they making that request? What is the challenge that was just issued that would cause them to say, “I don’t have the faith for it”?

And if you look at the passage that precedes this (that gives it its context), it wasn’t a passage about prayer. In other words, they weren’t asking for more faith in order to be able to pray better so that they could take this mustard seed of faith and do miraculous things like tell a Mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. There were two issues that were raised in versus 1-4 of chapter 17 that caused the apostles to say, whoa, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to need more faith, so increase our faith.

One of the issues was if you cause any of the little ones to stumble, then it is better for you to be cast into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck. And then Jesus goes—that’s already challenging enough—then he goes on to say, if your brother or sister sins against you rebuke them, and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times, you forgive them if they come back seven times and ask for forgiveness.

And so, there are two things, two challenges that Jesus raised up that forced them to say, just increased my faith, because I can’t do that! And one is our solidarity with those people in need, the vulnerable, that we would put nothing in their way to finding Jesus.

And so, the little ones. Of course, the little ones being caused to stumble probably literally also included little ones, children. So, causing children, not to have anything that would prevent them from coming to Jesus. I think we could affirm that.

But I think in the context of Luke more broadly, Luke has such an incredible theme of hospitality for the vulnerable that appears again and again throughout the Gospel of Luke, this extraordinary concern Jesus has for the outcast, the marginalized in society. It seems to me that one of the things that Jesus is doing here, he’s saying if we are causing any (whether it’s the little ones who are young and vulnerable for that reason, or the marginalized in society who are vulnerable for other reasons) to cause any of them not to come to Jesus, to stumble, to prevent them from coming to Jesus brings judgment.

And then the second thing is, the need to forgive others. I think those two things present perpetual challenges to us, don’t they? The need to have such care for those on the margins, the vulnerable, the weak and not to put anything in their way from coming to Jesus and the need to forgive others.

I think we’re very quick to harbor bitterness, to harbor things, to keep score, no wonder the apostles say increase our faith. How can we do this? And it’s only then as we turn to Jesus, in the humble recognition that we can’t do this kind of work of forgiveness or solidarity and concern, we’re going to need Jesus to increase our faith.

Because this imagery of the Mulberry tree is one in which in the ancient world, the Mulberry tree was a metaphor often because the deep root systems of Mulberry trees. It was representation of just that, something so deeply rooted and entrenched that it would be hard to move.

And in this case, it seems to me what Jesus is getting at, is saying, with these challenges, you’re right. You don’t have the faith to be able to have that kind of love and compassion and the ability to forgive. In order to uproot those things that are so deeply rooted in your life, you’re going to need to come to me. And even if you have just the smallest bit of dependence upon me, I will move towards you.

Anthony: Jesus has such a passion, does he not, for the least, the last, and the lost? And Lord, thank you for your gift of faith and forgive us when we haven’t upheld these dear ones to you. Help us with our unbelief.

Walter, if you were preaching this pericope to your congregation, what would be your focus from the text? And maybe we’ve already heard parts of it. But what would be your focus and why?

Walter: Yeah, I would focus in on that forgiveness requires faith and faithfulness, the challenge to uproot what is deeply rooted in us.

And I would follow up on this theme because I think all of us can safely say—I’m not a prophet, but I’m going to make a prophecy right now—I think every single one of us has a broken relationship in our life where we need to be forgiven and to forgive, and we are all profoundly challenged and unable.

We have reached a wall, an impasse so much so that we just maybe have ignored the relationship or let it die. Quietly walked away from it or are railing against it in anger. I would say if we were to preach and our congregations were to be freed with the forgiveness that comes in Christ and then the forgiveness that can come through Christ toward others, that this could be absolutely transformational to our family and community lives.

Anthony: Reconciliation is God’s idea and it’s a good one! And he always acts first out of forgiveness and an abundance of reconciliation. And it’s why I was telling my wife recently, how anytime I see reconciliation happen in a movie, for instance between a father and a son, I’m just stirred deep in my soul. Because this is what it looks like in the life of the triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, and what a joy it is to participate in that.

Let’s move on to our next passage, which is Luke 17:11-19. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 23 on October 9. Walter, would you be willing to read that for us please?

Walter: Yes.

11While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as He entered a village, ten men with leprosy who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 But Jesus responded and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they18 Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”

Anthony: Walter, I’ve long believed that proximity tends to breed compassion. Jesus sees their affliction up close and personal and has mercy on them. What can we learn about proximity or maybe said another way, incarnational living, especially in light of this passage?

Walter: Yeah. The passage speaks to the presence of Jesus. Doesn’t it? He is present to the 10 men who had leprosy. He is present to the Samaritan. There are so many things about proximity that in the original audience’s hearing, would’ve struck them as extraordinary crossing of boundaries. Jesus was a boundary-busting person.

And so, it begins with, he was on the way to Jerusalem. So, it requires intentionality. He is on the way. And this theme of this journey to Jerusalem, Jesus is setting his face toward Jerusalem. So, whatever it means to be proximate to someone it’s going to mean an intentionality. It will require you to choose to move in a certain direction. And the fact that he was proximate to a place like Samaria, that would permit Samaritan to come to him, is also, I think, an issue of intentionality in putting yourself in places that were unexpected—that Jesus would be proximate to Samaria.

And as folks may know that the relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews was fraught with animosity, deep suspicion that was even theologically grounded. Samaritans were viewed as heretics. And the Samaritans returned the favor and viewed the Jews as themselves being heretics.

They were profound conflicts between these communities that at times came to physical blows and battles. So, there was a deep division that Jesus crossed. Then of course we see the division that even seemed to be one sanctioned by the law. So they were at a distance, these men with leprosy, because they were told to be at a distance the law required, a distance in order for purity to be maintained.

And so, this sense of boundary-busting must have captivated the disciples as they were following Jesus for how many boundaries can this man cross in order to minister to people. And I think there is for us a profound challenge. We have to be intentional. We have to find the spaces and places in our lives that we would not normally go to because well, respectable Christians wouldn’t go there.

And what does it look like to become proximate to that? And then when we do, there is even working through the things that maybe our religion and Christian subculture has taught us, oh, you can’t go there. You can’t touch that. You can’t be around that. And so that’s itself being challenged, challenge to our own instincts.

And so, as we do these things, we keep in mind, however, the ultimate desire. And that is to glorify God and to bring redemption in this world, this language of healing, this language of giving glory to God. Thanksgiving to God speaks to the powerful presence of Jesus in this world and the redemptive power that heals not only body, but also soul.

And once again, the kind of reconciliation that happens not just with the body being healed, but with the relationship being established. So, the proximity that was not permitted between the Samaritan and holy spaces, as well as the lepers and holy spaces now is being bridged. They are right at the feet of Jesus.

Here’s this Samaritan once a leper having all the bridges that Jesus crossed toward him, now he has crossed them in response and come back in humble submission to God. And that’s just such a beautiful picture as well as a challenging picture of what it means to pursue an incarnational ministry.

Anthony: Yeah. And all we have to do is look at Jesus. We sometimes act as if God cannot look upon sin, but Jesus dined with sin, embedded in all of us as sinners, as we’re going to see in a later passage, he moves toward it to heal it in himself once and for all. Hallelujah, praise God.

It’s hard to believe, Walter, but nine out of the 10 (90%) of the healed lepers didn’t return to glorify the Son of God for their received healing.

What is going on and how might this be a cautionary tale for us today?

Walter: You know that sense of gratitude is coupled with submission there. I think there’s something that strikes me about the Samaritan that is so challenging. It’s not simply that he gave thanks, but that he fell on his face at the feet of Jesus So it is gratitude with submission that is so profoundly challenging. It’s in his case, gratitude that probably led to the submission. I would like to reverse it for the 90% that didn’t come back; it’s probably the case that they were not submitted to God that led to their ingratitude.

And the coupling of these two works in both directions, that the ability to say, thank you, puts us in a place where submission is a sensible response. Such a good God. I thank him for this. I’m able to submit. But in this paradoxical way of life, our unwillingness to submit makes us ungrateful people because we can’t give God thanks. We have to say that we did this on our own, that we’re on our own, fine.

And I think something of that is probably going on. We weren’t there to interview the nine that didn’t come back, but the one that did come back and the way that the narrative describes the attitude of the one that came back, couples the submission with the gratitude.

And so, my hunch is that part of the critique of the nine that didn’t come back is that they did not have a submission coupled with gratitude.

Anthony: Let’s transition onto our next passage, which is Luke 18:1-8. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 24, which is on October the 16.

And it reads,

1Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not become discouraged, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect any person. Now there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect any person, yet because this widow is bothering me, I will give her justice; otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge said; now, will God not bring about justice for His elect who cry out to Him day and night, and will He delay long for them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

And Walter, I’ve often heard this text preached something like this, be prayerfully tenacious, like the persistent widow. And I think we both agree that it’s good to be persistent in prayer.

But what can happen is it gets communicated that we somehow have to twist God’s arm or maybe even condition him to be good to us. If we get enough people praying, we can bum-rush heaven so we can wear God down and he will relent and give us what we want. What is a Christ-centered exegesis of this passage?

Walter: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s a really true observation that prayer is something that everyone will always feel guilty over, right? You, if you want to humble someone, you just ask them, so how’s your prayer life going? And that will inevitably produce the response, oh man, I should be praying more or better or differently, and I need to work on that. And I throw myself into that very camp.

But I think again I would like to put this parable in context, and that is typically when a parable is told, it’s told it as an illustration, like every good preacher, there’s a point. And then you want to illustrate that point. So, for instance, when Jesus was asked, who is my neighbor, he illustrates the point by just telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.

So, the question that arises in my mind when I read this parable, we hear it read, is what’s the issue that Jesus is trying to illustrate. Why did he tell this story? What’s the point that he’s trying to get across? And again, if you go to the previous passage, there’s this description of the coming kingdom of God that is not yet. That we all are living in this space of the already and not yet. We know that the kingdom of God has come, but we want it to come in a certain way, in a certain package.

And they thought, followers of Jesus at that time, the disciples thought it would come in a certain way, and it would result in the vindication of Israel by the annihilation of the Roman empire and the restoration of the land. And so, they were all waiting for that with expectation for justice to be done on earth.

But of course, the justice would look a certain way and come in a certain time. And I think it’s so appropriate for us to ask the question, what is it that we are longing for that would make sense of this parable? What is it that we deeply desire in life? And is it the coming of the kingdom? Is it that justice would be done on earth?

Because the nature of the widow’s request is for justice, it’s longing for things in the world to be put right. And again, it’s really important to see the context of the widow being the one asking this, like the leper in the previous pericope that we had discussed. So, all throughout the old Testament, the widow, the orphan, the stranger among us and the poor, there’s these four categories of people that represent the marginalized in society, those in most desperate need of justice.

So, what’s going on in this passage? I don’t think it’s primarily intended to be a guilt trip for Christians to pray better, longer, harder. I think it’s completely misguided to think in those terms. For two reasons, one here, this is an argument from the lesser to the greater, even if there’s injustice in this world, unjust judges that prevent the widow from getting her due.

The point here is God is not like that. So, whatever the parable is trying to say, is trying to say that we have a generous God who loves to hear us, but simultaneously so much of what Scripture teaches us over and over again in its stories is that it’s profoundly realistic. On the one hand, we have this amazing picture of the generosity of that he is not like to unjust judge, that he is generous in how he wants to restore the world, that he thinks of the widow, the orphan, the alien among us, the poor, and he has them close to his heart. He cares deeply.

On the one hand, we can say how much more, if God does this for us sinners, now that we are right in Christ, that he would listen to our prayers, that he would treat us without condemnation, that he would enable us to say, Abba father, all of that is true.

And yet it’s also true that we are not fully there yet, that we are waiting for the ultimate vindication and restoration of new creation and new earth, new heavens, and the fulfillment of the kingdom. And in this world, there is a kind of waiting and yearning and longing that we have. And I think the parable is trying to get us into that place.

Not of guilt. But of longing, longing for God to make things right, longing for the love of God to be fully manifest. And we know that longing will always be left slightly unfulfilled in this world. It awaits the fullness of God’s kingdom at the consummation of God’s redemption in this world. And so, creation, we, as God’s people, we all grown with longing.

I find this a beautiful invitation to long, to seek for justice, to have confidence in God’s love and to bring all those things in prayer.

Anthony: No, that’s so good. I appreciate what you said about the longing while also seeking justice, because if we’re not careful as we think about this inaugurated kingdom, the already not yet, we just wait around for the, not yet. So, we’re just waiting for Jesus to reappear, but there is an already aspect as if we can be active participants in the justice that God is bringing to his good earth.

What else do you want us to see or know from this pericope?

Walter: Yeah, that final question is haunting, isn’t it?

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? We hear this phrase, so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. Sometimes as a critique of Christianity or maybe certain forms of Christianity, they’re just concerned about one’s eternal salvation as if it were something of an eternal fire insurance so that you don’t go to hell.

There is a legitimate place for critique of a vision of Christian life that is narrow and only focused on getting people saved and in this narrow way, but that’s a caricature. I actually think, in order to be any earthly good, you actually have to be heavenly minded because Earth’s problems are too great that they would overwhelm you and you will end up either being swamped by it or choosing to ignore it. If you do not have a hope greater than earth and to understand what the end point, what the finish line, is supposed to look like actually gives you strength to untangle yourself from sin and to engage in the race that is set before us.

I think that final question really puts on its head the critique, oh, you’re so earthly, heavenly-minded, by basically saying in order to be earthly good, be heavenly-minded. Remember that there will be a day when the Son of Man will come back, and all of this will be consummated.

The question is, will he find faith on earth?

Anthony: That is haunting for sure.

Let’s move on to our next pericope, which is Luke 18:9-14. It’s the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 25, which is on October the 23rd. Walter, please read it for us.

Walter:

9Now He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and began praying this in regard to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, crooked, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to raise his eyes toward heaven, but was beating his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other one; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Anthony: What great, Christlike, humility. We know by Jesus’ own words to the brothers on the road to Emmaus that all Scripture points to him, to the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

And I’m curious, Walter, what does this particular text confess and teach us about God?

Walter: I am struck by how this text showed up in my life one day in a very literal sense. When I was pastoring at Park Street Church in Boston, we have the sanctuary that I would often go down to and sit in the front row during the work week.

And I would just try to weave in prayer during my day as I was either preparing for Sunday or a particular meeting that evening and one day in preparation for my time of prayer, I actually opened up this passage and read it and realized here I am sitting in the front of the sanctuary praying. And I’m wondering, Lord, are you trying to tell me something here? Am I this Pharisee in my self-righteousness and perception of my place in ministry?

And it was really a profoundly reflective moment for me, as I stopped and asked a question, what confidence do I have? What justification do I bring? What resume do I try to show God to impress him that he should listen to me?

And I think, I hope I was able to say, I don’t think of myself in a fashion that would seek to put other people down, like as their swindler and crooks and adulterers. I didn’t open up my prayer that way when I was sitting in the sanctuary, but I do something similar and that is, I do present a resume to God to try to convince him that I am worth his time, that I actually should get an answer to this prayer or that I really should have this kind of fruit in my ministry. And I think a lot of us do that.

We often try to prove to God he should listen to us. And in that regard, maybe more subtle, maybe more sophisticated, maybe more justifiable at least to us, but in the end, not justifiable to God, we do this. And in the end, it makes light of the fact of the full justification that comes through Christ. That enables us to say, no, it’s not on your merits, that you are able to pray this prayer. It’s on Christ merits that you can pray this prayer.

And so, one thing it reveals to me is it reveals to me how warped my view of God is. That I would think I need to bring my resume to him in order to prove to him, he should answer my prayers and how poor that poorly that means I view God in his generosity, in his quickness to listen in his attentiveness, to my brokenness.

And I think over time, it sometimes gets worse. When you’re a new convert, that your sin would cause you to pray the prayer of the tax collector, God be merciful to me, the sinner, like you just came to Christ. That I found my prayers less like the sinner, the longer I became a Christian and walked with God because I had this sense I should know better. I should be better. I should do better.

And for those reasons, God should listen to my prayer. In some ways, I think we never graduate from the tax collector. We are always in a place of saying, Lord have mercy. If I sin, I proved yet again, my need for Jesus. And in that way, come again as a fresh convert to Christ.

Anthony: I think it was A. W. Tozer that said, and I’m just paraphrasing, that the most important thing about a person is what they believe about God, because it affects everything your marriage, the way that you work vocationally, and of course, the way that we come to God. And if we see God, who is love, it’s the very essence of who he is, and he loves us so dearly that nothing that we could do would change his love for us, then we can be real authentic with him. Be merciful to me, the sinner.

But I grew up in a legalistic environment, and I was really good at self-righteousness. I got to be honest with you. But there seems to be a warning here.

Anything else you want to flesh out about that and how we should take heed?

Walter: Yeah, I think of this passage, and I’m reminded of a quotation from C.S. Lewis. In some letters he had written about prayer, and he makes this comment: The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’

And I think that’s profound and apt to what this passage is trying to get at. And that is even before we enter into the depth of prayer that we should pause and say, may it be the real eye who speaks to you of real sense and awareness of who I am, and may it be the case that I discover the real vow, the real you Lord, who you really are.

And it’s in that way, that prayer becomes not just a discipline of the Christian life but becomes the Christian life itself. It becomes the place in which we be the real us before the real God, so that we could experience transformation.

Anthony: That was a fantastic Lewis quote that I had not heard. We’ll source that and put it in the show notes. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to ponder that for a while.

Let’s transition to our final pericope of the month. It’s Luke 19 :1-10. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 26 on October 30.

1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and he was unable due to the crowd, because he was short in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree in order to see Him, because He was about to pass through that wayAnd when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down, and received Him joyfully. When the people saw this, they all began to complain, saying, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner!” But Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I am giving to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I am giving back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

This is such a beloved encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus for many reasons. But what stands out to you?

Walter: Yeah, it’s funny that you used the word stand, what stands out because that was part of the story, right?

That he was unable to see Jesus, because he could not stand tall enough. And there’s something about this story that makes it so, as you say, beloved. It shows up in flannelgraph Sunday school lessons for little kids, as well as the most probing and prophetic sermons in challenging adults in a life of radical generosity and repentance.

So, you know, several things. This imagery of sight strikes me of throughout scripture. We have this notion of seeing things, truly seeing things as they really are. And I’m struck by that because of a science study that I had recently run across that differentiated the perceptions of the world between wealthy people and working-class people, and that they had literally determined, the researchers, that wealthy people and working-class people actually see the world differently.

In other words, they’re more attentive and responsive to different things. They could be looking at the same exact scenario on the street or in the center of the city, but actually pick out different features of that scenario. And one of the things that the study concluded was wealthier people actually see empathy less. They perceive other people’s pain less than working-class people.

So, there is something very profound in this passage that the wealth of Zacchaeus, like perhaps the challenge that exists for all people who are privileged, enables you to look at the world in a certain way and ignore certain problems, because they’re not a part of your world, you don’t pick it out. If this is a part of your daily existence, where the next meal is going to come from, you are able to look for and look at and see the world in a particular way.

I think one of the deep challenges in this passage is this imagery of sight. One, wealth prevents us from seeing the world in its needs because we are so comfortable, and it really doesn’t take a lot of wealth to make us comfortable.

We in America might think we’re middle class but compared to the world’s standard that puts us on the 1% right of the world’s wealth. So, one of the things that I would say is, what are the circumstances in your life? What are the conditions in your life that prevent you from seeing well?

And then there’s something about Zacchaeus’ personhood. He was short in stature. And then I would ask the question, what is it about our particular life? Our personality, the quirks that we have, maybe even our bodily existence, like Zacchaeus, that prevents us from seeing Jesus. Those two things I think can be pretty discouraging because my goodness, our conditions are our conditions, our circumstances, that’s what we are in.

How can we overcome this? Is it really the case that privilege prevents us from seeing the world with empathy. And is it really the case that our personality quirks or biological inclinations prevent us from seeing Jesus? That may be the case. Yes. We are fallen sinful creatures, and that prevents us from seeing God.

But the beauty of the passage is that God could say for the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which is lost, and God can redeem us out of our circumstances and grant us compassion and empathy when that’s not natural to our circumstances. He can redeem us in our inherited sin and fallenness, or even in the fact that we might have some kind of biological predisposition toward sadness in life or anger, like we are just predisposed.

And yet God says that too can be redeemed. So, there’s just so much in this passage that resonates with our life circumstances either personally or where we are in our station socioeconomically, and that we have the possibility of redemption for all of that.

Anthony: I chuckle, who invited who? Jesus says, I’m going to come to your house. I’m not sure as Zacchaeus had his house in order or what condition it was. But I think in some ways that’s a wink to the incarnation that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. He came to us. And one of the aspects of Jesus’s transforming ministry, that I think it’s under-talked about, is his meal-sharing or table fellowship.

Now, in this particular passage, it doesn’t reflect that. But in other telling of this story and the Synoptics, we see they had a meal. How does table fellowship fit into the incarnation? And for us, how do our efforts to join the Spirit in incarnational living look like table fellowship?

Walter: Yeah, there’s some profoundly human instinct that God has created us with, that we want to celebrate over a meal those things that are important to us. So virtually every culture that has some kind of marital ceremony includes a meal reception that follows, whether it’s a simple meal or an elaborate meal.

In my case, when Tony and I got married (Tony is a Taiwanese American), we had this elaborate meal that was set up. that was a part of our culture, that we had in commemorating our wedding and of the wedding feast.

We have this imagery of in Scripture of what’s going to happen, and the great unveiling of Christ in his bride in heaven, the church, it is this wedding feast, the gift of communion. This gift of a meal that was given to the church is, I think, a profound celebration of redemption of a covenant. We celebrate the covenant of marriage with a wedding feast. We celebrate the covenant of salvation with a wedding feast.

But there’s another aspect of meals that I think in the ancient, near Eastern context, would’ve been on people’s minds. And that is, meals not only celebrate great occasions, they solemnize this cessation of violence.

So, a lot of treaties were made over a meal. And that was because there was a certain protocol with a meal. You had to put your weapons aside at the entrance of the tent or wherever you end up having the meal together. And by using your hands in the meal, oftentimes in the middle east, you actually would eat [with your hands].

And I actually sat around a table like this, where there was this big pile—as I was traveling in Jordan, we had this kind of traditional Palestinian Jordanian meal. And there were a bunch of men surrounding this massive—it was like about five feet wide plate of food, a pile of rice with chicken and yogurt. And you were to use your right hand, grab some food and ball it up.

What does that mean? If you’re using your right hand to eat food, you can’t have a sword in it. There’s this beautiful picture of celebration, of course. But there’s a beautiful picture of making peace that the table fellow fellowship is a cessation of violence.

It’s the declaration that I give up this way of violence. And I’m stepping into this place where I make myself vulnerable. I leave my weapon aside. I use my hand to fill it with food and not a sword. And that puts me in a place of vulnerability. And if peace does not rule, then I’m in deep danger.

And I think that’s also a part of this beautiful picture of table fellowship that we say to God, I put aside my sword, my independence, I make myself vulnerable to you. And I yield myself in a place of trust and peace making. And to couple that with celebration and joy knowing that Jesus brought salvation to us, is a bringing together of these various aspects of what a meal could mean in the ancient world. And it was also family time. Right? You have family meals.

Anthony: Yeah. If meal sharing is peacemaking, may we eat more together, for crying out loud? Amen.

Walter: Amen to that!

Anthony: And it’s also a bit of a critique. The fact that many families have stopped eating together. It’s no longer a core value of the family units. And that’s another discussion for another day, but how important it is to break bread together for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost, what a Christological tour de force mission statement.

Tell us about it.

Walter: Yeah. This notion that we have Jesus coming to us seeking us. The classic come to Jesus alter call where we, sometimes physically, depending on your tradition (maybe it was a Billy Graham crusade), we literally get up out of our seat. And with “Just as I Am” being sung in the background, we come to Jesus.

And even the secular world has used that phrase, “this is a come-to-Jesus moment.” And yet what we have here is Jesus coming to us. He is the one that invited himself to Zacchaeus’s home. Yes, he is the one that came to seek and save the lost. This Christological statement of God’s initiative, God’s grace, that even when we didn’t have the wherewithal, the sensibility to invite Jesus, he invites himself into our lives.

And that there is grace that is that great that he would seek us out when we are stuck and unable to seek him. And that too is a great challenge for how we think about church, right? If Jesus did not wait to be invited, but invited himself, if Jesus sought out, then that has some profound implications for how we live out our church life.

Do we simply wait for people to come to us, to attract them to our church or do we figure out how to get church outside of our walls, into the communities such that inviting ourselves into one another’s [home], into our neighbor’s home would be such a sensible thing that our neighbor would respond by saying, “Oh yeah, of course. I didn’t think that, but yeah, I would love to have you over!”

That actually requires a certain kind of relationship of trust that you could invite yourself over. And I think that’s for us, what a missiological challenge. Do you have friendships with those who don’t know Jesus to such an extent that it would not be weird for you to say, “Hey, I’m coming over with a plate of brownies. Let’s hang for a bit.”

Anthony: Oh, that’s so good, Walter. I am very grateful for you for the calling that is upon your life, for the role that you have. We are in prayer for you. My church tribe is Grace Communion International, and we are a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.

And you’ve gotten to know us a bit. I’m putting you on the spot a little here, but is there anything you would say to our listening audience that might be a blessing to our hearers?

Walter: Yeah, we are clearly in a time of deep contention. It seems like we’re in an infection moment, one generation giving way to another generation, cultural conflicts that are roiling, not only life in America, but internationally. You pick the country and there is a crisis of some sort.

And it seems like this is not simply some mild growing pains that people are encountering. This really does seem like a consequential generationally defining moment. And my word of encouragement is God knows.

A recent Barna study came out that said up 42% of pastors are considering resigning because of how difficult life has been these last few years. And one of the things that we will need is this vision of longing for the kingdom that can sustain us through what seems to be prolonged injustice. This sense that even if we can’t see Jesus, he sees us. This sense that we come to God in which we just bring our real selves before him. And so, what my word of encouragement would be, yes, you are encountering challenges, but your labor is not in vain. And you will one day experience the full vindication of God himself.

Anthony: That’s a good word. That’s a fantastic way to end and praise him, that he’s faithful and pursues us to the end.


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!

 

 

Worship Calendar & Love Avenue Rhythms w/ Terri Westerhaus & Julie Frantz

In this episode, Cara Garrity, interviews Terri Westerhaus & Julie Frantz, Love Avenue Champion and Pastor for our GCI congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio, US. Together they discuss Annual Love Avenue Rhythms.

“The Love Avenue calendar could be phrased as the mission calendar for the church because it’s going to work side by side with your Faith Avenue and your Hope Avenue. So, you’re going to come together and collaborate. The annual calendar helps the Avenue champions work together as a team in joining Christ, and that’s our goal—we are joining Christ in the mission that he is already doing, what he is already leading. It creates a common vision for the body of Christ. It allows for communicating that vision ahead of time.”
Pastor Julie Frantz, Cincinnati, OH, US

“The benefits definitely outweigh the challenges. The Love Avenue calendar is very important; reason being, any kind of program is in need of organization and a calendar gives you that. It gives us a manner in which we can grasp the vision.”
Terri Westerhaus, Cincinnati, OH, US

 

 

Main Points:

  • What are the benefits and challenges of an annual Love Avenue calendar? 5:18
  • How can the worship calendar help shape our rhythms of witness in the neighborhood? 12:26
  • How do natural neighborhood rhythms shape the annual Love Avenue calendar? 24:40
  • How does an annual Love Avenue calendar support collaboration between the avenues? 45:10
  • What are some of you best practices for developing the rhythm for your Love Avenue events? 55:58

Resources:

Love Avenue Tool Kit – Session 7 of our toolkit discusses the annual flow of the Love Avenue and has a calendar template for you to use. The toolkit Appendix also has a starter template that you can use for one event.

Grace Communion International Worship Calendar – A graphic that shares the annual flow of worship centered on Christ, structuring our year around celebrating who God is and participating with Father, Son, and Spirit in establishing the Kingdom.

Easter Prep Church Hack – A Church Hack that gives example practices for connecting your Love Avenue rhythms with the Easter Season of the Worship Calendar.

Ordinary Time – An Equipper article overviewing the seasons of the Worship Calendar.

Christ-Centered Engagement – An Equipper article distinguishing between following the mission of the church and becoming a parachurch ministry or organization.

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

 

Program Transcript


Worship Calendar & Love Avenue Rhythms w/ Terri Westerhaus & Julie Frantz

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 Jamie Garcia.

Cara: Hello everyone. And welcome to this episode of GC Podcast. I have Jamie Garcia here with me once again. And Jamie, I’m wondering what has been bringing you into the joy of Jesus these days.

Jamie: The joy of Jesus? Wow. Cara, without being cliche or deep—every day I have this sense of excitement for something that I believe God is leading me towards. And the reason is because I just turned 30 this year. Yes.

Cara: Woo.

Jamie: Therefore, a sense of excitement for this new decade is there for me, to really discern and obey where he is leading me to participate.

So yeah, in general, I am just very excited.

Cara: Yes. I love that. I just turned 30 too. So, we’re both sharing in that freshness of a new decade and what God is doing. That’s so fantastic.

And today we are going to be talking about—speaking of freshness and new decades and the joy and excitement of what God is doing—we are going to be talking about rhythms of the Love Avenue. And that is something that’s been really on my mind and really meaningful to me these days, the idea of rhythms. I see that rhythms can be everywhere and have a lot of meaning. One example for me is even in music, I love music a lot, and especially the music that has like that strong beat and strong rhythm.

And one of the things that I like about rhythmic music, once that rhythm is established, it really leaves a lot of room for like other creativity to happen and a lot of room for expression once that rhythm takes place.

And so, what does the idea of rhythm mean for you, Jamie?

Jamie: I agree with you, Cara. Rhythm does give room for creativity. I really agree. For me, I associate rhythm with structure. So once a rhythm is established, others can actually join in and contribute because they recognize the structure in that rhythm.

Cara: I love that. And the other piece that I find about rhythms is that they can be really formational.

I think about rhythms of spiritual disciplines or even our worship calendar, where we retell the story of Jesus Christ again and again, to be formed by it. How have you found rhythms shaping you?

Jamie: Rhythms shape me in the aspect of schedule. Yeah, so I find that when I’m able to wake up early to read the word and pray, it is highly likely that my day will go smoothly relative to those days where I have chosen to snooze and miss that rhythm of prioritizing Bible and prayer in the morning.

Cara: Yeah. I love that! Rhythms are important to us. And so specifically thinking of the Love Avenue, I’m wondering, what’s the favorite or maybe very meaningful Love Avenue rhythm or tradition in your local church?

Jamie: One specific that we’ve been doing even before the pandemic was that we bring students from our target school community to join the youth camp. So that is where they actually also enjoy and be with the church. And yeah, that is really something that I believe makes an impact on them, that they’re able to experience church in an atmosphere that’s conducive, especially for young people, since that’s a youth camp.

Cara: Yes. Amen. Amen. Why don’t we go on and jump in and see what Terri and Julie, our guests for today, have to share about what building rhythms in the Love Avenue team can look like.


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 overjoyed to interview Terri Westerhaus and Pastor Julie France. Terri is the Love Avenue champion, and Julie is the pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.

Thank you both so much for joining me today. I’m looking forward to discussing Love Avenue rhythms with both. So, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Terri: Thank you.

Julie: Thank you, Cara. It’s great to be here.

Cara: Yes. Why don’t we jump right in because this is a rich topic, and I’m looking forward to hearing the insights that you have to share.

So, let’s just go for it. The first question that I have, and Terri, I’d love to hear from you first, what are the benefits and the challenges of an annual Love Avenue calendar?

Terri: The benefits definitely outweigh the challenges. The Love Avenue calendar is very important; reason being, any kind of program is in need of organization and a calendar gives you that. It gives us a manner in which we can grasp the vision.

You can look at the calendar, as there are four quarters in the year. And as you establish your calendar, you can either pick something to do in each quarter, or you just want to do one thing for the entire year. Whatever it is, the calendar gives you the benefit of being able to map it all out, see your vision, look at it all.

And then you can take this calendar, which you have put together with your other Avenue champions, and you can now sit down and get your congregation on board and get them to understand it. It’s so important to understand and be able to have the calendar and know exactly, we’re going to do this. And you’re going to also know what the right hand and the left hand’s doing so that you’re not all stumbling over each other, having the same dates. You want it to flow. You want it to all fit together. And the calendar brings that to the table. It’s a great pre-planning tool to use so important to have and to use and to get organized.

The challenges that it brings is you can look at your calendar and all of a sudden, you want to do something in each quarter and, oh we can’t forget Christmas. And oh, what about Mother’s Day? And all of a sudden, you’re doing all these events and having all these things. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin. You don’t want to do too much.

You’d rather have a program or have an event that’s going to have quality. It’s not all about quantity. The challenge is going to be able to look at your calendar and know, what are we going to do? Let’s not overdo it. You have to think about your manpower. Do you have the congregation? Is everybody willing to use their spiritual gifts, step up to the plate, and do this stuff?

The benefit definitely outweighs the challenges, and it’s a wonderful tool to use and have to prepare for the year.

Cara: Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that, Terri, and as you shared, the keyword that jumps out to me is the intentionality that it helps to bring to your planning and the Avenue.

Julie, what would you add to the benefits and challenges of the Love Avenue calendar?

Julie: The Love Avenue calendar, I think, it would probably be best phrased as the mission calendar for the church, because your Love Avenue calendar is going to work side by side with your Faith Avenue and your Hope Avenue. So, you’re going to come together and collaborate as you move through the year where the venue or the Avenues flow into one another.

And so, it helps the Avenue champions work together as a team in joining Christ, and that’s our goal—is that we are joining Christ in the mission that he is already doing, what he is already leading. And that calendar helps us to just put some things down and together work on that.

And it creates a common vision for the body of Christ. It allows for communicating that vision ahead of time: we’re going into a new year; here’s our calendar. You present that to the church and the leadership, and it helps just feed the vision. Why are we doing this? What are we doing?

It also helps in engaging more people because when people are given the information earlier, when they’re able to do a little bit of planning and say, wait, I’ll be here in June. I can help with that. Or I’m going to be out of town then, but I can help with this one. It helps us to do a little bit more planning and, the Holy Spirit is in that process of planning.

You don’t have to be just by the seat of your pants. You can actually work with a plan, and you could be very effective. And I think it helps lessen the burnout feeling. You don’t go into a year feeling pressured all the time that I’ve got to be doing something or coming up with something. You have a plan.

You’ve all come together to do that. And I think it increases your engagement. We have found that to be true, that the more that we’re able to put out something early to our congregation and kind of work with casting that vision with them, the more involvement we get. The people catch onto the vision.

They want to be a part of it, and they see the purpose of why they’re doing something. It’s not just, we’re throwing an event or we’re doing this little activity. They see the missional purpose of joining Christ. And so that’s really important, and that’s really why we’re doing this. We’re not just doing things to do fun things or to hold activities.

And I think one of the challenges that I would just say that I have experienced a little bit with a very well-organized calendar is that sometimes it can become a getting-things-done checklist and lose a little bit of the participating in relationship.

And so, be aware that a calendar is a great tool in taking those action steps and moving forward and following the leader, the Holy Spirit, and following what Jesus is already doing. But be aware to not allow it to become a checklist of just doing. Know that we are relationally participating with Christ.

Cara: I love that. To use the calendar as a tool to facilitate that participation and not the calendar as an end in and of itself. That’s fantastic. Yeah.

One of the other rhythms that we experience in the life of the church is the rhythm of the worship calendar on an annual basis. And so how can the worship calendar even help shape our rhythms of witness and mission in the neighborhood?

Julie: I think the worship calendar is something that we can invite others to participate in. As a church where we are focusing, whether it’s during the advent season, where we’re going to be doing some other things together as a fellowship. We’ll be gathering for some meals. We’ll be hosting a couple fun things for the kids. We’ll be having some special worship nights.

And being aware of that in the Love Avenue, knowing there’s some really special things that we can invite people to come into that maybe won’t seem completely foreign to them (most of the world knows Christmas, right?) And most of the world is familiar with that. And for them to be invited into a place of worship with this community of faith, I think that’s a really special opportunity that we have to just bring others into that and allow them to feel the rhythm of our church as we seek to worship the Lord and participate with him.

And it’s a great opportunity to send some special invites out to our neighbors. It’s a natural flow of what we are already participating in and where we can open up those arms and open up those doors for others to join.

Cara: Absolutely. Terri, what do you, what are your thoughts on that?

Terri: I think Julie hit the nail on the head when she was talking about how our worshiping and our flow of our year and the things we celebrate, it doesn’t always have to be holidays.

We can have a time of year where we maybe want to worship and really put an emphasis on our children of the community, whether this is the beginning of the school year, when we maybe want to have a blessing of children and start the school year. And we can send that out to the schools and say, we’re also going to provide or do some kind of collection of school materials for backpacks, different things like that.

It can not only be the special holidays that folks really enjoy to participate and celebrate and be a part of, but you can use that worship calendar to shape the rhythm of the community by pulling them into all sorts of other things that they’re very interested in. And it doesn’t have to be just the holidays.

Cara: Yeah. And I love in what both of you share this idea of, it’s an opportunity to invite people in the neighborhood into experiencing various aspects of worship in the life of the church together, some of those opportunities to invite in.

We talk a lot about in the Love Avenue, connecting back to the life of the church and Julie even mentioned, the different Avenues. They don’t function in isolation, right? They’re part of the holistic functioning together integrated of a healthy church. And so, when we’re allowing our worship calendar and the rhythms of our Love Avenue to commingle a little bit, that’s a fun way to be inviting people in.

And then bringing our rhythms, as you said, Terri, even out into the neighborhood. Our rhythms of a particular church community, and then sharing that with the community. I think that’s a beautiful sharing that you both have described there. And … oh, go ahead, Julie, go ahead.

Julie: I was going to say, I think sometimes especially individuals who we may consider unchurched, they have this stigmatism of what church is. And I think the Love Avenue champion has a really great opportunity to change that a little bit and to communicate with our neighbors, this is your place of worship as well. This isn’t us and you. This is a place where God has allowed and called the believers of Christ to gather. And you are invited to be a part of that, a place for you to worship. It’s not just coming to our worship; it’s opening up that door and saying, this is for you as well. This isn’t just us. This isn’t just something that we do. We want that open door of, you are invited. Every time, you are invited! And wanted and valued.

I just think, what if the community looked at a church as you’re like my place to go? I think about the—I’m going back a couple years here, but—I think about, the sitcom “Cheers,” and where everybody knows your name. If a neighborhood church would be where the neighbors could come and be amongst friends and amongst a family and opening those doors where it is just available and open to any and all. And that’s where I think that Love Avenue champion has a really cool opportunity with the neighbors and with the worship calendar to bring that opportunity and that invite to our neighbor.

Terri: I’d like to add, and I think when Julie expresses inviting folks in and “come as you are,” to me, this Love Avenue champion, this person has the most fun champion job. At least I think so because I’m this person.

Cara: You’re biased, but that’s okay.

Terri: I know these words, everybody uses all the time: think outside of the box. But this is the perfect opportunity to think outside of the box and get away from the stigma of, oh, we go to church and there’s a certain protocol that everyone thinks they need to do. Or am I good enough? Am I going to feel comfortable? Am I going to dress okay?

And it’s just to be able to think outside of the box with your pastor and think of things that the Love Avenue champion can bring the community in and make them feel welcomed and make them feel a part of it and not walk in and really be on eggshells.

It’s fun. It’s really fun to think of the different ideas and things you can do whether it’s in your church with your congregation in this worship calendar rhythm that we’re talking about or an event outside of your doors, whether it’s on your property or out in the neighborhood.

Cara: Yeah. And I think what you all are saying is really important, because it speaks about more than just the logistics of rhythms and how do we decide when and what events to do or programs or how to do things. But you’re really speaking to the nature of how we form our way of thinking of mission and presence in a community and the way you can think of this intermingling of the worship calendar and the Love Avenue calendar.

What I’m hearing is this way of tearing down these walls that say, this is church and this is not church; this is where you have to behave this way and this is where you have to behave a certain way or think this way and just tearing those things down and creating space where like you said, we can be welcomed, where we can build those relationships, where we can witness in truth, in goodness without having to jump through hoops maybe.

So, it doesn’t have to be, we do our Love Avenue stuff first, but then once people check off a certain list, then they can come experience the worship calendar. They’re one in the same in Christ; they can commingle, and those walls can come down.

I think that’s a beautiful thing. And then if our calendars can express that philosophy of mission that you guys are talking about, I think that comes back to, Julie, what you were saying. It’s not just a checklist, right? Our calendar becomes an expression of who we believe Christ is and who he’s calling us to be as his church and how to participate in what he’s already doing.

Julie: Yeah. And the community around your church, they may see your church there and they may see that you have weekly services and different things like that. But for them to participate in encountering Christ in the members of the church carrying on relationship with them, that’s where the real stuff is at.

Where we can sit in a space with our neighbors and encounter the living God who speaks to us and who calls us to come with confidence. And we don’t have all the solutions for all the neighborhood problems and all the solutions for all the people that are suffering and experiencing trials.

But by all means we can sit with one another, and we can continue to profess the love of God, and we can love our neighbors in whatever broken space they are in. Let’s be honest, we are in our own broken space. But we can do that, and the Love Avenue is just a beautiful way where the church doesn’t stay within the four walls.

The church walks into relationship with neighbor and in that encounter, we can point back to the gathering. We can point back to our reason of hope, and we can point back to who it is that we worship and who it is that loves us and who it is that makes this all possible. And it’s just really beautiful.

I think Terri’s right. I would agree with each of my Avenue champions that their Avenue is the most fun, but Terri today is right.

Cara: Amen,

Julie: It’s kind of like the mom that tells her kid, you are my favorite. But tells all of her kids, you are my favorite. Terri, you are my favorite.

Cara: Oh, you got to love it.

Even as we’re talking about these different rhythms and kind of this sharing and exchanging of rhythms almost, when I think about the Love Avenue, another set of rhythms that comes to mind is the natural rhythms of the neighborhood.

Terri, what do you think? How do the natural neighborhood rhythms shape an annual Love Avenue calendar?

Terri: I think you first have to know and understand what your natural neighborhood rhythm is. In Cincinnati, in the west side of Cincinnati where our church is located, one of the many rhythms that the community really feeds off of and they really love are yard sales.

It’s a big thing on the west side of Cincinnati. Your junk is someone else’s treasure. So, the community has been doing yard sales [and] Christ Fellowship Church has been doing yard sales for many years. When it started, it was held on a Wednesday morning, because that’s when the gentleman who started it could meet.

And then I took it over, and I couldn’t. I worked on Wednesday, so I changed it to a Saturday. So, we did Saturdays for years. I bring this story … it does have a point. The natural neighborhood, in the big neighborhood in our area, all of the crafters and small business owners, they got together, and they started their own crafting kind of marketplace on the same Saturday, the first Saturday of the month, all throughout the summer.

And it was held on the public parking lot in the center of town, and we’re not even a mile down the road. So, this was on the same Saturday as ours. Even though we’d been doing this for years, they started, and that was the best for them.

So, understanding that was their new time, when they were going to have their event, we did not want to compete with them. I didn’t want to clash with them. I didn’t want to take away from them or have them take away from us. I wanted us to be working together. So, we talked to all of our vendors who were coming, and mind you, our vendors are anywhere from 30 to 40, 45 people that are not in our church.

There are people in the community who sell their yard sales stuff right there by their car, out on our front lawn. So, we all decided that we were going to change our Saturday to the second Saturday of the month. So, we advertised, we put it out there that we were changing. We started letting people know throughout the year, so that the next year when it started, it would be on the second Saturday.

So, this natural neighborhood rhythm, you need to know what your neighborhood’s doing so that you don’t compete. You work more as a team with them. You’re not trying to outshine them. It’s more that you’re fitting together, trying to help the neighborhood instead of competing.

Our neighborhood also is very big in the fall—lots of fall festivals, lots of pumpkin patches and places to go for hayrides and pick your pumpkin from the field. And we also started doing our own little pumpkin patch and same thing you needed to set your hours and your time when you’re not conflicting. If you’re going to have a fall festival, you don’t want to have it on the same day as maybe three other churches in your neighborhood. You need to know their calendar, their rhythm so that you guys aren’t competing.

To be able to reach out, the Love Avenue champion has got the opportunity to reach out and touch so many people outside of the church walls. When Julie was talking about, talking to people about connecting them with Christ, my favorite place to talk to somebody about Jesus Christ is sitting on a hay bale. That’s my favorite place.

Out on our field, when we do our pumpkin patch and we have hay bales around a baby pool that’s filled with corn, that little toddlers like to sit in and play. You’re just sitting there talking to the moms and wow. The stuff that comes out of people when you’re sitting on a hay bale! I don’t know what’s in that hay, but boy, it’s kind of like…

Did you ever remember driving your kids to school and I don’t know maybe because you’re driving and your kid knows you’re not looking at them, they all of a sudden start telling you all this stuff! That’s what would happen. I don’t know.

But anyway, I really enjoy understanding and learning the neighborhood. What do they like to do? Are you in a neighborhood where you have a lot of crime? And maybe you need to help folks and help with understanding.

Every neighborhood has its own little niche of things it loves to do and the problems it has—we all have them! And finding what your neighborhood’s niche is and then join it and be a part of it and not compete with it, is fun. It’s just so fun.

Julie: And I would add that in discovering the rhythm of your neighborhood, please just remind yourself, and I have to remind myself of this. Terri and I have sat and reminded each other of this: it takes time because learning the rhythm of a neighborhood is about developing and engaging in relationship with the neighbors and with the businesses within the community there. It takes conversation.

And we have to be careful not to expect from ourselves perfection. Like, one week, I’m going to go out, I’m going to discover everything I need to know, and the next week I’ll have the perfect way to connect with the neighborhood. Sometimes it takes months of walking alongside your neighbors and figuring out what’s going on.

And it takes awhile for people to learn to trust you and to want to engage. And so, relationship is the focused. We just have to make sure that we don’t rush that or try to bypass that. We need to have a relationship in order to be effective in the community,

We could come up with the greatest event or the greatest way to connect with our neighbors, and if it is not something that they need or something that they’re not even interested in, it’s going to be a waste of our efforts if we just go out on our own without actually knowing the neighborhood.

And I know that we can look at other churches and see some of the things that they’ve been successful with, some of the ways that they have really connected with community. Let’s remember that there’s a big story before that. And that’s a story of a lot of conversations, a lot of time. And that’s okay because there’s a lot of beauty in those conversations and a lot of beauty in that time.

I’ve worked with Terri for several years, and we’ve each sat on hay bells at different times, talking with people and, there was no purpose as far as, we didn’t sit there with the goal of I’m going to get this person to come to my church. We sat there with the goal of engaging in relationship, getting to know people. We have some new members at our church that conversation started on a hay bill! For several years, by the way, year after year, they would come to the pumpkin patch, and we would have conversations. After several years they are part of our fellowship now. I just I think about the way that God did it, it was beautiful. It was not as quick as I would’ve wanted it, I will admit. Beautiful, nonetheless. And to him be the glory.

Cara: Yes. And what I think is incredible in what you both have shared, is what you’re talking about in getting to know the rhythms of your neighborhood and being present with your neighbors in a relational way, in a patient way. That takes time, even if it’s more time than we want. It points to the fact that it’s not just a marketing strategy, right? Because that’s also in marketing: you get to know your market and what they like and what will get them to buy your product.

But that’s not what we’re called to as a church. When we’re talking about stepping into and speaking to the natural rhythms of our neighborhood, what we’re really talking about is stepping into the incarnation rhythms of Jesus, the way that he steps into our own spaces, our passions, the things that we like to do, like yard sales and picking pumpkins and sitting on hay. And that does take time. And that is intimately relational. And not just, how do I get the best hook?

So, I really love what you guys are saying. And I think that this is the back-and-forth flow: we share the rhythms of the worship calendar of this church as we also step into the rhythms of the neighborhood. And it’s this beautiful back and forth of incarnationally joining Jesus in our neighborhood with what he’s already doing in the midst of those relationships, because that’s where he works.

Julie: Yeah, that’s right. Absolutely. And that’s where that beauty in participating in something like this lies. When you truly see that, that this is something that Jesus is doing, man! And it’s not we’re not bringing Jesus to a neighborhood, he’s already there.

Surprise, surprise! You knock on the door and he’s already there sitting with the person that you’re meeting, and he invites us into that. And that’s just so cool because Jesus could do all of this without us. And yet he says, I want you there.

And I don’t know about you, but when God tells me he wants me there, I get pretty excited because I know that I get to participate in what he’s doing. And my God’s pretty cool so I’m up for that.

Cara: Yes. Amen.

This was mentioned briefly earlier, this idea of not letting a calendar become just a checklist or maybe even just events-focused, where the entirety of our witness or mission becomes just about events. And so, I’m wondering, (and Terri, maybe you can speak to this as the Love Avenue champion) how do the dynamics of corporate and personal rhythms in the neighborhood shape an annual Love Avenue calendar?

Terri: You need to get to know your companies in your neighborhood.

We’re on the west side of Cincinnati, we’re not near downtown. But we do have some businesses around us. We have a lot of schools around us. We have other churches around us. So, I think it’s very important to get to know.

I know Julie not too long ago, I think you had lunch, had a meal, broke bread, had spent some time with other pastors in some of the other churches in our area. They weren’t GCI churches. They were the Methodist guy and the Baptist guy, and it was a group of them that got together. And I just think it’s really important to understand the corporate and how are they entrenched? Can you tag team and work together on something together? And even if they already have implemented something, can we help? Is there something you’re doing that we can help?

We have one of our members of our congregation is a principal of a school, and I thought, okay, he’s a principal. He has a school; it’s in our neighborhood. Wow. This is just a glove is going on. How can we make this work? How can we help this principal? How can we help his teachers? How can we help these students? What can we do to help and bring them into a relationship of, oh, we’re just not here to give you a backpack? Teachers, can we come here to give you a cup of coffee and a prayer before you start your new school year?

I think understanding and knowing, like you said, the corporate, the personal, the missions of your community that’s going to help you to direct your events and your outreach programs of the neighborhood toward: how can we connect with them?

How can we introduce them to Jesus Christ? How can they see it through us? The love that we have and the love and the caring and the outreach that we want to do, let our light shine. How can we do that? And knowing them and where they’re coming from and what they’re involved in is very helpful.

Cara: Yeah. And even, as you’re saying, that it’s an opportunity to keep an eye out for and discern for strategic partnerships in the neighborhood.

Julie, would you add anything to that?

Julie: I think it’s important to remember, God has given our church a mission. And he is specifically working within the neighborhood, and he has invited us to join in that.

But also remember, we’re not in competition with the church across the street. I’m not in competition, I’m interested in people encountering Jesus and getting to know him. I’m interested in the kingdom of God growing. And so, my brother or sister across the street in that church, it’s not a competition for me.

It’s something where to love them well, I want to know, how can I support you. How could I further what you’re doing as well, what God has given you to do? And I think a lot of that is just relationally, knowing each other and sitting together.

And I know that the church across the street, they happen to have a [food] pantry. And, I had a couple members, they wanted to do a bigger pantry at our church. We have a small one so that if somebody comes in, we can give them items. We don’t leave them empty handed or anything like that.

But the church across the street literally is a full pantry. And so instead of us opening up a full pantry, I have that information. We can give some things to people, but I always encourage them, Hey, across the street, our brothers and sisters, they actually have this pantry. And so, we try to support them, and I’ve spoken to them about, what can we do to help out?

And so, we’re talking about the best way to support them and at that same time that conversation came to, how can we support you guys? What’s something that God has given you in this community that you are engaged in and how can we support you at that?

So, I think it’s just important to look at the neighbors, the businesses, and the churches. We’re not competing. We’re in this together. Believe me. There are enough people who do not know the Lord, there are enough people that they could fill up all these churches. So, we could trust God’s lead and his gathering there. I long to be obedient to that invitation that he’s given us to participate. And he figures out how that works.

And the businesses and the churches, they’re going to be doing VBS, they’re going to be doing other things to reach out to the community. And I think as we are knowledgeable of those things, we can become something that compliments that and they and in turn, they can also compliment what we’re doing. It can just be a nice rhythm for the community.

Cara: Absolutely. And we’re created for relationships. So, there’s a sense where we really are better together.

Also, something that you said earlier, Terri, that makes me think of this, because there’s, I think, different layers, multiple layers to these dynamics of corporate and personal missional rhythms as a church community.

And I think you guys have touched on that really important layer. We’re not in competition with others in our neighborhood. We can actually partner for the mission that God has given us.

And then I think that there’s also this idea of within the gathering church community, we can be on mission together. And we can live lives that are sent as disciples in our day-to-day life.

And so, when you were talking earlier, Terri, you said something about, it’s really tempting with a calendar to be like, we have to do an event for everything. But we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. And I think even that can speak to this dynamic of corporate and personal missional rhythms.

If we do an event for everything, then we’re always on mission in a programmatic way, corporately together as a church, a gathering church body. And then, when do we have space for those personal lunches to just break bread and get to know people in the neighborhood or to get to know those organizations or businesses or other churches, because we’re always event planning?

And so, I think you made a very important point about not spreading ourselves too thin because there are multiple ways in which we’re called to engage in mission and corporate level, event-type things. And strategic partnerships is one way, but just living our lives as “sent” people and doing things like having time to grab that coffee is also part of that and how we structure our church activities can sometimes impact whether we have time for that coffee with our neighbor.

So, I thought that was very insightful, Terri, so thank you for sharing that.

Terri: Three words: quality not quantity.

Cara: Yes. Amen. Amen. And you both have already spoken a little bit to this. I’m wondering if you have any more that you would like to add on how does an annual Love Avenue calendar support collaboration between the Avenues?

Terri: I think first, I wouldn’t say that the Love Avenue calendar—I look at this as more, the three different Avenues support each other. It isn’t all about just the Love Avenue, how is it going to make the other two work so that we’re not separate. I think it needs to be looked at that it’s a well-oil machine and that they feed into each other and that they all work together towards the same goal.

I’ve used this example before, and I’ll mention it again. What a perfect example of the three Avenues working together are, maybe one of the Avenues talks about we’re going to do this. The example I’ll use is a new member. That’s great. So, let’s have our new member class and the Faith Avenue is getting those classes and what they’re learning and everything.

And then afterwards, they’re going to have an opportunity to have a potluck with the congregation and get to know the congregation and feel loved and a part of the church. Then as the Love Avenue champion, if I know these things are going on, then I’m going to say, could we maybe do this in August before fall. I don’t know when you’re thinking of doing these classes so that right after they feel a part of the congregation and well loved. We have our pumpkin patch in October, then could we do it right before that so that now they can join the church in this opportunity of being a part of the neighborhood and being a part of this pumpkin patch and what it entails?

So, all three Avenues just flowed from one to the other in helping these new members become a part of not only a church, not only a part of a neighborhood, but a part of a relationship with Christ. And it just kind of all fit together, just so perfectly. So, the three work as one in my mind.

And it’s so important not only that the Love Avenue champion has some folks under her or him that are their right-hand, left-hand man to do the different things that the Love Avenue does, but those champions have to also sit together with their pastor and really work together so that this collaboration of the Avenues is just one unit.

And they’re working together towards the same goal of connecting with the community. Meeting once a month, purposely sitting down with them and meeting with the pastor there as well, is so vital to make this whole faith, hope, love champion achieve the goals that they’re trying to achieve.

Cara: Yes. And thank you for putting that so eloquently, Terri, that they’re flowing together, that they’re really working together as one well-oiled machine, because I think really that’s the point, right? Is that they’re not functioning in their own kind of little corner isolated from each other.

And when we have the intentionality of that calendar, like the example that you shared, I think is incredible then we can have as Avenue champions and pastor, that conversation in advance about, how can we help make this flow? How can we help create an experience that does flow from one Avenue to the next, so that we’re collaborating and integrated versus just haphazardly doing things whenever we remember or feel like it.

So that was an excellent real-life example. Julie, is there anything that you would add about how collaboration is facilitated between the Avenues when we have calendars?

Julie: Yes. I’m not really sure who was the mastermind between behind these, but I really see this as our faith rhythms. As we live out our walk with the Lord, it’s like we come into these rhythms with him and there is a building and then there’s an expression of, as we come to know and experience and encounter the Lord, and as we get sharpened by one another, that leads to an expression of love and relationship.

And we sit with our neighbors, we go into the neighborhood, and we sit in this encounter with Christ. And it’s almost—I realize we’re not saying this, but—it’s almost John the Baptist, “Behold the lamb of God!” Like that, he’s here, and we get to do that!

I’m not suggesting that we go stand on the corner and say behold, the lamb of God. But we get to sit in these relationships with our neighbors and behold, the lamb of God is in those relationships with us. And then we get to encourage stepping into that Hope Avenue where we worship, and we’ve encountered the Lord and we are worshiping him and we long to go deeper. And then we go into the Faith Avenue. It’s just a beautiful rhythm for every single member of our church.

And so even though Terri is the Love Avenue champion, she has rhythm in the Hope Avenue and rhythm in the Faith Avenue. She will be active in each of those in a different way than being the champion that she is in the Love Avenue.

But this is also an active part of her faith, each of those Avenues, and it’s going to be an active part of our faith as a community. And working on that calendar, it becomes an active testimony basically of what God is doing in our fellowship.

It’s it becomes something that we sit there and go, wow, God is moving here. And we have an opportunity for this. And I think that anytime you go to put together a calendar, I think it would be more than beneficial to have all three Avenue champions together, casting that vision and bouncing ideas off of each other.

I think it’s also very important for them to meet regularly as an entire group so that they can continue to have that one vision and that collaboration together in this. And I think that eliminates some of those feelings of the whole world on your shoulders—I got to do this all by myself.

It helps eliminate some of that. And it helps us to maintain our focus on Christ. We might make it about ourselves. Sometimes we get overwhelmed, and we think we’ve got to pull off the perfect event or whatever’s going on. But those regular gatherings really get the focus off myself. Lord, what are you doing?

And this is awesome. We’re in this together. And Lord, you’ve included me, and you’ve included our church. [Then] you sit in a place of gratitude, more so than a place of stress and have to. It’s like, we get to do this with you? That’s awesome.

Terri: I’d like to add one other thing.

Julie mentioned the importance of getting together monthly with the other champions. Sometimes when you’re planning an event or you’re getting ready to do some kind of event, or even at the end of the event, and you’re discussing the success, what worked, what didn’t, you can get so easily—I’m going to say you, because this happened to me.

There was a time when I got very caught up in, how much money did we make? How many people attended? Did it work out good? I totally missed what the event was supposed to be all about. And it took that collaboration, that time when I was around some very close people who I trust, people who you can let your guard down and you can say anything.

And it took—well, and it was Julie who said, “Terri, remember what this is all about. It isn’t about how much money we made. You know what, it isn’t about that. Refocus.”

So, these meetings [are a] time when you can open up your heart and talk about events, talk about the reaching out to the community. And you can’t fall into that trap of, oh, we made a thousand dollars when we did this. This is great. Why don’t we do this next time? And maybe we’ll make two. It’s not about that. It wasn’t about that. And I fell right down in that hole. And then—and I have to compliment Julie. You pulled me up and you refocused me and put me back on track.

And those monthly meetings will do that, will keep everybody [with] both feet on the ground and heading where you’re supposed to head.

Cara: That we support each other in being Christ centered as the body. Yeah. And I think that’s a really important reminder that you guys have highlighted, because it is easy to get fixated on a checklist or look what we’ve accomplished.

Terri: I got sucked right into that. I really fell in one.

Cara: It is an easy trap. It is an easy trap, but praise God, he does make us for one another as his body and community as a church to keep one another with our eyes on him.

We are coming close to the end of our time. So, I do have a couple more questions for you both. As we’re thinking about Love Avenue rhythms and annual calendars, I’d love for you to share what are some best practices you’ve discovered in your own context and maybe what are some things that you’ve tried that didn’t work out.

Terri: Some of our best practices I think started out with realizing number one, do we have the manpower? You can have this wonderful idea going out and getting to know your community and mapping your neighborhood and going door-to-door, that works out great, you can do that with 1, 2, 3 people. But if you’re going to pull off an event, you need to make sure you’ve got your manpower, you’ve got the folks that are going to be able to put it all together.

And it’s interesting this question was one of the questions because we do a pumpkin patch every year and that’s one of our bigger events. I’ve talked to some folks about the pumpkin patch and so this person’s going to maybe set up the maze and this person’s going to do the food and these people will be setting up the different [stations]. There are so many things that need to be preliminary done before the patch opens up so that you’ve got all these tasks organized and who’s supposed to do what and when.

But you need to be able to have those people that say, “Okay, what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? Where do you want me to stand? What do you want me to man?” And you just spread open your arms and just say, “I want you to just go out there in the field and talk to people. Go out there and meet them and talk to them. Sit on that hay bale and have a conversation.”

And it doesn’t mean every person you meet that you’re going to be able to solve all their problems. But the point is when you’ve got your different outreach programs, you not only have to have your worker bees to be able to get all the dots and T’s crossed and dots dotted, but you need to make sure you have the folks that are going to be your folks that are going to spend the time to talk to people, to listen the people, and to be able to not be afraid to say, “Have you ever heard of this triune God, do you know what that is? Do you know who Jesus Christ is? Do you know who the Holy Spirit is?”

And to be able to talk to them about relationship with Christ. It isn’t all about worker bees.

As we talk about our different rhythms and the different things we do at Christ Fellowship Church—and there are some big ones that we do that require some folks and understanding your congregation and their gifts and knowing. Well, I can put an extrovert and an introvert together and wow. Watch what happens. It’s awesome. It’s awesome.

I’ve put two people together that I just didn’t think would [work], and it wasn’t me. It was all Jesus Christ because when these two people got together, the one person could talk about anything to anybody, and the other person was dealing with other things. It just was perfect. And I think when you’re having and planning these events, if you can just step back and let Christ lead it and let God lead you, to listen and sit with him and listen to his ideas and what he has to say.

It’s almost like a growing experience to be able to let somebody else lead and not try to take control and take over and do this gigantic magical thing; just to let go and let God lead your lead. You let the Holy Spirit lead you into this.

We have had some that didn’t work out so well. We’ve flopped on a few. I certainly will admit that, and we learned from them. We maybe had something that was very labor intense.

We did a tee ball that was open to the community, and we had 10 teams, 10 kids each. We had coaches, we announced them, we played songs. It was indoors in our church, rain or shine. It was phenomenal. And it was so labor intense that it took away the opportunity for those people to talk to the parents that were there. Everybody was so busy doing work. There’s so much more than just the tasks at these events with the Love Avenue. There’s connecting and listening and talking; it is just as important as the event. And sometimes we forgot that.

If any Love Avenue champions are listening, I think the most important thing to understand is that you’re going to make mistakes. And you’re going to stumble, and it’s okay. You just pick yourself up and [say], “Wow! I learned from that one.” And you move on.

Then it’s really important to sit down with your team, the Love Avenue team, and to sit down with your pastor or the other Avenue champions, and to say, okay, we kind of did this wrong. And you discuss it, and you talk about, how can we make it right?

Believe it or not, the pumpkin patch during COVID—we struggled. There was one year that was really tough. We almost threw in the towel on one of our biggest, special community outreaches because we thought it wasn’t working, and we just were knee jerk reaction, going to throw in the towel.

And it took the collaboration, the love, the meeting, the coming together of the team to say, now, wait a minute, let’s remember what this is all about. Okay, we didn’t make as much money this year. Okay, we struggled with putting together all of the games and stuff. So, what can we do next year?

Maybe we shouldn’t put together the biggest, hardest thing, and let’s just do some other littler things. All of a sudden, we started having all these ideas of maybe we could try this instead, or maybe we could do this instead. And before you know it, bam, you’ve got your pumpkin patch back, full swing, everybody’s excited. Let’s try something new.

You will stumble, some things will work. Some things can be patched up and retried. But you’re never going to know if things don’t work unless you try.

And it’s really fun. And maybe fun’s not even the right adjective. It’s just gives-you-goosebumps kind of a thing. When you’ve realized you’ve been able to walk with somebody and sit with them and introduce them to Christ and what it’s all about. It’s like goosebump material.

Julie: I would agree, Terri, that joining Christ is fun. So, you can use that; you can use that, if you want. It’s fun. I would agree.

I think that when you go to plan a year, we have to remember that it’s about relationally connecting with our neighbors, and there isn’t a manual of the perfect way to throw the perfect event or the perfect this. A lot of things we learned through trial and error.

And I think one of the things that Terri and I have really seen make a difference is when a congregation, when a group of people, capture the vision of who we’re joining and whose ministry it is, what changes.

And I think we experienced that this last month. (I guess it was still this month.) We had our first “Sell Your Stuff”, and we tried to cast that vision for our congregation, that this isn’t about us putting on a yard sale. This is an opportunity for us to connect and get to know our neighbors, and to express the love of Christ to them. And we had more people show up and participate in that than we have in the past.

And we actually had a member of the community attend church the next day. And she said, the reason that she attended church was because of how kind and loving everyone was to her. And “Sell Your Stuff,” it’s not a big production. But the way that it has operated in the past, it was just activity-driven, task-driven.

We hadn’t cast the vision of relationally connecting with our neighbors. And so that vision, it’s really important to cast that vision and to work in that vision with your community, because you’re going to cast that vision and not everybody’s going to get it the first time, but just continue to invite.

I understand that you may cast the vision with your church; you may invite people to participate in this. And you may get one and the next time maybe you get two, but I would just continue to cast that vision and continue to invite people. And I’ve watched God one by one, just change hearts. And it’s like the light bulb comes on. Wow, Jesus has actually gifted me and invited me in participation. Wow.

And I see members of our church starting one by one, start expressing, they get that God has sent them. They get that God has given this opportunity. And I think it’s really important to cast the vision of whose ministry this is.

And cast that vision that we are joining Christ. And we’re here to connect with our neighbors, regardless of how successful the event is in any other way, we are here to connect and love our neighbors,

Cara: Absolutely. Those are excellent insights.

Thank you both for sharing that. And before we wrap up our time, are there any final words that you would like to share with our listeners?

Terri: I guess my final words would be directed to the Love Avenue champions. And I think when all this champion stuff started and you were asked to be a leader in this Avenue, I think the initial feeling was a bit overwhelming. Oh, my goodness, you’re putting a lot on my plate.

After you get through that emotion, you grasp what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. You’re not trying to accomplish the biggest and the best event of the year. You’re not trying to accomplish a whole lot of cool stuff, like, wow, we’re the cool church with all the bells and whistles.

When you just stay focused, like what Julie said, on that vision of joining Christ in relationships. (That’s such a foreign word, I think, to so many people: relationships.) Events, going door-to-door, this Love Avenue is all about relationships. You could almost be called the relationship champion. It’s not meant to overwhelm people and it’s not meant to put so much on your plate that you think you got to do it all.

Because you’re given tools, and the calendar (we’ve talked about the calendar this whole podcast) the calendar is one of your tools to help you not get overwhelmed and to keep you grounded and organized. And same with the other champions, they are there to keep you grounded and keep you focused. Use these tools Christ has given you, don’t try to do it all by yourself.

And that would be the main thing that I would hope to have people take away from this.

Cara: Thank you for those wise final words, Terri. I appreciate it. And Julie, what about you some final words for our listeners?

Julie: I would just encourage all who are embarking in this expression of love to their neighbors, just remember that Jesus goes, he is there. He is with us. This is not something that we are creating or making happen. It is already what Jesus is doing. Jesus is already loving our neighbors.

And he has asked us to come and be in that relationship. The weight of all this other stuff, it’s not on us; he already makes those paths for us. And we can trust that lead. We can trust his lead in difficult conversations. If you don’t know how to connect with someone, we can trust the lead of the Lord.

If he has asked us to come (and he has, by the way, he has sent the church and we are at the church) then his provision is abundant. It is enough. We can trust that. And the Love Avenue is nothing without Christ. But with him, oh, the wonders! I’m always reminded of, in Christ I can do all things, but I’m also reminded that without him, nothing. As we begin the journey of a Love Avenue, let’s not take a step without him.

Let’s let him be the lead. Let’s let him be the strength. Let’s let him give that invitation of where and how. Let’s trust that his lead is good and perfect. And it doesn’t mean that we won’t make mistakes because sometimes that’s the way he allows us to learn.

And sometimes it’s in the failures of life that we grow so much. I think about some of the things in our church that haven’t gone so well, and yet some of the beauty that’s come out of those things.

God knows what he’s doing, and I’m not going to stand here and say, I know what I’m doing in all of this. And Terri (she knows how I mean this) Terri doesn’t know what she’s doing in all of this either. This isn’t our expertise, but we have had the wonderful invitation to join Christ in this. We have had the opportunity to participate in this and we can say, God is good and faithful.

And so just remember that and as you embark, God is good, and he is faithful.

Cara: Amen. Thank you, Julie, for those words.

And as we wrap up, we are not quite done with the fun yet. I have a couple of random questions for you all, and you both can answer whatever comes to mind first. There are no right or wrong answers, whatever is true or good.

And then we’ll have a little bit of fun with it. So, are y’all ready? So, our first question is what is your favorite plant?

Julie: I love an Aloe vera plant.

Cara: Oh, okay. Terri, what about you, your favorite plant?

Terri: That’s a tough one, because I’m a big yard flower person, but I would have to go with a Viburnum.

Cara: Okay. Very nice. If you could only listen to one genre of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Terri: Mine’s going to be Christian (music), so that’s all I ever listened to.

Cara: Okay. Like contemporary worship music kind of genre of Christian? Okay. Julie, what about for you?

Julie: Gosh, this seems like an impossible question for me, because I am like a mixed girl. I love … there are songs I love from everything. I’m an oldies girl. I like oldies a lot.

Cara: Yes. I love that. All right, this next one. Maybe there is a right or wrong answer to this one, but I promise, I guess I won’t judge you too harshly. Would you support a national avocado day as a work holiday?

Julie: Would I? Absolutely. As long as everybody gets avocados, guacamole and chips.

Cara: Yes. Good answer.

Terri: I’m sorry, but I don’t like avocados.

Julie: We have to rethink her position as the Love Avenue champion.

Cara: I think so! You got to put that into the ministry description: loves avocado.

Terri: Couldn’t it be a chocolate day?

Cara: You could eat chocolate on national avocado day. You have the day off from work. If it’s a work holiday, so you can do whatever you want.

Oh, goodness. All right. Final question. What would the title of your autobiography?

Julie: There You Have It.

Cara: I like that. Go ahead. Sorry.

Terri: Mine is, It Is What It Is.

Cara: Ooh, I like that too. You guys have good autobiography titles!

Oh, this really has been a lot of fun. And I thank you both, Julie and Terri, for being with us and taking your time to share some insights with us about the Love Avenue and rhythms and calendars today.

It is our practice with GC Podcast to end the show with a word of prayer.

And so, Terri, would you be willing to pray for our churches and our pastors, ministry leaders, and members in GCI?

Terri: I’d love to. Yes. Thank you.

Heavenly Father. We just come before you right now, just to thank you so much for this opportunity and this new journey, a journey that we are exploring and understanding. And the title of our journey is relationships.

And we just thank you that we are understanding and grasping what it means to have a relationship with you. We asked that you could help, not only our pastors and our three different champions and their teams, but our congregations to help them to understand, what this vision is that we’re trying to cast.

What does this mean joining Christ? What does it mean to connect and love on your neighbors? What does all this mean? We just asked that you could be with all of the folks that are listening to this podcast and be with all the churches, not just GCI, but the churches around the world to help them to understand what love thy neighbor means.

We love you so much, and we know how much you love us. And we just thank you so much for this love, for a triune God that we’ve come to understand is our friend. And we thank you for that. This is a wonderful opportunity, this technology of a podcast to be a part of, and to be able to use this technology to reach so many folks. And help us all to work together towards this vision of loving you and understanding you and growing deeper in a relationship with you.

We thank you. We pray all of this through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Cara: Amen. Jamie I was really struck by Terri’s suggestion, that Love Avenue events that are planned throughout the year should have enough people capacity that some people’s job is just to be with people and not just to run the event.

I think that’s a great challenge for us to think about when we put together our Love Avenue rhythms and we plan and schedule events. What is our capacity? Are we just running the events or are we spending time with people?

What’s something that really stood out to you from what Terri and Julie had to share?

Jamie: Cara, a lot stood out that me actually, but the main one was when they shared that they would have time to also meet with members from other churches in their neighborhood.

I like it when Julie said that we are not in competition with the church across the street. I love that part because we really have to do that as a church, as the body of Jesus on the earth today. Our goal is to love our neighbors together and that we are not competing with other ministries or other churches, but instead we are to also love them.

We are also to celebrate what the Lord is doing through them. And with that, I can just imagine the Father being so proud when all of his children love each other and also love others together. I love that.

Cara: Yeah, thank you for highlighting that. Jamie, it makes me think about the Love Avenue is all about witness and mission, and that witness and mission of Jesus belongs to his entire church. And so that’s important to remember.

Thank you so much for joining us again today, Jamie, and for being our co-host for this quarter. It’s been so much fun having you with us on the GC Podcast. And so, before we close out this final podcast of this quarter, I wonder what can you share with us about the GCI curriculum On Being In and With the Word.

Jamie: On Being In and With the Word is a seven-week series that focuses on the Bible and a method of studying scripture. It is the last curriculum to be released for On Being series. All the curricula in the series can be found here on the website at resources.gci.org/on-being

Cara: Thank you so much, Jamie.

Friends, go on ahead and check out the On Being series. We really appreciate you listening to the GC podcast. And if you liked what you heard, go on ahead and give us a rating wherever you’re listening to the podcast, it helps us get the word out and to bring others into the conversation. But until next time, keep on living and sharing in 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 October 2, 2022 – Proper 22

Speaking of Life 4045 | Our Inadequacy

We can easily feel down or discouraged when we try our best to plan something and it doesn’t go the way we wanted it to or not a lot of people have shown interest. Timothy had a similar feeling when he thought he was too young to work with the mature elders of the church. Paul encourages Timothy that through the Spirit we are empowered to minister with Christ. God is not looking for perfection but for our participation. In Christ, we already have every good and perfect thing we need.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4045 | Our Inadequacy
Cara Garrity

Have you ever felt like you were not equal to a task you were given? You try your best, but it seems like you come up short? It is especially tough when you feel inadequate in ministry. Perhaps you tried to do a community event and very few people showed up? Or, maybe you tried to facilitate a connect group and nothing went as you wanted? Or maybe you are too intimidated to even attempt to participate in Jesus’ ministry.  When you feel inadequate it is natural to wonder why God would invite you to participate in his ministry in the first place.

The apostle Paul’s protégé, Timothy, was familiar with the feeling of inadequacy. The young man led a congregation in Ephesus, and he felt like he was not equal to the task. In particular, Timothy wondered if he was too young to meet the ministry needs of Christ-followers far older than himself. In his 2nd letter to him, Paul wrote to encourage Timothy and to provide some guidance. He said:

3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love
and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:3-7

Notice the first thing Paul did was to confirm Timothy’s giftedness, reminding him of the faithfulness of his mother and grandmother. This, no doubt, brought to Timothy’s mind the ways in which God faithfully worked through his two ancestors. Next, Paul encouraged Timothy to use his gifts, reminding him that God is the one truly working through him. Paul made it clear that Timothy’s ministry was accomplished by the Spirit, and the young minister did not need to trust in his own adequacy but in the God who gifted and called him.

The same is true for us. Participating in Jesus’ ministry can be challenging, and it is easy to feel inadequate. It is important to remember that it is Jesus’ ministry and not our own, and the weight of his ministry is not ours to carry. Jesus is the true minister, and he will accomplish the work that he sets out to do.

The Spirit gives us gifts enabling us to participate in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Again, however, we are not ultimately responsible for the results of that participation – Jesus is. This should free us to use the gifts God has given us without the burden of perfection. We will make mistakes in ministry and things will not always go as planned. However, we are already assured that the ultimate victory has already been won in Christ. While we may feel inadequate sometimes, Jesus is always more than enough.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 137:1-9 • Lamentations 1:1-6 • 2 Timothy 1:1-14 • Luke 17:5-10

The theme for this week is lament in the face of our inadequacy. Apart from God, all human efforts are futile. When we willfully act apart from God, the Christian response is lament and repentance, acknowledging our inadequacy and dependance on him. The call to worship Psalm invokes the cries of an Israelite returning from captivity in Babylon, a place where the speaker felt separated from God. In Lamentations, we read a heartbreaking lament for the exiled inhabitants of Judah, whose condition was brought about by unfaithfulness to God. In the Timothy passage, Paul spoke words of comfort and guidance to his distressed protégé who felt inadequate as a minister. In the Gospel scripture, Jesus acknowledged the inadequacy of his disciples’ faith, implying the need for his followers to be completely dependent upon him.

Do You Need a Bigger Faith?

Luke 17:5-10

In the classic 1975 thriller Jaws, Roy Schneider, in his role as police chief Martin Brody, delivers one of the most famous lines in all of American cinema. In the film, after a series of shark attacks, Brody enlists Matt Hooper, a marine biologist (played by Richard Dreyfuss), and Quint, a professional shark hunter (played by Robert Shaw) to help him track down and kill the dangerous Great White. The three men take Quint’s vessel out to sea and set about to hook the shark. To attract it to their location, Brody shovels chum (bloody fish parts) into the water and he succeeds in drawing the ravenous sea monster. When Brody sees the Great White for the first time, he is stunned by the size of the creature. In a daze, he staggers over to Quint and almost whispers, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!” The statement perfectly captured the moment the three men realized they were in over their heads.

In popular culture, Brody’s quote is a meme, gif, poster, t-shirt, and every other method of marketing you can imagine. It has been referenced over 40 times in TV shows, songs, and movies, making it the rallying cry of everyone who comes face-to-face with their own limitations and inadequacy. We have all been there at one time or another – in a situation where the way forward seems so daunting that you realize your “best” up until that point will not be good enough.

The 12 disciples of Jesus faced a “bigger boat” challenge. Jesus taught them a lesson they found difficult to hear and even more difficult to live out. He set a high standard for forgiveness, instructing the disciples to forgive every time their fellow human beings sin against them. Even if a person harms them multiple times in the same way, Jesus required his disciples to forgive. Forgiveness is hard under the best circumstances, and Jesus’ expectation seemed unrealistic to his followers. The disciples said the equivalent of, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” They pled for Jesus to increase their faith. Let us look at the account in Luke 17:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’“ (Luke 17:5-10 NIV)

Jesus’ response was unexpected. He first offered an analogy about faith that disrupted the disciples’ understanding, followed by a parable that was humbling in the extreme. I imagine there was a long, uncomfortable silence after Jesus’ response as his followers tried to process their leader’s jarring teaching on a topic they thought they understood. A closer look at the passage will show that Jesus’ words were encouraging, especially to those feeling inadequate. However, they do cause us to move ourselves from the center of our focus. His words were not only encouraging to the 12 disciples, but they are a blessing to us as well.

Let’s first look at why the disciples’ request for faith was off the mark. In essence, the apostles told Jesus, “To do what you just said, we’re gonna need a bigger faith!” They viewed faith as a quantifiable commodity they somehow stored in themselves – kind of like having a faith battery. As they listened to Christ’s teaching and bore witness to his wonders, units of faith were added to their faith battery, increasing the overall faith charge. If they sinned or went too long without connecting with Christ, they lost some of their faith charge. When faced with a spiritual challenge, they had to check to see if there was enough in the faith battery to power them through whatever they had to do. If not, they had to spend more time with Jesus in order to increase the faith charge in the battery. After the disciples heard Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness, they figured they did not have enough faith in their batteries, and they asked Jesus for more. While this analogy may seem a bit humorous, this is exactly how many of us view faith. We see it as something we accumulate and store up.

For the disciples to be able to live out the challenging way of Christ, their understanding of faith had to be renewed, as does ours.

Jesus taught his followers that faith was not a commodity to be stored but the fruit of a relationship. Let me say that again: faith is not a commodity to be stored; faith is the fruit of a relationship.

We do not store up faith, and we do not have true faith of our own. Rather, faith describes the state of being convinced that Jesus is trustworthy in a particular way based on our experience with him in the past. We will not have faith in Jesus in all ways and in all things in this life. Our minds are limited in their ability to completely divorce ourselves from our earthly knowledge and experience. However, we are capable of believing in his word after we get to know him better. For example, if I were sick and God miraculously healed me, I would come to know that God is a healer. If someone I care about becomes sick, and if in prayer, God shows me that my loved one will be healed, I will have faith that the person will make a full recovery. I have faith not because of some accumulated commodity that I can dip into as needed. Rather, I have faith because I have come to know God as the healer. I am convinced of his goodness and power.

This is why Jesus said that all we need is a little faith — just the faith of a mustard seed. Faith has little to do with us and everything to do with him. It is not the power of our belief that changes things, rather it is the belief in his power. We do not direct God’s power with our faith and prayers, dictating to him what we would have him do. Instead, we seek to discern his will in prayer and live in the reality of his word. Too often, Christians think that it is our desires and belief that catalyze God’s activity. It is God’s activity that should shape our belief. I may not believe in God in all the ways that I should, but if I am convinced that God is a healer, then that is sufficient to believe God’s word when he speaks to me of healing. I believe this is what it means to have a little faith.

This should cast a new light on the many times in the Gospels Jesus said to one or more of the disciples that they had little faith. We have to contrast those statements with the many times Jesus said that all one needs is a little faith or the faith of a mustard seed. Looking at it this way, perhaps Christ’s comments about the little faith of his disciples was not a rebuke but an encouragement — a reminder that in him they have all they need.

The disciples asked for a bigger boat, but Jesus directed them to the one who created the ocean. In other words, Christ reoriented them to himself. Instead of putting themselves in the center, Jesus revealed that he is the center. It is not their internal belief that can replant a tree in the sea. Rather, if Jesus says that the tree will be moved, his followers should faithfully behave as if it were already accomplished. Our role is not to set God’s agenda but to discern his plan. It is not the power of the disciples that will enable them to forgive others, it is their complete dependence in the power of Christ working through them as they follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. We, too, are dependent on Christ alone, and faith does not exist apart from him. It is not our place to “name and claim” the miracles we want to see. It is our privilege to bear witness to and participate in the work Jesus is doing to recreate the world.

We should be in awe of the fact that Christ-followers can serve as conduits of his miraculous power. In a perfect world, human beings would humbly appreciate our inclusion in the life of Christ. However, we are prone to pride. We have a tendency to focus on ourselves and it would be easy to become puffed up by the miracles to which we bear witness. This may be why Jesus followed up his lesson about faith with a parable about servanthood. The story Jesus tells illustrates that Christians are to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. We follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and are empowered by him to participate in the life and work of Christ. As servants following orders, we cannot take pride in what we are able to accomplish because we are just doing as we were instructed by the Spirit. There is no place for pride, only humility and gratitude.

In Christ’s response to his disciples’ expression of inadequacy, he did not try to make his followers feel better. He did not quote an affirmation or pray a prayer of empowerment like they wanted. Just the opposite — he confirmed their inadequacy! In themselves, they were incapable of meeting the standard set by Christ. At the same time, he revealed his overwhelming sufficiency and his willingness to work for our good. This is good news for all who call on the name of the Lord.

We all feel inadequate at times. We have all wondered if our best was good enough. The greatest of parents, at times, feels completely overwhelmed. The most seasoned pastors will come up short. The most brilliant scientists will come across a problem they feel is beyond their capacity to solve. [Perhaps include a story about when you felt inadequate.] Inadequacy does not feel good; however, it is part of the normal Christian life. It is in our inadequacy that we can better appreciate the sufficiency of Christ. It is then that we realize that we are nothing without him. It is then that we are reminded of the importance of humility. It is then that we can be trusted to be the conduit of the miraculous.

When faced with a daunting challenge, let us not ask God for a bigger boat. Rather, let us turn to Christ and live in the reality of his sufficiency.

Justified w/ Walter Kim W1

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October 2 – Proper 22
Luke 17:5-10 “Keeping the Faith”

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Program Transcript


Justified w/ Walter Kim W1

Anthony: I’m going to read our first pericope which is Luke 17:5-10. This month, we’re going to focus on the NASB. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper22 on October 2 in Ordinary Time.

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” But the Lord said, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.

“Now which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him after he comes in from the field, ‘Come immediately and recline at the table to eat’? On the contrary, will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 10 So you too, when you do all the things which were commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

If you had the faith the size of a mustard seed was our Lord Jesus’s response to the apostles request for more faith. Walter, what is Jesus ultimately communicating or was he communicating to them and revealing to us by the holy spirit?

Walter: Yes. This is such a challenging passage because we all have experienced moments in our prayer life in which we utter, like the father, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief,” in this sense, in which we are asking God to even help us pray better.

But I’d like to put this passage in its actual broader context. So, when I hear that the apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” Why are they making that request? What is the challenge that was just issued that would cause them to say, “I don’t have the faith for it”?

And if you look at the passage that precedes this (that gives it its context), it wasn’t a passage about prayer. In other words, they weren’t asking for more faith in order to be able to pray better so that they could take this mustard seed of faith and do miraculous things like tell a Mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. There were two issues that were raised in versus 1-4 of chapter 17 that caused the apostles to say, whoa, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to need more faith, so increase our faith.

One of the issues was if you cause any of the little ones to stumble, then it is better for you to be cast into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck. And then Jesus goes—that’s already challenging enough—then he goes on to say, if your brother or sister sins against you rebuke them, and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times, you forgive them if they come back seven times and ask for forgiveness.

And so, there are two things, two challenges that Jesus raised up that forced them to say, just increased my faith, because I can’t do that! And one is our solidarity with those people in need, the vulnerable, that we would put nothing in their way to finding Jesus.

And so, the little ones. Of course, the little ones being caused to stumble probably literally also included little ones, children. So, causing children, not to have anything that would prevent them from coming to Jesus. I think we could affirm that.

But I think in the context of Luke more broadly, Luke has such an incredible theme of hospitality for the vulnerable that appears again and again throughout the Gospel of Luke, this extraordinary concern Jesus has for the outcast, the marginalized in society. It seems to me that one of the things that Jesus is doing here, he’s saying if we are causing any (whether it’s the little ones who are young and vulnerable for that reason, or the marginalized in society who are vulnerable for other reasons) to cause any of them not to come to Jesus, to stumble, to prevent them from coming to Jesus brings judgment.

And then the second thing is, the need to forgive others. I think those two things present perpetual challenges to us, don’t they? The need to have such care for those on the margins, the vulnerable, the weak and not to put anything in their way from coming to Jesus and the need to forgive others.

I think we’re very quick to harbor bitterness, to harbor things, to keep score, no wonder the apostles say increase our faith. How can we do this? And it’s only then as we turn to Jesus, in the humble recognition that we can’t do this kind of work of forgiveness or solidarity and concern, we’re going to need Jesus to increase our faith.

Because this imagery of the Mulberry tree is one in which in the ancient world, the Mulberry tree was a metaphor often because the deep root systems of Mulberry trees. It was representation of just that, something so deeply rooted and entrenched that it would be hard to move.

And in this case, it seems to me what Jesus is getting at, is saying, with these challenges, you’re right. You don’t have the faith to be able to have that kind of love and compassion and the ability to forgive. In order to uproot those things that are so deeply rooted in your life, you’re going to need to come to me. And even if you have just the smallest bit of dependence upon me, I will move towards you.

Anthony: Jesus has such a passion, does he not, for the least, the last, and the lost? And Lord, thank you for your gift of faith and forgive us when we haven’t upheld these dear ones to you. Help us with our unbelief.

Walter, if you were preaching this pericope to your congregation, what would be your focus from the text? And maybe we’ve already heard parts of it. But what would be your focus and why?

Walter: Yeah, I would focus in on that forgiveness requires faith and faithfulness, the challenge to uproot what is deeply rooted in us.

And I would follow up on this theme because I think all of us can safely say—I’m not a prophet, but I’m going to make a prophecy right now—I think every single one of us has a broken relationship in our life where we need to be forgiven and to forgive, and we are all profoundly challenged and unable.

We have reached a wall, an impasse so much so that we just maybe have ignored the relationship or let it die. Quietly walked away from it or are railing against it in anger. I would say if we were to preach and our congregations were to be freed with the forgiveness that comes in Christ and then the forgiveness that can come through Christ toward others, that this could be absolutely transformational to our family and community lives.

Anthony: Reconciliation is God’s idea and it’s a good one! And he always acts first out of forgiveness and an abundance of reconciliation. And it’s why I was telling my wife recently, how anytime I see reconciliation happen in a movie, for instance between a father and a son, I’m just stirred deep in my soul. Because this is what it looks like in the life of the triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, and what a joy it is to participate in that, right?


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Have you ever felt inadequate in ministry? What was it like? If you have not gotten involved in ministry, does any part of participating in ministry make you feel apprehensive?
  • All ministry is part of Jesus’ ministry to the Father. Does this take some of the pressure off serving in ministry?
From the sermon
  • Prior to hearing the sermon, did you think faith was like an internal battery? Has your view shifted?
  • Why is it dangerous to think that we can direct God’s activity with our faith?
  • Can you think of a story when God showed himself to be sufficient?

Sermon for October 9, 2022 – Proper 23

Speaking of Life 4046 | Good Gift

Our loving Father is generous, and the goodness we experience is a gift from his hand. Although it is always a joy to receive material gifts, let us always be reminded that the greatest gift God gives us, through his son Jesus, is himself.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 4046 | Good Gift
Greg Williams

A couple of years back my son Gatlin proposed to his long-time sweetheart, Erin in a unique way. Under the guise of taking a family walk after dinner with mom, dad, brothers, sisters-in-law, and nieces and nephews we found ourselves on the putting green of hole number 5 at Cramer Mountain Golf Club.

As the small kids putted golf balls around Gatlin nestled up to Erin around the hole and slid down to one knee. He presented a shiny white gold ring with a diamond, but before Erin’s attention went to the ring her tear-filled eyes were fixed on Gatlin and her enraptured hug enveloped him as her feet left the ground. Undoubtedly the ring got her attention, and she proudly wore it and flashed it around every chance she got.

What stood out to me was that Erin was receiving Gatlin the man who gave the ring, over and above the ring itself. The ring was great, but life-changing only because of the giver – the person behind the gift. 

I think this is a workable metaphor for what’s going on in Luke 17 when Jesus heals some lepers. If you remember the story, ten lepers are healed by Jesus. They are told to present themselves to the priest as was customary of the law for cleansed lepers. But only one turns back to praise God and thank Jesus for the healing. There is more going on here than a man showing good social graces. All ten received healing from leprosy, but this one man received so much more. His praise and thankfulness was an expression of receiving the one who had healed him. He received the healing, and he received the healer.

That’s one reason scripture so often tells us to praise God and offer thanksgiving. We are being invited to receive and enjoy the Lord who gives himself to us.

Here is a segment of one Psalm that does just that:

1 Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
2 sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power,
your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name.” Selah
Psalm 66:1-4 (NRSV)

We can be thankful for the good things the Lord gives us – and they are many. But let’s never miss out on receiving the good Lord himself. After all, he offers himself with every gift he gives.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 66:1-12 • Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 • 2 Timothy 2:8-15 • Luke 17:11-19

This week’s theme is the faithful response of salvation. The call to worship Psalm offers praise to God for his sustaining power during Israel’s history. The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah records God’s words to the Judean exiles in Babylon on how to survive in a foreign land, while also being a blessing to the cities where they live. The epistolary text from 2 Timothy calls us to anchor our faith in Jesus, holding fast to his word, with the recognition that such faith may be joined with pain and suffering. The Gospel reading from Luke presents a response of faith that embodies praise and gratitude from an unlikely Samaritan.

Jesus in the Middle

Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)

Our message today comes from a section of Scripture known as the “Travel Narrative,” which is made up of events and stories that take place as Jesus is on his way toward Jerusalem and the cross. This section runs from Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:27. Luke also uses this section to present God’s special care and concern for the marginalized and the poor. Many stories highlight the outcast in society and lead to a theme of reversal. Jesus is seen to reverse and redeem that which is considered lost and broken. Often, it is the humble and the outsider who receives Jesus’ commendation over the prideful insiders who receive correction. Our story today, which focuses on a Samaritan who is suffering from leprosy, will carry this theme. As we see Jesus enact a reversal in the story, we do so knowing that Jesus is on a journey to the cross where he will bring about the great reversal of exchanging our sin and death for his righteousness and life.

The story begins with an odd description of the setting:

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. (Luke 17:11 NRSV)

First, our story begins with the language fitting the “Travel Narrative.” Jesus is “on the way.” It will be good to keep in mind in this story where Jesus is “on the way” to. What we see take place in this story, and the many others in this long section, is a foreshadowing of what Jesus will ultimately do for us in his crucifixion and death.

Second, Luke tells us that this story takes place in “the region between Samaria and Galilee.” What’s odd about Luke’s description here is the fact that there is no region between these neighboring areas. Either Luke is a bad geographer, or he is trying to make a deeper point. So, let’s take the opportunity Luke has created for us to think of who Jesus is and what this “region between” could mean for us today. As the story is introduced, we are aware that there is a great divide between these neighboring regions of Samaria and Galilee. These two groups of people should be brothers, but because of some historical bad blood, they view each other more as enemies. Is this not the case with many of our conflicts today? Whether on a global or national scale, so often brothers and sisters are made into enemies over some offense, great and small, that has gone unforgiven. This is also true and more prevalent on a personal level. How many of our personal relationships end up being twisted by offenses, real and perceived, that are never reconciled, leaving us with enemies next door instead of neighbors? This is an engrained condition that Jesus has come to reverse. He comes to be our great High Priest who not only mediates our relationship with God, but by extension, our relationships with one another.

We can rightly say that Jesus is our reconciliation. In this way, we can picture that Jesus stands in the middle of all our relationships. He is the “region between.” He is in the middle of our relationship with his Father by the Spirit, and he is in the middle of all our relationships with one another. No matter how severed or damaged our relationship is with God, or with our “neighbors,” we can trust that Jesus is “going through the region between.” He is always working by his Spirit to reconcile and restore what has been lost. So, as we consider the broken relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews in Galilee, we can see an image of Jesus standing in the middle—in this hidden “region between”—to create space for healing and reconciliation.

As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:12-13 NRSV)

The healing and reconciliation Jesus brings as our mediator is reflected through the healing of these ten lepers. They are introduced as approaching Jesus, but at the same time keeping their distance. The condition of leprosy carried many social implications. First, lepers were considered unclean. Beneath this label was the assumption that leprosy was connected to sin. Surely these people were worse sinners in some way that “earned them” their condition. Second, to have leprosy was to be a social outcast. People with leprosy were not permitted to be near others. We see this restriction working in the efforts of the ten lepers “keeping their distance…” They were keeping their distance from Jesus.

There are times we may feel that our sinful condition requires that we keep our distance from God. Surely God doesn’t want to be around a sinner like me. But Jesus draws near to us in order to heal us of our sinful condition. If you feel like a leper, like someone who is so broken and diseased by sin that you need to keep your distance, you can be assured that Jesus sets no restrictions on coming to him. There are no legalistic hoops to jump through to be face to face with Jesus. He is the one who brings healing and restoration.

In addition, lepers were not to come into contact with the general public. They were to keep their distance from everyone. However, the story leaves the impression that these ten lepers are made up of Samaritans and Galileans. They were not keeping their distance from one another. We might say, “misery loves company.” We see in their suffering and exclusion that the barriers that once separated them are now removed. This can serve as a picture of the reconciling work Jesus was on his way to accomplish through suffering and death on the cross. This work of reconciliation would not only bring us back into right relationship with God, but it would provide right relationship with one another. We find that we are reconciled as brothers and sisters, regardless of past offenses, in our union with the Lord who suffered and died for us.

Let’s look at how Jesus responds as the lepers approach him, calling out for mercy.

When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. (Luke 17:14 NRSV)

Do you ever feel no one sees you? Perhaps you even wonder if God really sees you. It is comforting in this story that Jesus’ first response to the lepers is that he “saw them…” He doesn’t turn his eyes from their suffering. He doesn’t frown or roll his eyes. He simply sees them. And he sees far more than we see. He looks beyond the leprosy. He sees beyond our disease of sin and sees who God created us to be. And with that perfect vision he sets in motion to redeem us to be who God created us to be.

In this story, it is interesting that when Jesus “saw them” he did not pronounce them clean or touch them or give any other indication of healing. All we read is that he gave them the command to present themselves to the priest. The first thing they were given was Jesus’ words. In their case, it was a word of command to abide by the ritual required when someone was cured of leprosy. The priest would have to confirm that they were clean before admitting them back into the community. The lepers obeyed and were healed “as they went.” Often, we experience the healing and reconciling work of Jesus as we walk in faith and obedience. We may prefer the stories when Jesus would heal immediately either by a dramatic pronouncement or by a tender touch. We love the experience of Jesus’ miracles in our lives. But this story stands in Scripture as a reminder that we do not always receive immediate healings or conversions accompanied by dramatic experiences or touching moments. Often, we are given the command to follow the mundane routine God has provided.

The first thing we need to receive is Jesus’ words to us. God’s word to us in Christ is also written for us in the Scriptures. Some of these words to us seem to be routine in nature. We are commanded to obey, but we will come to see that there is healing in the journey of obedience. Hearing and obeying Jesus’ words work a healing and freedom in us that we may not fully see in the moment. But along the journey we will come to see that Jesus’ word to us is not empty. His words have effect, and a very good effect at that. Like the ten lepers, we too are healed as we go according to his word spoken to us.

Let’s take a few basic commands we see in the scripture. What are some words Jesus may be speaking to you today that will be the first step of healing in your journey with him? How about simply gathering together at church to worship? What healing may Jesus have for us in following that week-in and week-out routine? What about the practice of prayer and study? Is that too mundane for our healing? Does Jesus really tell us to engage in such daily habits for our healing?

And let’s not leave out the prohibitions. There are many things the Lord commands us to not include in our journey with him. We may bristle at a command that denies something we think we want. But, if we truly come to Jesus while calling him “Master” and asking for mercy, do we turn a deaf ear to him when he says “stop” to something we are doing? We may not see the connection in the moment we hear Jesus’ words, especially his words of “no,” but Jesus’ words set us on a path of healing and reconciliation. He is not trying to be a killjoy or rob us of the “good life.” He has more for us than we could possibly dream. We could list many commands we see in the scriptures that Jesus speaks to us. These commands are not burdens. They are the first steps into the healing we are seeking from Jesus.

Now, let’s look a little further into the story:

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:15-16 NRSV)

We are told that one of the lepers “saw that he was healed.” All the lepers were healed but only one “saw” it. It’s after seeing that he was healed that another change took place. The leper “turned back, praising God” and ultimately ends up at Jesus’ feet thanking him. We are not told about the other nine, but it seems they are content to take their healing and move on with their life. We may be tempted at this point to pat this one leper on the back for having good social graces. Good on him for coming back to say, “thank you.” But there is more for us here than a lesson on proper etiquette for being healed. This leper came back to the source of his healing. He realized not only that he was healed of leprosy, but that Jesus was his healer, or more pointedly, his Savior. When he comes back with praises and gratitude, he is actually coming back to receive even more than a healing. He is coming back to receive the healer himself.

This is what happens in praise and worship. Worship is the fitting response of seeing who God is. And in worship, we see more of who God is. Or, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men” (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 93). God reveals himself to be a generous giver. Even when we come to offer praise and worship to him, it is he who is giving us something more. This one leper received far more than the other nine as he “turned back.” We too, have more to receive from the Lord as we continue to “turn back” to him. We are not told how far the leper went before he turned back, but it’s interesting that when he returned, Jesus was still there. Jesus questions why the other nine did not return. Maybe that’s a good question we should put forth for ourselves.

What keeps us at times from returning and giving praise to God? Could it be that we don’t think our healing is all that significant? Maybe we have forgotten the seriousness of our disease. Perhaps we convinced ourselves on the journey to the “priests” that we are, on our own, quite presentable. Whatever our answers, we can be assured that no matter how far we journey, when we turn back to the Lord, he is always to be found. He will never turn away from our turning to him. And, he always has more to give. As we turn to praise and worship him, we can experience even more of his healing and reconciling work in our lives.

But maybe there’s another answer to why we don’t turn back to him. The story tells us that the one who returned “was a Samaritan.” A Samaritan who had leprosy would have been an outcast of an outcast. Perhaps we do not return to the Lord because we feel we are too much of an outcast? However, this story makes the outcast the one who shows faith. Jesus tells him that his “faith has made [him] well.” As we see our healing in Jesus, we can place our trust in him, no matter how much of an outcast we think we are. This trust or faith is characterized by the leper as a relationship that has moved from “keeping distant” to being at “Jesus’ feet.” His loud plea has been transformed into loud praise. Instead of holding back his approach to Jesus, he now lies prostrate at his feet. Jesus is the “region between” all our borders and walls that seem insurmountable. He is in the very middle, healing and reconciling. In faith, we can rest at Jesus’ feet knowing that he is the one who makes us well.

Justified w/ Walter Kim W2

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October 9 – Proper 23
Luke 17:11-19 “Lord, Have Mercy!”

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Program Transcript


Justified w/ Walter Kim W2

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage, which is Luke 17:11-19. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 23 on October 9. Walter, would you be willing to read that for us please?

Walter: Yes.

11While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as He entered a village, ten men with leprosy who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 But Jesus responded and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they18 Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”

Anthony: Walter, I’ve long believed that proximity tends to breed compassion. Jesus sees their affliction up close and personal and has mercy on them. What can we learn about proximity or maybe said another way, incarnational living, especially in light of this passage?

Walter: Yeah. The passage speaks to the presence of Jesus. Doesn’t it? He is present to the 10 men who had leprosy. He is present to the Samaritan. There are so many things about proximity that in the original audience’s hearing, would’ve struck them as extraordinary crossing of boundaries. Jesus was a boundary-busting person.

And so, it begins with, he was on the way to Jerusalem. So, it requires intentionality. He is on the way. And this theme of this journey to Jerusalem, Jesus is setting his face toward Jerusalem. So, whatever it means to be proximate to someone it’s going to mean an intentionality. It will require you to choose to move in a certain direction. And the fact that he was proximate to a place like Samaria, that would permit Samaritan to come to him, is also, I think, an issue of intentionality in putting yourself in places that were unexpected—that Jesus would be proximate to Samaria.

And as folks may know that the relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews was fraught with animosity, deep suspicion that was even theologically grounded. Samaritans were viewed as heretics. And the Samaritans returned the favor and viewed the Jews as themselves being heretics.

They were profound conflicts between these communities that at times came to physical blows and battles. So, there was a deep division that Jesus crossed. Then of course we see the division that even seemed to be one sanctioned by the law. So they were at a distance, these men with leprosy, because they were told to be at a distance the law required, a distance in order for purity to be maintained.

And so, this sense of boundary-busting must have captivated the disciples as they were following Jesus for how many boundaries can this man cross in order to minister to people. And I think there is for us a profound challenge. We have to be intentional. We have to find the spaces and places in our lives that we would not normally go to because well, respectable Christians wouldn’t go there.

And what does it look like to become proximate to that? And then when we do, there is even working through the things that maybe our religion and Christian subculture has taught us, oh, you can’t go there. You can’t touch that. You can’t be around that. And so that’s itself being challenged, challenge to our own instincts.

And so, as we do these things, we keep in mind, however, the ultimate desire. And that is to glorify God and to bring redemption in this world, this language of healing, this language of giving glory to God. Thanksgiving to God speaks to the powerful presence of Jesus in this world and the redemptive power that heals not only body, but also soul.

And once again, the kind of reconciliation that happens not just with the body being healed, but with the relationship being established. So, the proximity that was not permitted between the Samaritan and holy spaces, as well as the lepers and holy spaces now is being bridged. They are right at the feet of Jesus.

Here’s this Samaritan once a leper having all the bridges that Jesus crossed toward him, now he has crossed them in response and come back in humble submission to God. And that’s just such a beautiful picture as well as a challenging picture of what it means to pursue an incarnational ministry.

Anthony: Yeah. And all we have to do is look at Jesus. We sometimes act as if God cannot look upon sin, but Jesus dined with sin, embedded in all of us as sinners, as we’re going to see in a later passage, he moves toward it to heal it in himself once and for all. Hallelujah, praise God.

It’s hard to believe, Walter, but nine out of the 10 (90%) of the healed lepers didn’t return to glorify the Son of God for their received healing.

What is going on and how might this be a cautionary tale for us today?

Walter: You know that sense of gratitude is coupled with submission there. I think there’s something that strikes me about the Samaritan that is so challenging. It’s not simply that he gave thanks, but that he fell on his face at the feet of Jesus So it is gratitude with submission that is so profoundly challenging. It’s in his case, gratitude that probably led to the submission. I would like to reverse it for the 90% that didn’t come back; it’s probably the case that they were not submitted to God that led to their ingratitude.

And the coupling of these two works in both directions, that the ability to say, thank you, puts us in a place where submission is a sensible response. Such a good God. I thank him for this. I’m able to submit. But in this paradoxical way of life, our unwillingness to submit makes us ungrateful people because we can’t give God thanks. We have to say that we did this on our own, that we’re on our own, fine.

And I think something of that is probably going on. We weren’t there to interview the nine that didn’t come back, but the one that did come back and the way that the narrative describes the attitude of the one that came back, couples the submission with the gratitude.

And so, my hunch is that part of the critique of the nine that didn’t come back is that they did not have a submission coupled with gratitude.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Do you have any examples of gifts that are special because of who gave it to you?
  • The video stated, “That’s one reason Scripture so often tells us to praise God and offer thanksgiving. We are being invited to receive and enjoy the Lord who gives himself to us.” What do you think of that statement? Discuss.
  • Take some time to offer praise and thankfulness for any good gift the Lord has given you. Reflect on how this also helps you to know and receive the Lord more.
From the sermon
  • The sermon began by showing that this story falls within the “Travel Narrative,” which tells the story of Jesus traveling to Jerusalem to die. Did knowing this broader context help you see anything new in the story of the ten lepers?
  • The sermon used the description of the “region between Samaria and Galilee” as a picture of Jesus being the mediator of our relationship with God and neighbor. How can being aware that Jesus is in the “region between” our relationships, working towards healing and reconciliation, shape our response to one another?
  • The sermon described some of the social ramifications of leprosy. Discuss ways the disease of leprosy can serve as a metaphor for the disease of sin. What is lost? What is gained by Jesus’ work of redemption?
  • The sermon focused on the fact that when the lepers approached Jesus “he saw them.” Do you ever feel like you are not seen? Is there comfort in knowing that Jesus sees us beyond our sinful condition and moves to redeem us back to who we were created to be?
  • The sermon highlighted that the first thing Jesus gave the lepers was his words, not a dramatic healing. The healing came “as they went” in obedience to Jesus’ words. What stood out to you about Jesus healing in this way?
  • Were there any words from Jesus spoken to you today that are calling you to obedience that leads to healing?
  • What did you think about the sermon’s claim that the leper who returned received more than just a healing, but he received the healer himself? Did S. Lewis’s quote shed any light on this? The quote is: “it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men.”
  • Can you think of some reasons that keep us from turning back to the Lord like the one leper did?
  • Discuss some of the reversals you see in the story of the leper who turned back to the Lord. What reversal are you hopeful for in your walk with Jesus?

Sermon for October 16, 2022 – Proper 24

Speaking Of Life 4047 │ Prayer: It’s Not a Transaction

Have you ever bought something online or from a vending machine, it takes your money, but nothing comes out? It’s frustrating, right? It could feel like that sometimes when we pray. The truth is prayer is a way for us to know God more. Let us learn to seek God daily, to know him more, and hopefully recognize what he wants best for us and His glory.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4047 Prayer: It’s Not a Transaction
Michelle Fleming

Have you ever bought a snack from a vending machine? You put your coins in, push the button, and then your treat drops down behind a small swinging door where you can retrieve it. That’s what happens if the vending machine is working right. But sometimes the vending machine takes your money and doesn’t drop any treats. You push the coin return, but no coins come back. So you put more coins in, and this time you choose something else. But then that doesn’t work, either. You might give up, or you might file a complaint, but more than likely, you walk away disappointed. The vending machine is part of a transaction where you put money in and expect to receive goods in return.

Sometimes we get the idea that our relationship with God is transactional. We think if we offer up the right prayer, or get the right number of people praying, God will answer. We might also misinterpret scriptures, thinking they are telling us what to do, when what they’re really telling us is how good and gracious God is. A good example of this is in the parable of the Unjust Judge found in Luke 18.

The story goes like this: there was a judge who didn’t care what anybody thought – he only cared about himself. But there was this widow who kept bugging him, night and day, saying, “Give me justice!” Finally, the judge did what the widow asked because he was sick and tired of being bothered.

Many of us who remember this parable might think that Jesus is saying we should keep praying, much like plugging more coins into that vending machine, until God answers our prayer. You may have heard phrases like “storming the gates of heaven,” referring to a particular style of intercessory prayer. These types of prayer are more interested in outcome than in relationship. This parable is about how not to pray.

Notice Jesus’ words as he interprets the importance of the parable’s meaning:

6-8 “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will.
Luke 18:6-8 (The Message)

The main point of the parable is not about what we do, but it’s about who God is. In the parable, Jesus contrasts the character of an unjust judge with the kind and compassionate character of God. Jesus says that if someone with such low character finally listens to a widow who had no status or money, how much more likely it is that our loving Father God will hear and answer us?

Prayer was never intended to be a transaction, like coins we plug into a vending machine, expecting our desires to be granted. Instead, prayer offers us the chance to develop a relationship with God. Prayer is about knowing God and seeing his divine love and comfort for us and for others. Parables like the Unjust Judge are intended to show us we can always rely on God’s good and gracious character.

My hope is that we all experience prayer as it was so beautifully intended –
a life-giving, loving relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

 

Psalm 119:97-104 • Jeremiah 31:27-34 • 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 • Luke 18:1-8

The theme for this week is the loving power of prayer. Our call to worship in Psalm 119 speaks about our role in meditating on God as a form of prayer, lifting our thoughts beyond the mundane and ordinary to consider God’s perspective of our lives and choices. In Jeremiah 31, we’re reminded of God’s covenant, his faithfulness, and his willingness to forgive. Studying Scripture, thinking about church doctrine and traditions, and then integrating them with personal experience in prayerful contemplation is addressed in 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. Our sermon text is Luke 18:1-8, where Jesus shares the parable of the Unjust Judge (also called the parable of the Persistent Widow) to help us understand more about the purpose of prayer.

What Prayer Tells Us about Love

Luke 18:1-8 (NRSV)

You might remember hearing some years ago about the humanitarian Mother Teresa. She was a nun who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her efforts in founding the Missionaries of Charity, which managed and supported homes for people dying of leprosy, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. She lived in India for most of her life, and worked to organize soup kitchens, schools, and orphanages. There’s a story told about Mother Teresa. In her efforts to raise money, Mother Teresa was meeting in New York City with the president and vice-president of a large company. They had already agreed ahead of time that they were not going to donate to her organizations, but they said they would meet with her. Mother Theresa sat across from them and shared about her work and the need of the people she served. After she finished, the executives told her, “We appreciate what you’re doing, but we can’t donate at this time.”

Mother Teresa responded to them by saying, “Let us pray,” and then proceeded to beseech God to soften their hard hearts toward the poor and the sick. After she said, “Amen,” she asked again for their support, and they again refused to help.

“Let us pray,” Mother Teresa said, and at this, the president relented and wrote a check.

We might laugh at Mother Teresa’s version of persistent prayer, but we find a similar example in the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-8. Let’s take a look.

 

Read Luke 18:1-8, NRSV.

What can we notice about this passage?

Depending on the translation you choose, the parable in Luke 18 could be titled “The Parable of the Persistent Widow” or “The Parable of the Unjust Judge.” This difference in perspective highlights the many layers of the parable that offer insight into social justice issues, God’s loving character, and our faithful prayer. Let’s consider:

The Need for Justice:

Jesus begins the parable by describing the character of a judge who “neither feared God nor had respect for people” (Luke 18:2, NRSV). A widow in need of justice kept coming to see him, yet he refused to help her. In the cultural context, Jesus’ Jewish listeners would understand that this judge was ungodly because biblical texts, such as Exodus 22:21-25 or Deuteronomy 24:14, 17-18 specify protections for widows, along with others who are considered among the most vulnerable.

However, this widow’s actions showed her determination not to submit to exploitation. In v. 5, the original Greek can be translated like this: “because this widow causes trouble for me, I will give her justice so that she may not give me a black eye by her coming (hypōpiazō). Paul uses the same word in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27:

So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating (hypōpiazō) the air, but I punish my body and enslave it so that after proclaiming to I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, NRSV)

Notice the word is used in the context of boxing where something was taking a beating. There was an intensity in the widow’s refusal to accept injustice despite her situation. She knew she deserved justice, and she refused to take less.

We can consider our response to social justice issues, where human beings are oppressed and marginalized by human institutions. What if we are struggling from injustice? God is big enough to give us peace – even in the midst of struggling? He doesn’t need our help to fix things, but we can we seek to join in what he is doing?

Do we intentionally seek God for wisdom, insight, and intervention? This parable highlights our need to pray and not lose heart. When we see others struggling because of injustice, will we seek God’s direction? Sometimes we fall on the side of being overly critical for someone’s desire for justice. Can we hurt when others hurt? Can we go to God on their behalf? The parable suggests that praying for justice on behalf of vulnerable people is part of our responsibility as God’s children.

God’s Goodness and Love

Jesus contrasts God’s loving character with the unjust judge in vv. 16-18a:

 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.” (Luke 18:16-18a, NRSV

Contrasting God’s care with the uncaring, unjust judge helps us remember to whom we are praying. We are not approaching the throne of an abusive father, one who would delight in our demise, but instead, we are running into the arms of our Creator, the one who made us and delights in us:

The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17, NRSV)

We are loved by a God who renews us and who sings over us. If an unjust judge finally gave a persistent widow the justice she deserved, how much more likely it is that God will intervene on our behalf.

Persistence in Faith and Prayer

Jesus ends the passage with an important question:

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8b, NRSV)

We often think of faith as belief: belief in a set of theological doctrines or belief that there is a triune God who created everything there is, including us. However, we can expand our idea of faith to encompass the belief that God truly is who he says he is, that nothing surprises him, and that he is in control. Our faith in and through Christ motivates us to participate with him, joining him in doing good in the world by pointing to the one who can fix all things. In other words, our faith trusts in God’s ultimate power and authority despite the presence of evil and injustice.

This brings us back to the first verse in the passage:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. (Luke 18:1, NRSV)

We remember Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NRSV), but sometimes we view this as a requirement to having our prayers answered rather than seeing it as a means of developing a deeper connection with the lover of our souls. When an answer to prayer is delayed, we sometimes think to ourselves, “I must not be praying enough or praying the right words.” This type of thinking is based on the wrong idea that we control God by our prayers – or actions. In reality, we must redefine faith as a willingness to persist in seeking to connect with God, believing in God’s goodness and love even when faced with difficult circumstances. This type of faith is a way of living that refuses to turn away from the connection with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even when life doesn’t make sense. This type of faith persists in the face of sorrow, and it’s the faith the prophet Habakkuk spoke of:

For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay…but the righteous live by their faith. (Habakkuk 2:3, 4b, NRSV)

Our faith enables us to persist in hope and love, living out our Christian value of loving others as ourselves. Our faith makes us take our troubles to the One who provides what is best for us. Consider these New Testament examples who were commended for their faith:

  • The centurion who asked Jesus to heal his slave (Matthew 8:5-13)
  • The paralyzed man and the friends who lowered him through the roof to be healed (Luke 5:17-39)
  • The bleeding woman who touched Jesus’s robe and was healed (Luke 8:43-48)
  • The grateful Samaritan leper (Luke 17:11-19)
  • The blind beggar on the road to Jericho who was healed (Luke 18:35-43)

Notice these people who received healing had suffered, some of them for years and others for their entire lives. Their healing was a long time coming. Even Jesus was not resurrected for three days. But God’s justice and healing will prevail, and when we think about the certainty of this, we can see how God might be more like the determined widow in the parable who refuses to give up in her pursuit of justice.

Think of prayer as our way of saying “Yes” to letting God love us. This can help us be persistent in prayer without turning it into a transaction, expecting God’s response in direct proportion to our effort. Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows offers these thoughts about our role in persistent prayer:

Almost always when we talk about prayer we are thinking of something we do and, from that standpoint, questions, problems, confusion, discouragement, [and] illusions multiply…. Our Christian knowledge assures us that prayer is essentially what God does, how God addresses us, looks at us. It is not primarily something we are doing to God, something we are giving to God but what God is doing for us. And what God is doing for us is giving the divine Self in love… We are here to receive this ineffable, all-transforming, all beatifying Love. (Essence of Prayer, pp. 1-3, 5)

Author and therapist James Finley sees setting aside time for quiet contemplation as essential to cultivating receptivity and awareness of God’s loving presence:

Since “God is love” (1 John 4:8), God’s ways are the ways in which love awakens you again and again to the infinite love that is the reality of all that is real…. Your heart becomes accustomed to God, peeking out at you from the inner recesses of the task at hand, from the sideways glance of the stranger in the street, or from the way sunlight suddenly fills the room on a cloudy day. Learning not to be surprised by the ways in which you are perpetually surprised, you will learn to rest in an abiding sense of confidence in God. (Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God, pp. 33-34).

Persistent prayer and “unceasing” prayer stem from cultivating an awareness of God’s love that is ever-present in our day-to-day lives. We grow more confident of God’s presence and goodness, and when our prayers seem to go unanswered, our faith is resilient and patient.

Application:

  • Recognize our role in ensuring justice for those who are marginalized in our culture. Jesus’s parable tells us we are to pray with purpose and seek God’s direction – all while not losing hope. This parable shows that justice for the most vulnerable is important, and we need to consider our response to those who cry for justice.
  • Realize that we are loved with an everlasting love. God delights in us and always has our best interests in mind. He is persistent in loving us and providing what is best for us.
  • Understand that faith means persistent hope in our loving God, and unceasing prayer is our confident “yes” to rest in God’s presence and care. By living in this confidence, we learn to see God’s presence in everything, even the most difficult of circumstances.

Mother Teresa was persistent in prayer, wearing down the executives who were reluctant to support her work with the poor. In the “Parable of the Persistent Widow,” we see persistence demonstrated and we see justice for vulnerable people. If an unjust judge eventually heard a poor widow or a couple of New York City execs finally paid attention to a nun from India, how much more will a loving God attentive to our prayers. Our understanding of prayer moves from a stance of control and transaction to a relationship where we seek to say “yes” to God’s love and allow it to flow to others.

For Reference:

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-3/commentary-on-luke-181-8-4

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-3/commentary-on-luke-181-8-3

https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/taking-the-fork-in-the-road

https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2016-10-10/luke-181-8/

https://sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary-old/luke-181-8/

Burrows, Ruth. Essence of Prayer. HiddenSpring, 2006.

Finley, James. Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God. Harper San Francisco, 2004.

Justified w/ Walter Kim W3

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October 16 – Proper 24
Luke 18:1-8 “Persistent Prayer”

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Program Transcript


Justified w/ Walter Kim W3

Anthony: Let’s transition onto our next passage, which is Luke 18:1-8. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 24, which is on October the 16th.

And it reads,

1Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not become discouraged, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect any person. Now there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect any person, yet because this widow is bothering me, I will give her justice; otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge said; now, will God not bring about justice for His elect who cry out to Him day and night, and will He delay long for them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

And Walter, I’ve often heard this text preached something like this, be prayerfully tenacious, like the persistent widow. And I think we both agree that it’s good to be persistent in prayer.

But what can happen is it gets communicated that we somehow have to twist God’s arm or maybe even condition him to be good to us. If we get enough people praying, we can bum-rush heaven so we can wear God down and he will relent and give us what we want. What is a Christ-centered exegesis of this passage?

Walter: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s a really true observation that prayer is something that everyone will always feel guilty over, right? You, if you want to humble someone, you just ask them, so how’s your prayer life going? And that will inevitably produce the response, oh man, I should be praying more or better or differently, and I need to work on that. And I throw myself into that very camp.

But I think again I would like to put this parable in context, and that is typically when a parable is told, it’s told it as an illustration, like every good preacher, there’s a point. And then you want to illustrate that point. So, for instance, when Jesus was asked, who is my neighbor, he illustrates the point by just telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.

So, the question that arises in my mind when I read this parable, we hear it read, is what’s the issue that Jesus is trying to illustrate. Why did he tell this story? What’s the point that he’s trying to get across? And again, if you go to the previous passage, there’s this description of the coming kingdom of God that is not yet. That we all are living in this space of the already and not yet. We know that the kingdom of God has come, but we want it to come in a certain way, in a certain package.

And they thought, followers of Jesus at that time, the disciples thought it would come in a certain way, and it would result in the vindication of Israel by the annihilation of the Roman empire and the restoration of the land. And so, they were all waiting for that with expectation for justice to be done on earth.

But of course, the justice would look a certain way and come in a certain time. And I think it’s so appropriate for us to ask the question, what is it that we are longing for that would make sense of this parable? What is it that we deeply desire in life? And is it the coming of the kingdom? Is it that justice would be done on earth?

Because the nature of the widow’s request is for justice, it’s longing for things in the world to be put right. And again, it’s really important to see the context of the widow being the one asking this, like the leper in the previous pericope that we had discussed. So, all throughout the old Testament, the widow, the orphan, the stranger among us and the poor, there’s these four categories of people that represent the marginalized in society, those in most desperate need of justice.

So, what’s going on in this passage? I don’t think it’s primarily intended to be a guilt trip for Christians to pray better, longer, harder. I think it’s completely misguided to think in those terms. For two reasons, one here, this is an argument from the lesser to the greater, even if there’s injustice in this world, unjust judges that prevent the widow from getting her due.

The point here is God is not like that. So, whatever the parable is trying to say, is trying to say that we have a generous God who loves to hear us, but simultaneously so much of what Scripture teaches us over and over again in its stories is that it’s profoundly realistic. On the one hand, we have this amazing picture of the generosity of that he is not like to unjust judge, that he is generous in how he wants to restore the world, that he thinks of the widow, the orphan, the alien among us, the poor, and he has them close to his heart. He cares deeply.

On the one hand, we can say how much more, if God does this for us sinners, now that we are right in Christ, that he would listen to our prayers, that he would treat us without condemnation, that he would enable us to say, Abba father, all of that is true.

And yet it’s also true that we are not fully there yet, that we are waiting for the ultimate vindication and restoration of new creation and new earth, new heavens, and the fulfillment of the kingdom. And in this world, there is a kind of waiting and yearning and longing that we have. And I think the parable is trying to get us into that place.

Not of guilt. But of longing, longing for God to make things right, longing for the love of God to be fully manifest. And we know that longing will always be left slightly unfulfilled in this world. It awaits the fullness of God’s kingdom at the consummation of God’s redemption in this world. And so, creation, we, as God’s people, we all grown with longing.

I find this a beautiful invitation to long, to seek for justice, to have confidence in God’s love and to bring all those things in prayer.

Anthony: No, that’s so good. I appreciate what you said about the longing while also seeking justice, because if we’re not careful as we think about this inaugurated kingdom, the already not yet, we just wait around for the, not yet. So, we’re just waiting for Jesus to reappear, but there is an already aspect as if we can be active participants in the justice that God is bringing to his good earth.

What else do you want us to see or know from this pericope?

Walter: Yeah, that final question is haunting, isn’t it?

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? We hear this phrase, so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. Sometimes as a critique of Christianity or maybe certain forms of Christianity, they’re just concerned about one’s eternal salvation as if it were something of an eternal fire insurance so that you don’t go to hell.

There is a legitimate place for critique of a vision of Christian life that is narrow and only focused on getting people saved and in this narrow way, but that’s a caricature. I actually think, in order to be any earthly good, you actually have to be heavenly minded because Earth’s problems are too great that they would overwhelm you and you will end up either being swamped by it or choosing to ignore it. If you do not have a hope greater than earth and to understand what the end point, what the finish line, is supposed to look like actually gives you strength to untangle yourself from sin and to engage in the race that is set before us.

I think that final question really puts on its head the critique, oh, you’re so earthly, heavenly-minded, by basically saying in order to be earthly good, be heavenly-minded. Remember that there will be a day when the Son of Man will come back, and all of this will be consummated.

The question is, will he find faith on earth?

Anthony: That is haunting for sure.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Thinking about prayer as if God is a vending machine can be problematic. When prayer is thought of as a transaction, what issues do you see when a person’s prayers are not answered?
  • When we pray for specific outcomes, we are attempting to control situations or people. How can we pray so that we don’t attempt to dictate God’s response to our request?
From the sermon
  • Which “layer” of the parable spoke most to you? Was it the need for justice, God’s goodness and love, or persistence in faith and prayer? What was meaningful about this aspect of the parable to you?
  • Have you considered quiet contemplation as a means of making space for an awareness of God’s loving presence? If so, what does that practice look like for you?

Sermon for October 23, 2022 – Proper 25

Speaking of Life 4048 | Know Who You’re Talking With

Greg shares the time he met someone and mistakenly identified him as someone else. It is important to know who you’re talking to. This same lesson can be applied to prayer. How well do we know our loving Father? The Book of Psalms is a beautiful collection of praise and prayers giving a small glimpse of how and who God is. God invites us to know more about him. He knows who we truly are and what is in our hearts. Get to know God today and have a conversation with him.

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life Script 4048 | Know Who You’re Talking With
Greg Williams

Have you ever been involved in a mistaken identity? Several years back when I was working for Youth for Christ, I was in Denver, Colorado for ministry training. Some younger staff friends and I went into a specialty shop to pick up a few personal items. The shop owner happened to be minding the cash register.

This shop owner was a tall lean, athletic, gentleman who was a bit older than me. I mentally flipped through my contacts and I came up with the name Alexander English who had played his National Basketball Association career with the Denver Nuggets. I inquired if he was Alex and he politely said no, I am Walter Davis. I begged his forgiveness.

This was a deja vu experience for me because I met Walter when I was high school age. My teammates and I attended a college exhibition game in Asheville, North Carolina when Walter was playing for the University of North Carolina. He did not play that day due to a high ankle sprain. He was sitting up in the bleachers by himself and when we spotted him, we went over and got his autograph and chatted for a while.

I reminded Walter about this occasion, and he remembered that day.

Knowing who you are talking with is important. Have you ever considered how true this is when we are engaging in prayer? Our prayers will be shaped by who we believe we are praying to. Jesus certainly wanted his disciples to know that when they pray, they are praying to his Father, and our Father. Jesus called him Abba Father, which indicates a deep and intimate relationship – an unbreakable bond Jesus shared with his Father. Before he taught them how to pray, he wanted to establish who they were praying to. The Psalms also engage in numerous reminders of who God is as it relates to praying. Listen to this link between prayer and the character and heart of the one they are praying to.

1 Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, 
and to you shall vows be performed.

O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
Psalm 65:1-5 (ESV)

The Psalm doesn’t end there. It goes another eight verses extolling who this God is who answers prayer. And there are many other Psalms that do the same. When it comes to prayer, the psalmists obviously see the importance of being reminded of the identity of who they are praying to.

What about you and me? We are told to pray unceasingly. Do we also seek unceasingly to know the Father who has been revealed in Jesus Christ? Do we call out to the one who hears our prayers, atones for our transgressions, and satisfies us with his goodness? Let’s pray that we do! It will make all the difference in prayer when we know who we’re talking with.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 65:1-14 • Joel 2:23-32 • 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 • Luke 18:9-14

This week’s theme is abundant grace. The call to worship Psalm praises God’s sustaining and creative power with rich imagery from nature. The Old Testament reading from Joel reflects the bounty of God’s love and provision that culminates in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all people. The epistolary text comes from 2 Timothy, where the apostle Paul issues a somber farewell, while glorifying the Lord as the faithful one of provision, protection, and deliverance. The Gospel reading from Luke juxtaposes a proud prayer of self-adoration with a humble prayer for mercy.

A Tale of Two Prayers

Luke 18:9-14 (NRSV)

Charles Dicken’s classic story, A Tale of Two Cities, opens with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” setting up a series of contrasts explored throughout the novel. Today’s sermon can begin roughly the same way as we read about “A Tale of Two Prayers.” We will find that comparisons can be both a blessing and a curse, the best of times, or the worst. In Jesus’ teaching, he gives us a parable where a contrast is presented to invite us into the “best of times,” the righteous life that comes by grace. But contained within the parable we are presented with another comparison. This comparison comes to us by way of a Pharisee’s prayer, that ultimately leads to the “worst of times,” a life devoid of righteousness.

This parable follows on the heels of another parable Jesus tells of a persistent widow. Both stories are being used by Jesus to teach about prayer. But more importantly, what is being revealed is the character and heart of the one to whom we pray. And that will be an especially important perspective to hold onto as we go through this second parable that serves as the text for today. Otherwise, we may easily fall into the trap of doing exactly what the Pharisee does, measuring our righteousness by comparing ourselves to others. Jesus is not trying to teach us to copy the tax collector and shun the Pharisee. He wants us to see who his Father is to whom we pray. This will make all the difference in our prayers. And it will also make all the difference in how we understand this Tale of Two Prayers. Let’s dive in.

Parables often present a challenge to figure out what Jesus is trying to tell us. But Luke does us a huge favor by telling us right up front why Jesus told this parable.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. (Luke 18:9 NRSV)

Notice the “also” in this verse. This is a reference to the other parable Jesus tells, of the persistent widow. In that parable, we learn that God is not like the unjust judge in hearing our pleas. Rather, God is a patient and just God who is quick to answer the prayers of those who call out to him. Because of this, we are encouraged to “pray always and not to lose heart.” So, again, in this parable we will want to keep an eye out for what Jesus is telling us about his Father. Knowing who we are praying to will fittingly shape our prayers.

Notice to whom Jesus is directing this parable. It is aimed at those who displayed two general orientations. First, it is addressed to “some who trusted themselves that they were righteous” and second, they “regarded others with contempt.” Following Luke’s lead, we know specifically that this is referring to the religious rulers like the Pharisees. But this does not mean we are exempt from hearing its message. Let’s face it, we are constantly tempted to trust ourselves for our own righteousness, which always leads to holding others in contempt. The two go hand-in-hand. If we think righteousness comes by our own efforts and achievements, then we will always be tempted to verify and confirm that self-assessment by comparing ourselves to others. There is always someone we can find that will make us feel justified in our self-achieved righteousness. If we can find someone to look down on, we can convince ourselves that we are someone worth looking up to.

This is a trap we see all around us, and if we are honest, we see in our own hearts as well. How many dividing lines between people are being drawn in order to claim being in the “right”? We see it displayed in politics, personal choices, affiliations, where we live, what we wear, who we hang out with, where we shop and so on. In our desire to be “righteous,” we can use just about anything to view another with contempt. Seeing righteousness as something to achieve does not lead to “the best of times.” Jesus wants us to see that he is the true source of all righteousness. So, he is going to present his own comparison to do just that.

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (Luke 18:10 NRSV)

We must proceed here with caution. We are told from the beginning that this parable is for those who trust in themselves for their own righteousness and hold others in contempt. Then Jesus gives us a straight-up comparison between a Pharisee and a tax collector. If you have had even a brief exposure to Luke’s Gospel, you will know that the Pharisees are often portrayed as the enemies of Jesus while the tax collectors belong to Jesus’ circle of “friends.” If we are not careful, we can convince ourselves that Jesus is giving us a playbook on who we should hold in contempt and who we should exalt. This would run counter to the very purpose Jesus is telling the parable.

We will do well to stand guard against hearing this comparison with a desire to pat ourselves on the back and pray our own self-congratulatory prayer of not being like that old self-righteous Pharisee. We may try to sabotage the rest of the reading by having us use the tax-collector’s humble posture as another prideful means of self-attained righteousness. So, let’s resist the temptation to form our own prayer that essentially goes, “Lord, I thank you that I’m not like other people: self-righteous, goody-two-shoes, super religious, or even like this Pharisee. I’m devoid of pride; I’m full of humility.” With that caution, let’s continue.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11 NRSV)

Jesus lets us hear the prayer of the Pharisee, which displays a dependence on self and a contempt for others. The first thing we observe is that the Pharisee is “standing by himself” in prayer. Since the phrasing in Greek is confusing, there are a few ways to translate this phrase. It could simply mean that he is quietly praying to himself. Or it could mean he is praying to himself rather than to God. Or lastly, it could be rendered as praying while centered on himself with a peripheral view to the tax collector. Any of those renderings portrays the prayer as self-focused. We do good to remember that our Lord taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven…” This Pharisee does not pray in community as he is “standing by himself.” There is no “our” in his address to God. He sees himself as a lone ranger in prayer. If he has anyone else in mind with his prayer, it is only by way of a contemptuous glance at a distant tax collector. There is no connection to others in his view of prayer.

This exposes a view of God who many believe is also “standing by himself.” Jesus, in his teaching to us on prayer, instructs us to begin by addressing his Father. God is not alone, but rather exists for all eternity as a relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. To lose this understanding of God’s identity is to lose the essence of prayer. Prayer is not some pious activity we do as individuals to give the appearance that we have a close relationship with God. Prayer is a participation in that relationship. We never pray alone. To go further, by the Spirit, our prayers are united to Christ’s prayers. He is our High Priest who prays for us and with us to the Father, all by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as Christian prayer offered alone while standing in isolation from God and others. Prayer is communal.

The second thing we observe in the Pharisee’s prayer is that his thankfulness flows from “I am nots.” Specifically, he is thankful that he is not like other people. He looks around and sees all the sins and shortcomings of others and uses that as a baseline for his own righteousness. This leads to the contempt he has for others. He does not see his own sinfulness, and in so doing, creates a superiority over others. He is deaf to the teachings of our Lord who taught his disciples to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but deliver us from the evil one.” He has deceived himself with his self-justification that he is above all others and in need of nothing from God but his applause.

Furthermore, “I am not” prayer leads to settling for a righteousness that only rises above the observable sins of others. Jesus offers much more. He offers us his own righteousness. How often do we settle by being thankful that at least we are not as bad as so-and-so? Rather than being thankful for who we are not, we can be thankful for who we are becoming in Christ. Jesus never told us to be better than others. He told us to be perfect like his Father in heaven is perfect. If you are going to compare yourself to another, that’s where you start. Compare yourself with Christ, as he is the One we are growing up to be like.

Paul tells us we are to grow “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This comparison not only will keep us from growing contemptuous of others, but it will give us much more to be thankful for. What an amazing gift we are given in Christ. And the key here to grasp is that his righteousness is a gift of grace to receive. The Pharisee’s prayer seems to miss this vital point.

“I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” (Luke 18:12 NRSV)

We need to acknowledge that what the Pharisee states in his prayer is in itself a good thing. Jesus was not denouncing fasting or tithing. It’s not what he is doing that is the problem, it is why he is doing it. This prayer indicates that the Pharisee sees righteousness as something to achieve by good works. It’s on the basis of his fasting and tithing, along with a whole list of good things he could probably list, that he claims his righteousness. The prayer leaves no room for receiving anything from God. His prayer is a boast. Once again, we are reminded that our Lord taught us to pray “hallowed be your name” not “our name.”

Now we come to the tax collector’s prayer.

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13 NRSV)

We immediately see a contrast to the Pharisee’s prayer. The tax collector is “standing far off” rather than “standing by himself.” The tax collector knows he has no standing that even warrants coming close to the Temple. The Temple grounds gave many reminders that there are “outsiders” and “insiders.” This tax collector needed no reminder. He knew his sins made him an “outsider.” And to be clear, Jesus is not inviting us to praise the tax collector for his sins as if he is more enlightened than the Pharisee to be jumping through a bunch of pious hoops. No, the comparison we are to see is this tax collector knows he is a sinner and has nothing to offer in his defense. Unlike the Pharisee, he is not trusting in himself to be righteous nor is he regarding others with contempt. He’s not looking down on others, rather he “would not even look up to heaven.” He is not self-justified by his works, rather he “was beating his breast,” which was a sign of repentance. He is not boasting of what he has achieved, rather he is pleading, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Notice how straightforward his plea for mercy is. He speaks directly to God, asking for mercy while acknowledging he is a sinner. He doesn’t reference the Pharisee or anyone else. This is a prayer fully relying on grace.

It would appear this tax collector knows something about God that the Pharisee does not. God is a God of grace. The Lord is not only just and quick to answer our cries as the persistent widow taught us, but he is full of mercy, longsuffering, and forgiveness. This is the only way the tax collector can pray such a boldly humble prayer. He knows who he is praying to.

Jesus gives us this tale of two prayers so we too can come to know a little more of who his Father is. It is in knowing Jesus and his Father by the Spirit that we are given the “best of times.” We are given a share in God’s righteous relationship where our sins are forgiven and removed as far as east from west. This is what is offered in Jesus Christ. He does not leave us standing far off but moves to bring us into his kingdom. He doesn’t leave our eyes cast down but lifts us up in a face-to-face relationship with him. He answers the beating of our breast by forgiving us and giving us the beating of his heart. This is the gracious God revealed in Jesus Christ. And this Jesus concludes the parable with a direct statement for you and me to hear today.

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14 NRSV)

Jesus is telling us not just what was given to “this man” but what is offered to every man and woman: his righteousness, the best of times for all eternity. And the man who went down to his home justified did not do so because of his prayer but on account of who he was praying to. Jesus is not giving us a new presentation of prayer that favors a humble posture over a pious one. He is inviting us to receive his grace. He freely takes our sins and in return gives us his righteousness. We don’t have to settle for our own exaltation. And that is something we will forever be thankful for.

Justified w/ Walter Kim W4

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October 23 – Proper 25
Luke 18:9-14 “Justified”

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Program Transcript


Justified w/ Walter Kim W4

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next pericope, which is Luke 18:9-14. It’s the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 25, which is on October the 23rd. Walter, please read it for us.

Walter:

9Now He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and began praying this in regard to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, crooked, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to raise his eyes toward heaven, but was beating his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other one; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Anthony: What great, Christlike, humility. We know by Jesus’ own words to the brothers on the road to Emmaus that all Scripture points to him, to the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

And I’m curious, Walter, what does this particular text confess and teach us about God?

Walter: I am struck by how this text showed up in my life one day in a very literal sense. When I was pastoring at Park Street Church in Boston, we have the sanctuary that I would often go down to and sit in the front row during the work week.

And I would just try to weave in prayer during my day as I was either preparing for Sunday or a particular meeting that evening and one day in preparation for my time of prayer, I actually opened up this passage and read it and realized here I am sitting in the front of the sanctuary praying. And I’m wondering, Lord, are you trying to tell me something here? Am I this Pharisee in my self-righteousness and perception of my place in ministry?

And it was really a profoundly reflective moment for me, as I stopped and asked a question, what confidence do I have? What justification do I bring? What resume do I try to show God to impress him that he should listen to me?

And I think, I hope I was able to say, I don’t think of myself in a fashion that would seek to put other people down, like as their swindler and crooks and adulterers. I didn’t open up my prayer that way when I was sitting in the sanctuary, but I do something similar and that is, I do present a resume to God to try to convince him that I am worth his time, that I actually should get an answer to this prayer or that I really should have this kind of fruit in my ministry. And I think a lot of us do that.

We often try to prove to God he should listen to us. And in that regard, maybe more subtle, maybe more sophisticated, maybe more justifiable at least to us, but in the end, not justifiable to God, we do this. And in the end, it makes light of the fact of the full justification that comes through Christ. That enables us to say, no, it’s not on your merits, that you are able to pray this prayer. It’s on Christ merits that you can pray this prayer.

And so, one thing it reveals to me is it reveals to me how warped my view of God is. That I would think I need to bring my resume to him in order to prove to him, he should answer my prayers and how poor that poorly that means I view God in his generosity, in his quickness to listen in his attentiveness, to my brokenness.

And I think over time, it sometimes gets worse. When you’re a new convert, that your sin would cause you to pray the prayer of the tax collector, God be merciful to me, the sinner, like you just came to Christ. That I found my prayers less like the sinner, the longer I became a Christian and walked with God because I had this sense I should know better. I should be better. I should do better.

And for those reasons, God should listen to my prayer. In some ways, I think we never graduate from the tax collector. We are always in a place of saying, Lord have mercy. If I sin, I proved yet again, my need for Jesus. And in that way, come again as a fresh convert to Christ.

Anthony: I think it was A. W. Tozer that said, and I’m just paraphrasing, that the most important thing about a person is what they believe about God, because it affects everything your marriage, the way that you work vocationally, and of course, the way that we come to God. And if we see God, who is love, it’s the very essence of who he is, and he loves us so dearly that nothing that we could do would change his love for us, then we can be real authentic with him. Be merciful to me, the sinner.

But I grew up in a legalistic environment, and I was really good at self-righteousness. I got to be honest with you. But there seems to be a warning here.

Anything else you want to flesh out about that and how we should take heed?

Walter: Yeah, I think of this passage, and I’m reminded of a quotation from C.S. Lewis. In some letters he had written about prayer, and he makes this comment: The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’

And I think that’s profound and apt to what this passage is trying to get at. And that is even before we enter into the depth of prayer that we should pause and say, may it be the real eye who speaks to you of real sense and awareness of who I am, and may it be the case that I discover the real vow, the real you Lord, who you really are.

And it’s in that way, that prayer becomes not just a discipline of the Christian life but becomes the Christian life itself. It becomes the place in which we be the real us before the real God, so that we could experience transformation.

Anthony: That was a fantastic Lewis quote that I had not heard. We’ll source that and put it in the show notes. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to ponder that for a while.

Sermon for October 30, 2022 – Proper 26

Speaking of Life 4049 | Words of Encouragement

A simple sentence can crush someone’s dreams or it can inspire someone to be a better person for a lifetime. Words are powerful. God inspired Paul to write to the struggling early churches to encourage them that they are seen and loved. Has God empowered you recently to encourage someone? May we always carry God’s love in whatever we do so others may know who he is through our actions and our words.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4049: Words of Encouragement
Jeff Broadnax

The most iconic scene in several of the most successful movies is a scene that involves an inspiring speech. This usually features the protagonist addressing a group of people, exhorting them to carry on despite the overwhelming odds that have been stacked against them.

As I am saying this, you may be picturing Mel Gibson astride a horse in the movie, Braveheart. His character, William Wallace, implores his Scottish countrymen to fight their English overlords by saying, “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”

In the movie, Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams’ character is known for his inspirational words to his students, “Carpe Diem”, or “Seize the day!”

Sports fans may recall Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans. He calmly inspires his embattled racially diverse football team at the site of the battle at Gettysburg. He implores them to accept and support each other saying “If we don’t come together, right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like them.”

The fact is, we were meant to be encouraged. When we were children, we were told, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me. I don’t know about you, but I have felt the stinging pain of quite a few words in my life.

Over the years, psychological studies have shown that words do in fact have a profound impact on the human brain and on our personal development. Words have great power; they can breathe life or death into the soul; they can build up someone’s spirit or tear it down.

The apostle Paul’s short second letter to the church in Thessalonica was meant to be a letter of encouragement. The believers were striving to model faith and patience in Christ while undergoing severe persecution and trials. Paul commends them by saying:

3 “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.”
2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

Paul is writing to a church that has endured the seizure of their property, loss of their livelihoods, and abandonment of their families. Some were beaten and others were put to death.

Through it all, Paul wants them to know that their faith and love are not in vain.

Amidst their trials, God empowers them and provides opportunities for his people to share their faith and love. Their shining example of faith and love is being recognized and honored by their brothers and sisters in Macedonia.

Sometimes in the busyness of life, we are distracted from noticing God’s invitation to join him in ministering to the people around us.

Blinded by our own concerns, we might miss the opportunity to encourage those around us. We may never understand the struggles those around us are facing. The waitress serving you who appears frazzled may be a single mom working extra shifts to put a roof over her children’s heads. The elderly gentleman that shows up early at your church may have been diagnosed with stage four cancer. The uniquely dressed young barista serving your daily latte may be wondering if there is anyone in this world who really cares about her.

Brothers and sisters, let us consider the encouragement that we have from being included in Christ Jesus and join him in sharing his love and faith to build those around us.

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 119:137-144 • Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 • 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4 (11,12) • Luke 19:1-10

This week’s theme is faith. The psalmist places his faith in God’s commands with a vigorous display of emotion. In the Old Testament, in Habakkuk, we are told that the righteous person will live by his faithfulness. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul prays that God’s power would bring about good deeds as a result of our faith. And in Luke’s gospel, Jesus affirms the faith that Zacchaeus places in him.

Sought, Seen, and Saved

Luke 19:1-10

Cigna, a health insurance company, conducted a survey in 2018 from 20,000 Americans, trying to gauge how they felt about their relationships within their communities. They found that nearly half of those surveyed reported feeling forgotten.

Another study, this one conducted globally, was done to see how employees felt about their employers. Almost half of them felt like they were invisible in their workplace.

And finally, 66,000 middle school and high students were asked if they felt that they would be missed by their teachers if they never returned to school. Again, nearly half of the students indicated that they felt they would simply be forgotten. They also shared that they felt that they were just another face in the crowd.

Today, we will be looking at Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus – who wasn’t invisible, but was marginalized, even vilified because of his chosen profession. He needed someone who could see him. Jesus is going to do far more than that. We are going to see that what Jesus does for Zacchaeus, he does for all of us. Jesus seeks us, sees us, and saves us.

Read text: Luke 19:1-10

Luke does something interesting here. He places this story right after Jesus tells a series of parables in chapter 18. The characters in those parables seem to foreshadow the character of Zacchaeus.

  • The parable of the Persistent Widow is like that of the persistence of Zacchaeus wanting to see Jesus.
  • The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is likened to Zacchaeus in how he recognized his state before God just like the other tax collector.
  • And lastly, The Rich Young Ruler decides not to sell everything and follow Jesus, yet Zacchaeus was wealthy himself, and decides to freely give what he has.

Like most tax collectors, Zacchaeus was probably very wealthy. They got that way by collecting taxes from their own people, the Jews, and enriching themselves as well as the Romans. But Zacchaeus wasn’t just any tax collector. The scripture indicates he was a “chief” tax collector and wealthy. While Scripture doesn’t say specifically, tradition indicates his wealth likely came from skimming off the top by placing a surcharge on the taxes that the Jews were already having to pay. And on top of that, he was collecting from the tax collectors under him.

To Luke’s intended readership, they would have spotted something odd about this story. And that is the name of Zacchaeus, himself. They would have known that his name meant pure or chaste. Really? You can’t be serious. This chief tax collector is named Pure? It would have been recognized as an oxymoron – like saying cold fire, deafening silence, awfully good or living dead.

Riches aside, Jesus must have known what this man’s life was truly like. A man despised greatly by his own people may not have had many friends. (Even the other tax collectors might not have liked the “chief.”) And adding to the scorn he must have felt, he was probably made fun of because of his short stature.

Do you think he had experienced bullying? We don’t know how his life was, but we might imagine how his riches and how he acquired them had taken more from him than he had taken from the people.

Jesus enters Jericho with his mission for humanity in front of him. He had never wavered nor deviated from seeking, seeing, and saving the lost. When he spots Zacchaeus, he takes the opportunity to fulfill part of his mission right then and there.

Jesus is not focused on the crowd of gawkers. He is looking for the lost soul among the crowd. He is the one who seeks us. And he sees this lost soul in Zacchaeus. He could have just as easily kept walking on by and left Zacchaeus in the tree, which may have been what Zacchaeus was expecting. Even if he was up in the tree, he probably felt invisible and rejected by God. Just another face even if he wasn’t in the crowd.

In our daily lives, we are also on mission with Jesus. It’s easy to get consumed with our responsibilities and what is in our immediate view. But sometimes we need to be reminded that we are still on mission and that we need to look up. Jesus says in John 4:35 “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” We seek others because we have been sought.

 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (Luke 19:5-6)

Zacchaeus realizes that he has been seen. In his mind, he may have been expecting judgment. “Here is this miracle-worker that many are saying may be the Messiah, and if so, I could be the first on his chopping block.” The crowd might have enjoyed that. But then he quickly realizes that Jesus has a different agenda altogether. Rather than being judged by Jesus, he is affirmed. Jesus loudly proclaims that he is to come down from the tree immediately because he is going to be the guest of Zacchaeus. What a turn of events!

Jesus not only sees Zacchaeus physically, but more importantly, sees the inside of him. Jesus knows the heart of mankind. We were made for connection with him. And he knows how we long to be seen, to be known for who we are. We often hear people referring to finding their people, or tribe. We all have that longing to belong. We want to know that someone would still stick around even if they knew the worst of us.

Pastor John Lynch, wrote:

What if there was a place so safe that the worst of me could be known, and I would discover that I would not be loved less, but more in the telling of it? … What if it was less important that anything ever gets fixed than that nothing has to be hidden?

Jesus accepted Zacchaeus knowing who he was. He extends grace, not by asking for Zacchaeus’ invitation but by declaring that he must stay with him. And it wasn’t based on anything that Zacchaeus had done, good or bad. It was based solely on who Christ is.

Our God chooses to dwell with humanity, not based on our goodness but based on his goodness. Romans 2:4 confirms that it is God’s kindness that leads us towards repentance. And Zacchaeus is getting a full dose of God’s kindness in his encounter with Jesus.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)

Unfortunately, we don’t always see what God sees in others. All the crowd saw was an undeserving sinner being embraced by this holy man of God. Their thinking was that God would want nothing to do with such a person. But it wasn’t up to the crowd then, and it is not up to us now who is included in the grace of God.

The crowd may be quick to tear us down and remind us of our faults, but Jesus, through his Spirit, will continually remind us of who we are in him, and who we are to him. He has sought us and seen us.

In answer to the crowd, Zacchaeus proves to them and Jesus that his repentance is genuine.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10)

Jesus declared to all within earshot that salvation has come to Zacchaeus. In witnessing the repentant heart of Zacchaeus, Jesus is pointing out to the crowd what it looks like when one has a proper response to the grace and favor of God – the response of faith.

He affirms Zacchaeus as being a son of Abraham. He is included in the people of faith, no longer to be thought of as an outcast amongst his own people. Zacchaeus’ response is one of faith because he has seen the faith of Christ exhibited towards him. Zacchaeus, then, was sought, seen, and saved.

Jesus said that he came to seek and to save that which was lost. He represented the heart of the Father here on earth. In this story, he was on mission to seek, see, and save. He identifies Zacchaeus as someone who felt lost, who needed to know about his saving grace.

Zacchaeus realized something many of the crowd missed; many of them believed they didn’t need a Savior. Many thought they were already righteous apart from Christ and didn’t feel the need to repent and humble themselves. How many today believe the same – that they are found in their own goodness? In so doing, they become the ones who are truly lost.

Jesus looks into the hearts of us all to see our place of greatest need. He then works in us to heal those broken places that only love can fix. And he comes to live with us by his Spirit to claim us as his own.

He is the one who seeks us, sees us, and saves us. He continues his ministry today through us, by his Spirit. As his followers, we hold our heads up to see the fields that are ripe for the harvest. We open our eyes to see as he sees. We open our hearts to feel as he feels. And we open ourselves as his church to gladly receive and welcome others into the family of faith where they truly belong.

 

Resources:

O.C. Tanner Institute, 2018 Global Culture Report: page 10, http://www.octanner.com/content/dam/oc-tanner/documents/white-papers/2018/2018_Global_Culture_Report.pdf

Dewitt, P. (2016, January 26) “Only 46% of Students Feel Valued in Their School,” Education Week, https://www.edweek.org/education/opinion-only-46-of-students-feel-valued-in-their-school/2016/01

Justified w/ Walter Kim W5

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October 30 – Proper 26
Luke 19:1-10 “At the Table”

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Program Transcript


Justified w/ Walter Kim W5

Anthony: Let’s transition to our final pericope of the month. It’s Luke 19 :1-10. It’s a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 26 on October 30th.

1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and he was unable due to the crowd, because he was short in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree in order to see Him, because He was about to pass through that wayAnd when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down, and received Him joyfully. When the people saw this, they all began to complain, saying, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner!” But Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I am giving to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I am giving back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

This is such a beloved encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus for many reasons. But what stands out to you?

Walter: Yeah, it’s funny that you used the word stand, what stands out because that was part of the story, right?

That he was unable to see Jesus, because he could not stand tall enough. And there’s something about this story that makes it so, as you say, beloved. It shows up in flannelgraph Sunday school lessons for little kids, as well as the most probing and prophetic sermons in challenging adults in a life of radical generosity and repentance.

So, you know, several things. This imagery of sight strikes me of throughout scripture. We have this notion of seeing things, truly seeing things as they really are. And I’m struck by that because of a science study that I had recently run across that differentiated the perceptions of the world between wealthy people and working-class people, and that they had literally determined, the researchers, that wealthy people and working-class people actually see the world differently.

In other words, they’re more attentive and responsive to different things. They could be looking at the same exact scenario on the street or in the center of the city, but actually pick out different features of that scenario. And one of the things that the study concluded was wealthier people actually see empathy less. They perceive other people’s pain less than working-class people.

So, there is something very profound in this passage that the wealth of Zacchaeus, like perhaps the challenge that exists for all people who are privileged, enables you to look at the world in a certain way and ignore certain problems, because they’re not a part of your world, you don’t pick it out. If this is a part of your daily existence, where the next meal is going to come from, you are able to look for and look at and see the world in a particular way.

I think one of the deep challenges in this passage is this imagery of sight. One, wealth prevents us from seeing the world in its needs because we are so comfortable, and it really doesn’t take a lot of wealth to make us comfortable.

We in America might think we’re middle class but compared to the world’s standard that puts us on the 1% right of the world’s wealth. So, one of the things that I would say is, what are the circumstances in your life? What are the conditions in your life that prevent you from seeing well?

And then there’s something about Zacchaeus’ personhood. He was short in stature. And then I would ask the question, what is it about our particular life? Our personality, the quirks that we have, maybe even our bodily existence, like Zacchaeus, that prevents us from seeing Jesus. Those two things I think can be pretty discouraging because my goodness, our conditions are our conditions, our circumstances, that’s what we are in.

How can we overcome this? Is it really the case that privilege prevents us from seeing the world with empathy. And is it really the case that our personality quirks or biological inclinations prevent us from seeing Jesus? That may be the case. Yes. We are fallen sinful creatures, and that prevents us from seeing God.

But the beauty of the passage is that God could say for the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which is lost, and God can redeem us out of our circumstances and grant us compassion and empathy when that’s not natural to our circumstances. He can redeem us in our inherited sin and fallenness, or even in the fact that we might have some kind of biological predisposition toward sadness in life or anger, like we are just predisposed.

And yet God says that too can be redeemed. So, there’s just so much in this passage that resonates with our life circumstances either personally or where we are in our station socioeconomically, and that we have the possibility of redemption for all of that.

Anthony: I chuckle, who invited who? Jesus says, I’m going to come to your house. I’m not sure as Zacchaeus had his house in order or what condition it was. But I think in some ways that’s a wink to the incarnation that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. He came to us. And one of the aspects of Jesus’s transforming ministry, that I think it’s under-talked about, is his meal-sharing or table fellowship.

Now, in this particular passage, it doesn’t reflect that. But in other telling of this story and the Synoptics, we see they had a meal. How does table fellowship fit into the incarnation? And for us, how do our efforts to join the Spirit in incarnational living look like table fellowship?

Walter: Yeah, there’s some profoundly human instinct that God has created us with, that we want to celebrate over a meal those things that are important to us. So virtually every culture that has some kind of marital ceremony includes a meal reception that follows, whether it’s a simple meal or an elaborate meal.

In my case, when Tony and I got married (Tony is a Taiwanese American), we had this elaborate meal that was set up. that was a part of our culture, that we had in commemorating our wedding and of the wedding feast.

We have this imagery of in Scripture of what’s going to happen, and the great unveiling of Christ in his bride in heaven, the church, it is this wedding feast, the gift of communion. This gift of a meal that was given to the church is, I think, a profound celebration of redemption of a covenant. We celebrate the covenant of marriage with a wedding feast. We celebrate the covenant of salvation with a wedding feast.

But there’s another aspect of meals that I think in the ancient, near Eastern context, would’ve been on people’s minds. And that is, meals not only celebrate great occasions, they solemnize this cessation of violence.

So, a lot of treaties were made over a meal. And that was because there was a certain protocol with a meal. You had to put your weapons aside at the entrance of the tent or wherever you end up having the meal together. And by using your hands in the meal, oftentimes in the middle east, you actually would eat [with your hands].

And I actually sat around a table like this, where there was this big pile—as I was traveling in Jordan, we had this kind of traditional Palestinian Jordanian meal. And there were a bunch of men surrounding this massive—it was like about five feet wide plate of food, a pile of rice with chicken and yogurt. And you were to use your right hand, grab some food and ball it up.

What does that mean? If you’re using your right hand to eat food, you can’t have a sword in it. There’s this beautiful picture of celebration, of course. But there’s a beautiful picture of making peace that the table fellow fellowship is a cessation of violence.

It’s the declaration that I give up this way of violence. And I’m stepping into this place where I make myself vulnerable. I leave my weapon aside. I use my hand to fill it with food and not a sword. And that puts me in a place of vulnerability. And if peace does not rule, then I’m in deep danger.

And I think that’s also a part of this beautiful picture of table fellowship that we say to God, I put aside my sword, my independence, I make myself vulnerable to you. And I yield myself in a place of trust and peace making. And to couple that with celebration and joy knowing that Jesus brought salvation to us, is a bringing together of these various aspects of what a meal could mean in the ancient world. And it was also family time. Right? You have family meals.

Anthony: Yeah. If meal sharing is peacemaking, may we eat more together, for crying out loud? Amen.

Walter: Amen to that!

Anthony: And it’s also a bit of a critique. The fact that many families have stopped eating together. It’s no longer a core value of the family units. And that’s another discussion for another day, but how important it is to break bread together for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost, what a Christological tour de force mission statement.

Tell us about it.

Walter: Yeah. This notion that we have Jesus coming to us seeking us. The classic come to Jesus alter call where we, sometimes physically, depending on your tradition (maybe it was a Billy Graham crusade), we literally get up out of our seat. And with “Just as I Am” being sung in the background, we come to Jesus.

And even the secular world has used that phrase, “this is a come-to-Jesus moment.” And yet what we have here is Jesus coming to us. He is the one that invited himself to Zacchaeus’s home. Yes, he is the one that came to seek and save the lost. This Christological statement of God’s initiative, God’s grace, that even when we didn’t have the wherewithal, the sensibility to invite Jesus, he invites himself into our lives.

And that there is grace that is that great that he would seek us out when we are stuck and unable to seek him. And that too is a great challenge for how we think about church, right? If Jesus did not wait to be invited, but invited himself, if Jesus sought out, then that has some profound implications for how we live out our church life.

Do we simply wait for people to come to us, to attract them to our church or do we figure out how to get church outside of our walls, into the communities such that inviting ourselves into one another’s [home], into our neighbor’s home would be such a sensible thing that our neighbor would respond by saying, “Oh yeah, of course. I didn’t think that, but yeah, I would love to have you over!”

That actually requires a certain kind of relationship of trust that you could invite yourself over. And I think that’s for us, what a missiological challenge. Do you have friendships with those who don’t know Jesus to such an extent that it would not be weird for you to say, “Hey, I’m coming over with a plate of brownies. Let’s hang for a bit.”

Anthony: Oh, that’s so good, Walter. I am very grateful for you for the calling that is upon your life, for the role that you have. We are in prayer for you. My church tribe is Grace Communion International, and we are a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.

And you’ve gotten to know us a bit. I’m putting you on the spot a little here, but is there anything you would say to our listening audience that might be a blessing to our hearers?

Walter: Yeah, we are clearly in a time of deep contention. It seems like we’re in an infection moment, one generation giving way to another generation, cultural conflicts that are roiling, not only life in America, but internationally. You pick the country and there is a crisis of some sort.

And it seems like this is not simply some mild growing pains that people are encountering. This really does seem like a consequential generationally defining moment. And my word of encouragement is God knows.

A recent Barna study came out that said up 42% of pastors are considering resigning because of how difficult life has been these last few years. And one of the things that we will need is this vision of longing for the kingdom that can sustain us through what seems to be prolonged injustice. This sense that even if we can’t see Jesus, he sees us. This sense that we come to God in which we just bring our real selves before him. And so, what my word of encouragement would be, yes, you are encountering challenges, but your labor is not in vain. And you will one day experience the full vindication of God himself.

Anthony: That’s a good word. That’s a fantastic way to end and praise him, that he’s faithful and pursues us to the end.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Who has been your greatest encourager?
  • What do you find is the best way to encourage others?
  • How has the Lord gotten you through your trials?
  • What are the things in your relationship to Christ that encourages you?
From the sermon
  • Have you ever felt marginalized? How did that affect your life?
  • How can you remind yourself to look up and see those around you?
  • Share how you believe that Jesus has really seen who you are.
  • How has God’s kindness towards you led you towards repentance?