by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
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I’ve never been very crafty with my hands; manual dexterity just isn’t my long suit. But I have long been amazed at the gift of those who make beautiful things from “just stuff” — and pottery is certainly one of those arts.
Our lives are “just stuff” that becomes molded in the hands of God, the Great Potter. We are God’s artwork. No artist really wants to reject a piece of his/her handiwork. But, there is a strong warning at the end of this text about that very prospect.
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Oh, wow…I always love reading from Psalm 139!
Pick a verse, almost any verse from this text and you’ve got the subject for a sermon. Taken together, there is not a more powerful statement about the presence of God in, around, and all through our lives. Especially comforting to me after what has been a summer of great loss in my congregation, is the final phrase: “I come to the end — I am still with you.”
As my colleague often says (and writes), “Amen and amen.”
Life’s choices are not always clear and unambiguous, at least in the moment. The calorie-laden chocolate eclair looks awfully tempting, even to a person prone to diabetic fluctuations in his bloodstream.
It takes a bigger, longer-term view to add proper perspective — something akin to God’s view. The words of wisdom from Deuteronomy are, “I set before you today life and prosperity, [as well as] death and adversity….. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
The first stanza of Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer, which is often mis-quoted (a little bit) comes to mind here:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
(For the entire prayer, complete and unabridged, click here.)
The opening of the Psalter makes a nice companion piece to Deuteronomy; a wonderful, poetic description of what happens when we choose good, and what happens when we choose evil.
We’re used to hearing Paul in his relentlessly didactic mode (and we mostly love him for it!) Philemon gives us a look at Paul’s somewhat softer side. How can Phil refuse to grant Onesimus the grace that he needs, after Paul has finished setting him up by reminding him of the grace that he (Philemon) has received in his own life?
Luke now records some of Jesus’ hardest sayings. The cost of discipleship is great — in fact, the text tells us, the cost is everything we have.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
It is tempting when reading our first lesson from Deuteronomy (30:15-20) to conclude that God is setting before the people a stark, legalistic choice, like the bully on the playground who says, “Play by my rules, or I’ll beat you up.” Way too many religious leaders have used that technique down through the years. “Choose to follow my rules, my ethics, my commands, or you will burn in Hell!”
That version fails to recognize the Law, the commandments of God, as a gift, a teaching, a help to God’s beloved people. The commandments were given to us to help us chart our way through life. Is it possible that God’s word of promise here is better understood as;
In that light, God’s call to “choose life” is a call to take seriously the need to follow a strong ethical path through life. To “choose life” is to choose to be a part of a community that cares about and respects one another and looks out for one another, for that is what the commandments call us to do and to be.
In the story of the Little Red Hen, all the other animals refused to follow the rules, the guidelines, the commandments; for being a part of a family, a community. They refused to participate in the things that make a community safe and productive for all involved. They refused to help; but they all wanted to reap the benefits of the work done by the Little Red Hen.
In our Gospel Lesson from Luke, Jesus talks about what it means to be a full participant in a loving community. His words about sacrifice, giving up family and counting the cost, and taking up the cross; are meant to bring home to his listeners and to us, the seriousness of becoming a part of the Kingdom of God, the Community of Christ.
In the original story, The Little Red Hen ate her bread alone. But our youth showed that they are good little Lutherans and have learned their theology well. In their story, the animals repent and the Hen shares her bread. This is how God is. God does forgive us our cold hearts and idle hands.
But we are called to respond to God’s free (notice I said free, not cheap) God’s free grace with lives of gratitude and discipleship. This day we are called to take up the Cross and follow wherever our Lord leads.
Amen and amen.