Sunday, November 17, 2019

Heavenly Treasure (Luke 18:18-30)


Luke 18:18-30

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

19“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. 20But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”

21The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

22When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.
24When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! 25In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

26Those who heard this said, “Then who in the world can be saved?”

27He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.”

28Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.”

29“Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, 30will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------  

I recall that when I felt that I had received a call to pastoral ministry, I had to count the cost. 

Not only the financial cost of moving to Pittsburgh to attend seminary, but also the cost of what that would mean for me and for Erin going forward.
I had to count the cost of what it would mean to live within the itinerant system of the United Methodist Church, knowing that we could be moved often.

I had to count some other costs, like being okay with not owning a house until retirement, living far away from family, and being okay with starting all over again to build new relationships for every time that we could be moved.

While counting the costs I also had to consider what the best decision would be that honors God’s love and call upon my life.

Of course, most if not all of us have been in a place where we’re had to count the cost of a decision that had to do with God’s love and call upon us.
I started with the example of my counting the cost of pursuing my call to my vocation to serve as an ordained elder in the UMC.

But each one of us has had to count the cost of what it would mean for us to live as students of Jesus.

Again, a disciple of Jesus is a student of Jesus.

In the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, when Jesus calls people to follow him and be his disciple, he is inviting them to be his students; Jesus being the teacher.

In today’s reading from the Bible we have one of these moments depicted in which Jesus calls on someone to follow him. 

The story begins with these words:

-------------------------------------------------------- 
Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
19“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good.
------------------------------------------------- 

First, its interesting that the man calls Jesus “Good” Teacher. It would have been enough simply to use the title that was customary in that culture and time period which would have been to simply refer to Jesus as “Teacher.”
This man tacks on the title “Good,” but why?

Could it be that he is trying to suck up to Jesus, and perhaps gain some favor from him?

Or could it be that this man is expressing some special insight into Jesus true identity and character?

Either way, Jesus seems to want to keep his identity as the Son of God a secret at this point in his ministry so Jesus simply responds by saying that “only God is good.”

And so the dialogue continues as Jesus provides a very simple response to the man’s question of what he should do to inherit eternal life:

-----------------------------------------------
 20But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”
21The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

------------------------------------------------ 

This is a good response. But chances are that the man is frustrated and upset with Jesus’ response which consists of a simple recitation of some key commandments in the Law of Moses in a way that any Jewish child would have been capable of.

This man asked Jesus about what he should do to inherit eternal life expecting some special wisdom and insight. 

And so he pushes Jesus further, saying, ‘I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.’

At this point Jesus packs him with a word of wisdom, insight and a call that surprises him when Jesus says the following:

------------------------------------------------
22When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
------------------------------------------------ 

Do you think that maybe Jesus didn’t lead with this because he knew that this man was not ready to hear it?

Knowing this man’s struggles with wealth, and that money had taken the seat of God in his life Jesus gives him instructions on how he might experience eternal life that very same day.

When we talk about eternal life I think that we are culturally conditioned to think that it means life that never ends and leave it at that.

But eternal life is so much more. Eternal life has an immediate impact as well as an eternal one.

To experience eternal life is to experience life to the fullest. To experience life to the fullest as a student of Jesus is to experience a life that is marked by first, having been impacted by the grace of God, and then having been marked by love for God and love for one’s neighbors.

And so, Jesus provides this man with three simple yet challenging instructions.

First, he is to sell all of his possessions.

Second, he is to give the money to the poor.

Third, he is to follow Jesus.

Perhaps he took a moment to count the cost of Jesus’ call on his life, but the story continues with Jesus speaking to his disciples who were present with him some words that caused them to become unsettled:

------------------------------------------------ 
23But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.
24When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! 25In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
---------------------------------------------- 

If this man were to respond to Jesus’ instructions for him he would have experienced eternal life that day and he would have experienced the Kingdom of God as well. 

Recall that a key part of the Good News of the Kingdom of God is that the poor receive good news. If he had followed through and sold his possessions and given the money to the poor the Kingdom of God would have found expression in his life and he would have been truly free to follow Jesus.

But he chose instead to remain held captive by his own wealth.
And these are the words that trouble Jesus’ disciples, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Now, some Biblical scholars think that Jesus was saying its easier for a camel (like the large mammal with a hump on its back) to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

Some other Biblical scholars think that the word that is translated to mean “camel” actually refers to the knot that a person would tie in order to keep the string from being able to be pulled apart from the needle.

Either way, it serves to articulate the same truth: it’s not going through the eye of a needle. It’s just not happening. For a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God: it’s just not happening.

And the story continues with these words from Jesus’ students to Jesus:

---------------------------------------------- 
26Those who heard this said, “Then who in the world can be saved?”
27He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.”
------------------------------------------- 

Again, the rich person cannot enter the Kingdom of God. It’s just not happening.

But, says Jesus, “what is impossible for people is possible with God.”
With the help of God, there is hope for the richest most wealthy person in the world.

But only WITH THE HELP OF GOD.

But I’m not sure that Peter gets it. 

-------------------------------------------- 
28Peter says to Jesus, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.”
29“Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, 30will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”
-------------------------------------------- 

Wow!

So this Bible reading has taken us on a journey of the wealthy man as well as Jesus’ students counting the cost of what it means to follow him.
It raises some big questions, including the question: Can I experience eternal life and the Kingdom of God? Do I have to sell all of MY possessions and give the money to the poor to follow Jesus?

The answer is yes and no.

Notice that the rich man in our story was so deeply rooted in his many possessions that he held onto them to his own detriment. His security was not found in God’s love for him but in the possessions that he had accrued.
His possessions had taken the place of God in his life, and so Jesus called him to let go of his possessions so he could live in love with God and not in love with his possessions.

We also have to recognize that when we choose to follow Jesus, to live as a student of Jesus, our wealth ceases to be ours. It is God’s, and we are stewards of it.

So no, we don’t have to give up all of our wealth to experience the Kingdom of God, but if we want to experience the Kingdom of God and eternal life and to follow Jesus we do have to treat all of our wealth and resources like its God’s, and that we then get to be stewards of God’s money.

Know this; that by the grace of God Jesus is calling each and every one of us to follow him. To be his student.

And we must count the cost, and respond.

And becoming a student of Jesus is like enrolling in a University. Well, kind of.

Because in the school of Jesus the Good Teacher admission is free.

No matter if you’re rich or poor, or if you have a checkered past. 

In the school of Jesus the Good Teacher all are welcome.

Yes, in the school of Jesus the Good Teacher admission is free but it will cost you everything.

You’ll encounter the truth that all that you do have is not really yours, it was God’s all along, including your very life itself, which you now have the joy of living as a steward of God’s riches.

You’ll be called upon to love your enemies.

You’ll be called upon to forgive when it feels impossible.

You’ll be called upon to follow Jesus even when it means life-altering sacrifice on your part in your love for God and neighbor.

Yes, in the school of Jesus the Good Teacher, admission is free, it will cost you everything, and you’ll be blessed beyond measure.

Maybe not with a big house, a fancy car, and millions of dollars but you’ll be blessed by living life to the fullest in love with God and in love for God and neighbor, today into forever.

In the school of Jesus the Good Teacher admission is free, it will cost you everything, and you’ll be blessed beyond measure.

Count the cost. But don’t delay. Because class is always in session.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Jesus teaches his students how to pray (Luke 11:1-4)


Luke 11:1-4

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. 3Give us each day the food we need,  4and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------




Can you remember the first prayer you were taught?

As a child I believe the first prayer I was taught by my parents was the prayer before bed. It went like this:

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Guard us Jesus through the night, and wake us with the morning light. Amen.”

Was anyone else taught this bed time prayer as a child?

Shortly after that I know that my parents taught me the traditional dinner prayer that goes like this:

“Bless us O Lord, for these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

Was anyone else taught that prayer growing up?

One of the cool things about these prayers is that they became part of the regular rhythm of each day. We prayed these prayers regularly, daily, as a family. They became family prayers.

One of the really cool things about these daily prayers is that, as I learned during my time in seminary five years ago, daily communal prayers are part of a tradition that goes way back to the Jewish Religious Tradition prior to the coming of Jesus in First Century Israel.

It was common practice for religious leaders to teach their students how to do these daily prayers. From today’s reading we know that John the Baptist did this for his disciples, since Jesus’ disciples make a request of Jesus saying, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

And so, understanding that he was teaching his disciples to pray in the context of the ancient Jewish Tradition of prayer, Jesus taught his disciples a prayer that they would have prayed probably twice each day.

Reflecting on my story again I’m thankful that my parents taught me the bed time prayer and the dinner prayer when I was very young, because praying those prayers helped me to develop that rhythm of having regular tough points with God and with my family through prayer.

Then I was probably early elementary age when I was taught the Lord’s Prayer with a classroom full of my peers.

Do you remember when and where you learned the Lord’s Prayer?

Knowing what I know now about it I wish at that time I would have had the understanding to imagine Jesus teaching me that prayer as he did his disciples through the presence and words of my Sunday School Teacher.
Just as the bed time and dinner prayer I was taught as a young child were family prayers, the Lord’s Prayer can be looked at as a kind of family prayer too; for Jesus’ students whom he clearly counted as being members of the family of God.

As a family, regular points of contact and communication are essential.
Did you know that the Alcoholics Anonymous Program is informed by the teaching of Jesus? Recently it was shared with me that the 11th step in the AA program is this: Through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

That sounds like instructions that are in keeping with the Ancient Jewish Tradition of daily prayer that Jesus and his disciples participated in, doesn’t it?

John the Baptist taught his disciples a daily prayer. Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them a daily prayer.

It would have been spoken in Aramaic. It was translated into Greek. But how many of us have the ability to read Greek?

That’s okay, because we also have it translated into English; in the King James Version, the International Version, the New International Version, the New Living Translation, The Message, and many additional translations.
We have a number of popular English translations of the Lord’s Prayer which are informed by the Biblical translations and are used in church liturgies.

Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples with the understanding that it was given in the context of the Jewish tradition of daily prayers, which were often said in community.

Since they were prayers to be recited with others, it made sense to have words that could be memorized.

But it could also be said alone; and even then, it is prayed with the understanding that a unity existed between all those who prayed that same prayer on that same day.

But what if we don’t get all the words in just as Jesus intended? 

I’d say not to worry about that since, even in the pages of the Bible itself, we are given two different representations of the Lord’s Prayer.

Luke’s version reads like this:

Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. Give us each day the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation.

And Matthew’s version reads like this:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

As they did in the Ancient Jewish tradition in First Century Israel, we would do well to pray a version of this prayer that Jesus taught his disciples on a daily basis.

I’d also say that when you are praying along you can feel free to recite this prayer using the words that best represent the meaning of Jesus’ words to his disciples.

But what exactly did Jesus mean by this prayer that he taught his disciples? Let’s take at it phrase by phrase as its given to us in the Gospel According to Luke:


Father, 

First, let me say that Jesus calling God “Father” is not to mean that God is a man and not a woman, having masculine qualities and not feminine. Actually a reading of the entire Biblical narrative shows that God has just as many qualities that we might call feminine as what we might call masculine. It’s truthful to call God Father and/or Mother because in truth, God transcends gender.

But looking at the words that Jesus uses here which is translated for us in the New Living Translation as “Father” is the Aramaic word, “Abba.” It did mean Father, but the term carries connotations of familial intimacy, such that a better modern translation of the word might be “Dad” or “Daddy.”

When we pray this prayer that Jesus taught us, reciting that first word, we should call to mind that this is a family prayer that Jesus teaches his students. When we pray it, we should call to mind that God is a loving parent who cares for us with a love that is exponentially greater than the very best human Mom or Dad. 

may your name be kept holy. 

Okay, what does it mean to keep God’s name holy? God is holy because God is set apart. God is holy because God is perfect in love. 

The word “holy” means “set apart.”

In the Jewish culture of First Century Israel there was power in a name. To mention a name held power. To misuse the name of God was to fail to love and honor God, was to sin.

To keep God’s name holy was to honor and revere God.

May your Kingdom come soon. 

Recall once more the Good News of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims at the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4:18-19 as he quotes chapter 61of the prophet Isaiah; that the poor receive Good News, that captives are released, that the blind regain their sight, that the oppressed are set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

We pray for the captive, the blind, the oppressed, the sick, and the brokenhearted when we pray that God’s Kingdom would come soon.

Give us each day the food we need,  

This is a prayer for daily provision. It may be viewed as a reference to the story of the Israelites when they were making their way through the desert and God provided them with manna. Recall that the manna was good for the day, and not any longer. As a matter of faith the Israelites had to trust that on each new day that God would bless them with the manna that they needed to survive.

This is also a very practical prayer, that God would provide for their daily needs.

While we call to mind the food that we have to eat for today, we may also call to mind the water that we have to drink, and even the air that we have to breathe. This is God’s daily provision of sustenance that we call to mind when we pray, “give us each day the food we need.”

and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. 

This is a rhythm of life for the family of Jesus. Extending forgiveness is in keeping with Jesus’ teaching that the most important commandment in the Law of Moses is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. 

If I love my neighbor as God loves me then I want to honor the name of God and the teaching of Jesus and forgive when I could hold a grudge or seek vengeance. Forgiveness is more important than retribution because we are students of Jesus.

As students of Jesus we take the gifts of God we have been given and we give as freely as we have received. As students of Jesus we forgive because we know how much God loves us like the very best Mom or Dad and so we share the grace that has been shared with us.

And don’t let us yield to temptation

In this Jesus invites his disciples to pray that God would give them strength to resist temptation when it comes. And I think we all know that TEMPTATION WILL COME. And so we pray. Daily. Regularly. That God would give us inner strength to resist it when it does.

It’s important that we pray this prayer that Jesus taught his students to pray. We are also students of Jesus if we seek to follow him today.

When praying The Lord’s Prayer with our church family we probably want to pray an agreed upon translation in unision.

But when praying it privately, it’s okay and even good to pray in a way that the meaning of Jesus’ words resonates most with you.

For example, I tend to pray something like this when praying the Lord’s Prayer in solitude:

Father, may your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us, grant us strength for when we are tempted and deliver us from evil, for yours are the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory forever, Amen.

We pray The Lord’s Prayer on most if not every Sunday, and I believe that as Jesus taught this to his first disciples as a daily prayer, and perhaps even twice daily prayer, we would be wise to follow their example. 

There is a strength, a faith, and a love that comes with establishing a daily touch point with God at morning and at evening, and there is a purpose that comes with praying the Lord’s Prayer habitually in that the teaching of Jesus which we pray may be made manifest in our lives…the more we pray this special prayer together and in solitude, by the Holy Spirit of God living in and through us, we may pray it not only with our voices, our minds, and our hearts, but also with our bodies…

…as we open our hearts to God’s in-breaking Kingdom, as our wills are brought in tune with the will of Jesus, as our faith in God’s daily provision is strengthened, as forgiveness and reconciliation become an integral part of the fabric of our lives, as we lean into the power of God’s love in every instance of temptation.

And now at this time let’s take a moment to pray this family prayer of Jesus together in song. Will you please stand as you are able and join me in singing hymn # 270, The Lord’s Prayer.