Year C — The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9)

Commentary for July 7, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman’s story provides us with a sterling opportunity to consider the place of the “mighty” and the “lowly” in God’s story. Naaman is pictured as a powerful man, one who hangs out with kings and generals and other such powerful men — yet, he is humbled by a pugnacious disease that simply will not go away.

Surrounding Naaman are the usual bevy of servants and underlings — and it is through these less powerful characters that the healing word of the Lord comes to him. Even when Naaman makes it to Samaria to visit with Elisha, the prophet does not speak to him directly but sends a lowly messenger.

Naaman, of course, is famously stubborn — indignant, actually — that he would have to abase himself in order to have his leprosy cured. Ah, how hard it is for any of us to lower ourselves, even (and especially?) to receive the blessing of God!

Psalm 30
Psalm 30 was the reading earlier in Year C (click here.) In the context of the Naaman story, v. 2 is particularly poignant; v. 11 is awfully fun to imagine with a hardened soldier laughing and dancing in his great joy!

Isaiah 66:10-14
Isaiah gives us beautiful imagery for the salvation of God (which salvation is symbolized here in Jerusalem.) Seeing an infant deeply nourished and satisfied at the breast of a mother is one of life’s most delicate and precious events.

Too, the “motherly” imagery for God is impressive — imagine the Heavenly One dandling babes on knees!

Psalm 66:1-9
All you have to do, if you want to know just how great God is, is come and see for yourself. What else can I say?

Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16
Working for the good of all is the work of the church.

It’s hard work, no doubt! Paul encourages us with a word that preachers do well to remember (especially on Monday morning — 🙂 “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.”

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Jesus is planning to make stops in several villages, so he sends in the scout team. Where will the people likely be receptive, and where will he encounter resistance?

No doubt, Jesus fully intends to be the Christ for any and all who will receive him — but the fact of the matter is, some folks are just more hard-headed (and hard-hearted) than others.

The “mission team” that is made up by the seventy is pretty pumped when they return — this strikes me as a fairly common occurrence as I’ve worked with groups who have taken time to get outside of themselves and go on similar trips and service projects over the years.

Jesus is happy for them and shares in their joy — and also reminds them not to get too high on themselves. It is, after all, the power of God in them that has accomplished the miraculous.

May it be so in each of us and all of us.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In the late 1890s, Alfred Nobel awoke one morning and went down to breakfast.  When he picked up his paper, he was startled to see his own obituary – Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, devised a way for more people to be killed in war than ever before, and he died a very rich man. 
It was actually Nobel’s older brother who had died and the newspaper apologized for their mistake, but reading his own obituary had a profound effect on Alfred.  He decided he did not want to go down in history as a man who grew rich off the death, destruction and misery of others.
So, he changed his life.  He dedicated much of the rest of his fortune to the creation of the Nobel Peace prize, in order to counteract the effects of his invention of dynamite.
Alfred Nobel had a moment of crisis, a moment which first floored him and then changed him. Changed the way he thought and changed the way he acted.
Our lesson from 2 Kings tells of another crisis moment in the life of another famous man; a famous warrior.  This man also came to a moment of change, a moment of healing, a moment which likely changed him forever.
As the story opens we are introduced to Naaman, a “great man,” a “great warrior,” “in high favor with” the King of Aram, a kingdom near to Israel.  Despite being great, Naaman is like all of us, he has his troubles, most particularly a nagging case of leprosy.
Since Naaman was a vigorous man, a warrior, it is likely that he had something like psoriasis or eczema or an allergic reaction to something in his environment rather than the debilitating disease we know as leprosy.  Nonetheless, the social stigma for a skin disease of any sort was great in the ancient Near East.  Naaman must have been a very great warrior indeed to have overcome this handicapping condition to become such an important person in his kingdom.
As the story unfolds, an Israelite girl is a servant in Naaman’s household.  She tells her mistress who tells her husband who tells the king about a prophet over in Israel who can help.  The king says, “By all means go.  I’ll send a letter to the king of Israel requesting his help.”  So Naaman goes, carrying gold and goods as gifts.
In Israel, Naaman presents himself and his letter to the king.  The letter reads – “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”  The king of Israel is totally bumfuzzled.  He is not a healer.  This must be a trick in order to start a war. 
This part of the episode reminds me of an old children’s game we called “telephone.”  You sit
In a circle and the first person whispers a message to the next person and it goes around the circle, no repeating, and then the last person in the circle tells everyone the message.  It is usually hilariously wrong.  Hmmm.  Sounds a little like communication in some churches.
The servant said to the wife “the prophet Elisha can heal.”  By the time it went through wife to husband to king to letter to other king, it became “King can heal.”  And things keep going; the king immediately assumes the worst of the other king; failing to check things out, he decides there is something deceitful and underhanded going on.  Never seen that in a church, have you?
This could’ve gotten bad in a hurry, but Elisha stepped in and maybe prevented a war.  He invited Naaman to come to his house for healing.  So Naaman came.  But the fireworks weren’t over yet.
When Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, the prophet does not come out to greet him or look him over.  He just sends out a message, “Go wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh will be restored and you shall be clean.”
Now it is Naaman’s turn to act out.  The prophet has disappointed him.  Naaman had an idea of how he expected things to proceed when you visited a prophet for healing – He expected the prophet himself to examine him and perform a ceremony full of ritual and pyrotechnics and all he got was a servant with a message.
And the message itself!  Bathe in the Jordan?  Not really a river, just a piddlin’ little creek compared to the mighty rivers of Damascus.  Why can’t I wash there?  And the priests back home know how to do a healing up right – with lots of bells and smells and pomp and circumstance.
So, in a huff, Naaman takes his gold and his garments and goes away in a rage.  And again, servants and common sense intervene and prevail.  They say, “Look, Master, if the prophet had asked you to do some great feat, you would have done it.  Your problem is your pride; all he did was say, ‘Wash and be clean.’ Can you not do this simple thing?”
So, Naaman calmed down and listened to his servants and went to the Jordan and immersed himself seven times and he was cleansed and healed.
The great man Naaman did what was, for him, a very difficult thing:  he humbled himself.  He put aside his pride and his prejudice and his preconceived notions and his pushback against simplicity and he decided to trust.  Now, Elisha didn’t trust God, because he didn’t know God.  And he didn’t trust Elisha because he didn’t know Elisha either.  But he did trust his servants and with that small sliver of faith – he was healed.
All of us need healing.  All of us have places of broken-ness and weakness.  No matter how great or rich or powerful or successful we may be; we all have blemishes and shortcomings.  None of us is perfect and all of us need to be healed of something.
And we all need to learn from Naaman’s experience.  We need to learn to find a way to trust and a place where we can feel safe enough to let go of our pride and our pain long enough to let the gentle and healing power of God’s love wash over us.
We also need to remember that we have all been called to be servants to one another.  Notice again that Naaman did not trust God, did not trust Elisha the prophet, but he did trust his servants.
We are servants to one another. We may be the only voice of hope and love another person in our life can hear.  We all need to take responsibility for speaking gently to and loving fully those whom God has placed in our lives, being always a living reminder to them of the love that is God.

Amen and amen.

Year C — The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)

Commentary for June 30, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Joe Smith

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Ahhh. The “chariots of fire!”

For those of us who can actually remember the 1980’s, the Vangelis tune from the movie of the same name immediately begins playing in our brains. And from Sunday School, we may remember the dramatic story of Elijah, the prophet of fire, riding those chariots up to heaven.

Except, that he didn’t — exactly.

Elijah actually rides the whirlwind (tornado?) up to heaven, while the chariots of fire serve as a sort of heavenly imperial guard — separating Elisha and preventing him from breaching the barrier Elijah has been called to cross.

Two things suggest themselves to me from the reading: first, be very careful what you assert as being “in the Bible!” Like the apple that Eve took from the devil, and the donkey that Mary rode into Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born — some things just aren’t in there, my friends!

Second, and more important for the task at hand: when God calls us to a ministry, God always provides just exactly what we need to accomplish that ministry. Elijah had become weary from his years of confronting Ahab and Jezebel (Jezebel, especially.) God provides “relief” for him in the form of young Elisha (see the optional Kings text below.)

And for Elisha — God signals that God will be with him just as powerfully as he was with Elijah. The mantle serves to part the waters for Elisha, just as it had previously done so for Elijah.

“You’re good, Elisha; I’m going to be with you. Let’s get to work.”

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
If you’re going to talk to God, go ahead and be sure that God can hear you! I love the “aloud” that is emphasized in v.1. 

When there is an urgent need in our lives — when our emotions are ripping us apart — go ahead and yell for God. Of course, God hears quiet prayers, too; but it just seems that there are those moments when the more vociferous tone does us a lot of good!

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
This tag is “the rest of the story” from the dramatic encounter Elijah had with God in the cave on Mt. Horeb. After Elijah heard the voice of God — not in the storm, or the earthquake, etc. — but in the silence, he is sent by God back the way he came.

And, it is there that he discovers a younger Elisha, who is to be his successor. Just as Elijah complained to God that he was tired and felt all alone, God revealed what God had in mind. 

“Here’s your retirement plan, Elijah; you take care of this boy and teach him what you know. Then, I’ll take care of the rest…and I’ll take care of you!”

Psalm 16
There are echoes in this psalm of God’s provision for Elijah, as well as for Christ. It is an encouragement to all of God’s faithful, as well, to place trust in God for the provisions of life. 

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Don’t go back!

Paul has struggled to teach the Galatians (he affectionately has called them “foolish” elsewhere in the letter) the importance of staying on the path toward righteousness. The issue of sin drawing Jesus’ followers back into its clutches was something Paul was certainly familiar with (cf. Romans 7.)

There might have been a few who were claiming ignorance of what constituted sin, so Paul breaks it down with a couple of fairly plain-spoken lists. “If you’re doing these things — fornication, carousing, getting drunk, etc. — that’s not Jesus in you, okay? But, if you are doing these things: loving, being patient, giving generously, and so on — well, then you’re getting it right!”

Luke 9:51-62
Like Elijah, Jesus is going to be “taken up.” Like Elisha, there are some who are called to follow who are tempted to stay down on the farm and take care of the family business, instead.

Jesus is pretty straightforward: the way you are called to go with me is ahead, not behind. Don’t let your past failures OR successes hold you back.

Mmm, okay?

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

For about ten years, I did a lot of traveling. One of the hardest things for me to learn was how to pack right for a trip. What clothes do I need? What things do I need? What ministry resources for workshops and what extension cords and phone chargers and computer attachments and other electronics and then there’s the prescription medicines and the over the counter medicines and, well; it sometimes got very complex and confusing. What should I take? What should I leave behind?

Today’s Gospel lesson was written to teach the first Christians what it meant to follow Jesus; in particular, how to prepare for the trip. It’s about what to take and what to leave behind. This is a lesson in spiritual packing.

The story the Bible tells us is pretty simple, it’s like a scene out of a musical movie or play.
Imagine Jesus striding down the road, with a crowd on either side of him and the disciples following behind him, music playing in the background. As he walks along, people come out of the crowd and he has conversations with them about what it means to be “On the Way to the Holy City.” In the midst of these encounters there are several lessons about what to take and what not to take on this journey.

The first encounter involves a village of the Samaritans. Jesus sent messengers to the village to let them know he was coming and the people sent back word asking him not to stop in their village, they didn’t want him there.

We don’t really know why not except that the Bible says it was, “because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” Does that mean they were opposed to the ministry and message of Jesus? Or does it mean that since they were Samaritans they were already hated by the leaders in Jerusalem and they didn’t want to tempt any more trouble by giving hospitality to a person those same leaders were after? We don’t know.

What we do know is that two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, got angry and wanted to call down destruction from heaven, wanted to ask God to destroy this little village the way God destroyed Sodom in the time of Abraham and Lot. And Jesus said no, leave them alone.

What can we learn about “spiritual packing” from this part of the story? Just as messengers went in front of Jesus on his journey, anywhere we go with the gospel, God has already been working. Sometimes the people are ready, sometimes they are not. Sometimes they receive us with open arms; sometimes they turn their backs. But that is not our concern, we are to neither condemn nor punish those who aren’t ready; nor are we to take credit when we and the gospel are received. This part of the story teaches us that when we pack for a journey with Jesus, we leave out our egos, our pride, our anger and our judgment of others. We put into our pack: humility and love, gentleness and kindness, and a deep awareness that God is with us, all the way, all the time.

In the last part of the story, people come out of the crowd to talk with Jesus as he walks along past the village. All these encounters have to do with excuses, or reasons, people think they don’t have time to follow Jesus.

A man says “I’ll follow you anywhere.” Jesus responds by warning him it’s a life without a permanent home. Foxes have holes, etc.

Jesus then invites a different man to follow, but this man says he has to bury his father first. It’s important to know his father is very much alive. What he means is, “Let me fulfill all my family obligations, then I’ll follow you.” Jesus tells him “Let the dead bury the dead.” .”

Next, someone says, “Let me first go home and say good bye.” Jesus replies with famous words about not looking back while plowing.

In these three encounters, Jesus calls us to leave behind one set of obligations and duties in order to take on a different set. Jesus calls us to unpack and leave behind nationalism and racism and social propriety in order to embrace a kingdom that includes all people of all races and colors and languages from all over the world.

He invites us to leave behind selfish and narrow and localized devotion in order to put in our pack a sense of love and duty for the salvation of the entire world, not just our little corner of it.

When Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, he turned his back on Nazareth, on the land around the Sea of Galilee, on his life as a carpenter and small town teacher and preacher.

When Jesus set his face for Jerusalem, he knew he was going to his death, he knew he was, from that very moment, walking to the cross.

And he invites us to go with him. He invites us, calls us to follow him to Jerusalem, to the Cross. He invites us to unpack all the small but heavy and burdensome things that keep us from loving God and each other completely and fully and passionately.

Jesus invites us to drop the burdens that weigh us down, to throw aside the cares and concerns that hold us back, to cast away the judgments and hatreds that turn us away from God and toward the world.

Jesus invites us to empty our hands of all that so that we can take up our cross and gladly follow him. When we have empty hands, we can reach out to others. When we remove the hate from our hearts, we have room for love. When we take the judgment out of our eyes, we then see others as God sees them, as precious children in need of love and forgiveness.

The way of the cross is not easy, but it is the way we have been called to follow. Can you hear Christ calling you now? Saying in the still quiet of your heart; “Drop everything that is holding you back and follow, follow me to Jerusalem, follow me to Love.”

Amen and amen.

Year C — The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)

Commentary for June 23, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Brian Dixon

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
It’s an old saw, but there is some important truth in it: “Yesterday’s victories will not help you in tomorrow’s battles.”

Elijah, fresh from the slaughter at Mt. Carmel, gets spooked by the word of Queen Jezebel. Evidently, she was not a woman to be trifled with.

So, he spends some time in the wilderness, eventually deciding that he had had enough of the lifestyle of the prophet. He tells God he’d just as soon go on and die, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.

I am intrigued by the “therapy” the Lord provides — first, some attention to real, physical needs. “Get up and eat.” Then, a rigorous journey up the highest mountain in Israel. Finally, time to meditate in a cave, where he is asked twice by God: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Not just “here” — in the cave. “Here” — in your life. With your call. With your purpose and intent. With your desire to just hang it up and be done with it. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

In the end, after the pyrotechnics and awesome displays of nature’s power and such, Elijah sits in the “sheer silence.” Yeah, we have very few opportunities for that in our world anymore. But, after looking as deeply as one can into oneself, I suppose, Elijah is commissioned to “keep on keeping on.” 

The story ends a bit curiously, as we don’t hear God assuring Elijah that he is not alone. Perhaps we are supposed to sit with the stark reality that for each of us — and all of us — it really does come down to God and me. My life is not anyone else’s responsibility.

What are you doing here?

Psalm 42 and 43
This psalm reading preserves the Hebrew tradition, in which Psalms 42 and 43 are one psalm.

The writer reflects on feeling forgotten by God — appropriate to the Elijah story (above.) But we all have the opportunity to think about the disquieting feeling in our souls that comes along from time to time. 

The source for hope in God is well-stated in 42:8: “By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at nigh his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”

Isaiah 65:1-9
Isaiah’s vivid language makes for a pointed accompaniment to today’s gospel passage. We get a real sense of the “demoniac’s” plight as we sit inside tombs and eat swine’s flesh boiled in abominable broth.

Notice, also, that it is God’s good intention to be found, even by those who have not asked or sought. God’s call — to all nations, I believe — is always, “Here I am; here I am.”

Psalm 22:19-28
Psalm 22 famously begins, “My God…why have you forsaken me?” and is thus positioned as the first of the Messianic psalms according to the reading of the Christian church. Of course, when Jesus quotes the opening of the psalm from the cross, he is actually invoking the entirety of its message, which is not about being forsaken. Rather, it is an affirmation of God’s saving help for God’s people.

Again, note that God’s deliverance is designed for “all the ends of the earth…” and “all the families of the nations.” 

Galatians 3:23-29
The binding effect of the law — pictured here as a disciplinarian, or a schoolmaster — once served a helpful purpose in our lives, Paul says. It probably still does.

However, compared with the grace that has been revealed in Christ through faith, it seems a bit de rigueur

I wonder how long Paul’s list in v. 28 would be if he were writing it today?

Luke 8:26-39
There are troubled people in the world. 

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, the world is filled with people who are more or less troubled all the time. We may point at the “demoniacs” among us and say, “Oh, boy! There but for the grace of God go I.”

And isn’t that exactly why Jesus came — to bring the grace of God into the most graceless of situations? 

I know that there are those moments — involving those people — that scare the bejeebers out of me. I am prone to encountering situations that seem so hopeless!

The gospel calls us to trust in the presence of the One who brings peace from chaos, hope from torment — who allows us all to sit “clothed and in our right minds.”

May it be so, Lord.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Did you hear the story about the Lutheran pastor who was visiting a very sick parishioner in the hospital? She sat by the bedside, talking about life and love, and God’s mysterious will and Jesus’ loving ways. After a while, she took out her old and battered Occasional Services book and communion kit and celebrated a bedside Eucharist. Almost absent-mindedly, she finished the service by anointing the patients head with oil and praying a prayer for healing.
Suddenly the patient sat up straight, the color returned to his face, the electric monitors in the room beeped and whirred and spun like crazy; doctors and nurses ran into the room as the man started shouting, “I’m healed, I feel great, thank you Jesus!” The pastor had dropped her book and communion kit and stood plastered against the wall in the midst of all this excitement.
Finally, the doctors finished examining the shouting and crying patient and declared him healed; shaking their heads in amazement. The pastor came forward, hugged the parishioner and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. She gathered her things and walked out of the room and down the hall and went down the elevator and to the lobby and then went to the hospital chapel and looked around carefully to make sure no one was there; then she looked up at the ceiling and hissed, “Don’t you ever do that to me again! You scared me to death!”
8:35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.
I was with an ecumenical group of ministers this week and a Pentecostal pastor asked me, quite politely and with a genuine interest in knowing, “How do Lutherans feel about Jesus’ ministry of healing and casting out of demons?” I answered, just as politely and with a genuine interest in telling the truth, “That stuff scares most of us to death and we ignore it as much as possible.”
What are we to make of stories like this? There is, of course, the option of taking it at face value. The man was possessed by demons, who held a conversation with Jesus, asked to be cast into swine, and when Jesus granted their request, the demons propelled the swine into the seas. Meanwhile, the healed one was tired and dazed, but basically okay and sane again. As I say, there is the option of taking it literally – with all the confusing details – and praising God and Jesus for being able to heal us of all our ills; physical, mental, or emotional.
But many of us are simply unable to accept this story on those terms. While we may be willing to admit the possibility that something happened in the life and ministry of Jesus that involved an emotionally disturbed person and a herd of swine; that’s about as far as we can go in the facticity department. Fortunately for us, we can still benefit from this story without having to take it literally.
The very oddness of the story is helpful. Most of us live our lives in the pragmatic, humdrum, natural world. 99.9% of the things that happen in our everyday existence have a “this world”, direct cause and effect explanation. But not everything. Even the most scientifically-minded amongst us has to admit that mysterious and inexplicable things happen; frequently in fact.
While I am not a believer in the “God of the gaps” theory; i.e. “God exists because science can’t explain everything;” the existence of the mysterious helps keep me humble about my attempts to limit God’s actions to things I can predict or explain or control. As the priest said to the small young man who wanted to play football for Notre Dame in the movie Rudy; “So, I’ve been a priest for 40 years and I only know two things for certain, “There is a God, and I’m not him.”

An important piece of a healthy faith is an honest humility about what we don’t know about God and what God can or will do.
The strangeness of the story also reminds us of the very important fact that, as one of my church council members frequently reminds us, “that was then and this is now.” Mission stays the same, methods change with the times. We are the body of Christ in the world and we are called to continue Christ’s ministry of healing, including the healing of those “possessed by demons.” But, we are not limited to following his methods.
Of course we pray for healing. But we also take action. From the simplest acts of visiting and being with those who are suffering to vigorously supporting efforts to relieve sickness and hunger and suffering around the world.
Jesus’ bizarre act of casting the demons into the swine reminds us of our calling to fight to overcome the worlds demons of illness and division and hunger and exploitation and war and, and, and, and . . .
The world is full of demons that possess and oppress God’s beloved children, and it is our calling to follow the Christ into the world and into the battle, delivering our brothers and sisters from the pains and sufferings, afflictions and evil forces which keep them separated from us, from God and from each other.
Amen and amen.

Year C — The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6)

Commentary for June 16, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Stephen Hood

1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
Ahab — the king who has practically everything — sees something that he wants. When he can’t get it, he does the kingly thing: he whines!

Jezebel, a name that still drips venom to this day, decides that she will do what any good queen would do for her king — she’ll get it for him. And, of course, she will use any means at her disposal to do so, regardless of the cost.

It is a classic story of those who are willing to use the power of evil in order to get ahead — and appear to do so for a while. But, of course, the setup for a later (and quite different) outcome ends today’s reading.

The way of evil will only and always end in disaster. Should be ’nuff said!

Psalm 5:1-8
The psalm underscores the theme that God does not “delight in wickedness.” God is not interested in the least in tolerating evil. We continually have important choices to make.

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Alas, another king of Israel sees something that he wants — something that is not his! This time, the great king David desires a woman who is another man’s wife. After “arranging” for her to become his wife (there is quite a backstory here — be sure you have read it in the preceding chapters) — David is eventually confronted by the prophet Nathan and convicts himself after hearing the heart-wrenching story of the little lamb.

The key difference in Ahab’s story and David’s is that David is eventually willing to confess his wrongdoing. The way forward to righteousness and restoration runs through our willingness to admit our faults.

Psalm 32
In support of the David/Bathsheba/Nathan story above, the psalm asserts that “keeping silence” about our sin is a sure way to waste away and groan all day long. On the other hand, happiness results from allowing God’s forgiveness to wash over us as we confess our sin.

Galatians 2:15-21
We do not — and certainly can not — nullify the grace of God, no matter how we might misunderstand or misappropriate the gospel of Christ.

Luke 7:36-8:3
Dr. Chilton waxes eloquent and gets at the poignancy of this gospel story in his sermon below. It is not a comfortable thing to be confronted with our failure and our sin — whether we are willingly seeking forgiveness or whether we are somewhat inured to its presence in our lives. 

Faith, salvation, and peace are the results here of a life broken before the Lord. 

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

My preaching professor at Duke, who was a Baptist, liked to tell the story about a young Baptist man from “up north somewhere,” who came to Louisville to study at the Baptist Seminary. It wasn’t long before he secured a regular job preaching at a little church over near Lexington.

On his first Sunday he lit into tobacco pretty hard; smoking it, chewing it, growing it, etc. It was all the same to him, and it was all sin. After service, the head of the deacons stopped him at his car and told him that while, like all good Baptists they were, of course, opposed to tobacco, it was important to know that quite a few of the church members raised tobacco for a living and it might be good to avoid that topic in future sermons.

The next week he lit into alcohol. He did it up pretty good, with all the statistics about drunk driving and broken homes and illness, etc. etc. And again the head of the Deacons met him at his car and after admiring the sermon for a few minutes allowed as how quite a few folks in the church were employed at the local distillery and it might be best to let up on the alcohol issue as well.

The third week the preacher opened up with both barrels on gambling. He outdid himself this time. It was a scorcher. And the Deacon met him at the car one more time. Before he opened his mouth, the preacher shook his head and said, “What this time?” “Well Preacher, you see, a lot of folks, including me, work on the horse farms and we all know those horses are for racing which means gambling, so if you could . . . “

The young Pastor had about had it. “All right then. What can I preach on?” The deacon thought for a few minutes and said, “Why don’t you try Chinese Communism. There ain’t a Chinese Communist anywhere around here.”

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus directs sharp words at the rich and supposedly holy Pharisee, saying “you, you, you” over and over, making sure that the man knows that these words are pointed directly at him.

Jesus is invited to dine at the home of one Simon, a Pharisee, that is, a Jewish person who is highly particular about following the Jewish religious rules and regulations, a person for whom purity in relation to God was most important.

Now Simon the Pharisee was interested in Jesus; he had heard about this self-taught country preacher and faith healer and he was intrigued and curious, but also skeptical and dismissive.

The word had gotten out that Jesus was there, at Simon’s house and people had begun to gather nearby. The dinner itself was probably outdoors, on the patio, in the backyard. It was a simple matter for uninvited guests to edge their way into the fringes of the banquet crowd. They too were intrigued and curious; they wanted to see Jesus; they wanted to hear him say something unusual, they hoped he might perform a miracle.

Suddenly a woman; traditionally, a woman of the street, a woman of the night, a working girl, but all the text tells us is that she was a “sinner”; this woman pushed herself through the crowd to Jesus.

She came to where he reclined at table, she stretched herself out at his feet, she covered his feet with oil, she bathed them with her tears, she dried them with her hair.
And, of course, all this sensuality, all this sexiness, all this touching was too much for Simon, who would never touch any woman but his wife, much less a woman like this, a sinner, a woman of ill-repute.

How could you? Simon snarled to himself, how could you, a rabbi, allow this, this, this, womanto touch you? Much less all this bathing and oiling, and wiping, and kissing?

There are some commentators who find it extraordinary that Jesus was able to know what Simon was thinking. C’mon now. I mean, if looks could kill, the one Simon gave Jesus would have wiped out a neighborhood. You didn’t have to be divine to know what Simon was thinking. It was written all over his face.

Jesus looked at Simon and must have chuckled a little to himself as he told a story that put Simon in his place. Two men owed the loan shark money. One owed $500, the other $50. Neither could pay. The shark forgave the debt of both. Who will love him more, Simon, who will have more gratitude, more devotion? Of course Simon said the one who was forgiven much.

Jesus then calmly pointed out to Simon that the woman had simply done for him, for Jesus, what Simon himself, as the host, should have done. 

She was not a good woman and she knew it. She knew she needed a lot of love and forgiveness. Unlike Simon, she had no lifetime of doing the right thing to cling to, she knew she was in trouble and needed help.

When she heard Jesus tell of repentance and acceptance into the Kingdom of God, when she heard his stories of love and forgiveness, when she saw him touch the untouchable and love the unlovely; it struck a chord deep within her soul. She really heard his words, not as ideas but as truth; not as religious concepts but as spiritual realities.

She really heard it and believed it and knew herself to be loved and forgiven by God. Only one who knew that she had been forgiven much could respond with such great gratitude and love.

Simon couldn’t hear it because he didn’t think it applied to him. My mother tells a story from the time at three, I was the baby of her three children. We had the measles. Mama says the old family doctor saw us in the examining room. He grunted a few times, and then prepared his needle. When I saw him come at us with that needle, I started yelling out while holding up two fingers, “Just them two’s sick. Just them two’s sick!”

“Not me, Jesus. What you’re saying doesn’t apply to me. I’m not sick. I’m not a sinner. I don’t have hurt and pain and incompleteness. I’m a good person. What you’re saying applies to other people, not to me.” That’s what Simon thought. Until Nathan pointed the finger at him, and shouted out “Thou art the man,” that’s what King David thought. “Not me Lord. Only them people are sick. Not me. Go save the Chinese Communists and leave me alone.”

Our capacity to forgive others comes only when we recognize how very much we have been forgiven by God. Our capacity to love others comes only when we realize how very much we have been loved by God. Our capacity to live fully comes only when we realize how very much Christ living in us is what true life is.

Amen and amen.

Ten Thousand Clicks and Counting!

Lectionary Lab Live Podcast Reaches a Milestone

We are once again honored and humbled that our “brainchild” seems to have found a home with many of you. The Lectionary Lab Live weekly podcast (always just a click away on the tab above and to the right) has just received its ten thousandth visitor.

Thank you for your support!

Unfortunately, we have no way to identify which of you was the actual 10,000th click, so we will be unable to award a prize. Not sure what we’d give away, anyhow…maybe a free order of biscuit and gravy down at the Cracker Barrel?

Please keep reading and listening — and, as always, your comments are more than welcome.

Join Us for our Third Advent Preaching Workshop

Come to the Mountains with Two Bubbas and a Bible!

We are hosting our third annual Lectionary Lab Advent Preaching Workshop on October 28-30, 2013. The setting is the beautiful Monteagle Mountain just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

You’ll love the views and will benefit from spending time with a couple of dozen great preachers and colleagues. We will cover texts for the four Sundays of Advent, plus The Reign of Christ, Christmas Eve/Day, and Epiphany. Worship twice each day will allow us to “practice what we preach” — literally. It’s just a great experience, that’s all we can say!

See the registration info to the right — check your calendar — click your way through to register and come on along.

If you’re wondering where in the heck Monteagle, TN is — here you go: Directions to Dubose Conference Center