Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thankful Hearts See God: Luke 17:11-19 - Thanksgiving

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
cornucopia by elaine faith.  Creative commons image on flickr.
When I was a kid, there were a number of dear, sweet church ladies who would send cards to me and my sister—with a five-dollar bill enclosed.  It wasn’t just birthdays and Christmas; it was Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, or no occasion in particular.

But my parents had one rule: before we could spend the money, we had to sit down and write a thank-you note.

Years later, I learned that one of the ladies sent us money because she loved getting our notes.

Looking back, this is one of the most valuable lessons my parents taught me, because thankfulness taught me that I am loved.  And God worked through the love of the people from my childhood churches to bring me to everything and everyone most valuable to me: my wife, my daughter, the honor of serving as a pastor in our community.  I’m thankful for the gift of thanksgiving.  I’m blessed to be able to give thanks.

But thanksgiving a terrible blessing to ignore.

Jesus encounters ten lepers during his travels…  In those days, leprosy was just about the worst thing that could happen to a person.  Not only was it excruciatingly painful, it was tremendously contagious.  You were legally required to remove yourself from the community and live out in the wilderness.  They had to cry out, “unclean, unclean!” to warn passersby to keep their distance.  They also suffered the unfortunate condition of being Samaritan—which only added to their uncleanness.  If anyone needed Jesus’ mercy, it was these ten lepers.

They cry out to Jesus for mercy—and they definitely receive it.  Jesus sends them on their way to the priests, who will pronounce them clean and permit them to go home.  But only one turns back and thanks Jesus.  Only one is not so caught up in the relief and excitement of the moment to realize how blessed he is.  The other nine fail to see what is their greater blessing: that Jesus, the Son of God, looked upon their suffering and showed them mercy.

This is why thanksgiving is so critical—because if you’re not thankful, you’re missing out on the goodness of God. 

The way I see it, love and thanksgiving go hand-in-hand.  Love is expressed when you do something or give something valuable to you to another—and not just to get love in return, but because the person is so very valuable to you. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at the cross: Jesus gives his life away and takes your sin upon himself simply because you are that valuable to him.  What’s more is that God had you in mind at the foundation of creation—and God has been working all throughout history so that you would be born and then baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus!  As Jesus reveals this love, and you receive it by faith, thanksgiving happens!

God will continue to open your eyes to the grace being poured out in your life every single day—most often through the people God brings into your life who love you and do good to you, but also in providing your daily bread.  In gratitude, you will hear God’s invitation to be gracious to the people God puts in your life!  You will become the presence of Jesus in simple acts of kindness as well as in greater acts of mercy and generosity.  It’s no fluke that the people who are the most thankful are also the most generous and the most joyful.  It’s no fluke that those who are thankful see God.

And given the way things are in the world right now, it’s easy to become bitter and angry as the economy does you few favors and as our elected officials battle it out for the heart and soul of our country.   It’s just as easy get swept up into the national shopping frenzy that will begin in five days, powered by the myth that money buys the stuff that makes you happy.

On the other hand, the holidays have a way of magnifying our sorrows like nothing else.  What is the “most wonderful time of the year” may be the most terrible time of the year for you.  Giving thanks may seem unrealistic and impossible.

But thanksgiving begins at the cross, where God’s love for you is revealed.  No matter where you are in life; no matter what you’ve done, you matter to God.  And God’s face is shining on you and being gracious to you to give you reasons to be thankful. 

So challenge yourself this Thanksgiving—and into the coming seasons of Advent and Christmas—to name and count your blessings.  Let thanksgiving be on your mind and upon your when you rise in the morning, when you sit down to eat, when you get dressed, when you enter your home, and when you lie down at night. 

But don’t stop there…  Give someone else a reason to be thankful.  Let God’s goodness live through you.  Let your gratitude of God’s faithfulness in the past be the hope that moves you forward into the future.  With thanksgiving, your joy in the Lord will overflow.

Your Call Is Waiting: Matthew 25:14-30 - 24th Sunday after Pentecost

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”
Expecting a Call by lioliz.  Creative commons image on flickr.

I never play games of chance, because I never ever win

I knew this when my college friends convinced me to drive them to an out-of-state casino.

While they hit the tables, I wondered over to a bank of machines labeled Nickel Slots.” I took out a nickel, deposited it into the slotand when I pulled the lever, it wouldnt move.  Within seconds, two large men dressed in bright red suits with Secret Service-style earpieces came to me and said, can I help you?

I said, I put in a nickel, but it got stuck.

You cant put nickels in there!  It takes tokens!  Read the sign! 

I stood there and watched as the man angrily tech took out his keys to open up the machine Id jammed.  Unsure of what else to do, I quietly walked away and spent the rest of the night hiding out in the food court.  Meanwhile, my one friend won over $2,000 but couldnt spare a five for gas money.

So as someone who is risk-averse, I identify greatly with the slave who buries his masters money, rather than trading them in the market as the first two had done.  Sometimes, it’s best to play it safe. 

But when the master returns, he’s furious at the slave.  He didn’t lose his master’s money, but on the other hand: when nothing’s ventured, nothing’s gained…

Remember: the master hadn’t given his three slaves a task they couldn’t complete.  Jesus says us quite plainly that the master entrusted his property to his slaves, each according to their ability.  All three were capable and worthy of their master’s trust. 

So the problem wasn’t that “he couldn’t.”  It’s an issue of “he wouldn’t.” 

You face the same dilemma when Jesus calls you to discipleship in God’s kingdom.  You’ll find no reasons to say yes—and a million reasons to say no. It’s not that you can’t; it’s that you won’t. 
§  One good reason is that you’re busy.  Why answer a call from God when you don’t have enough time for everything already on your plate?
§  Another reason is that obeying God never guarantees other people’s approval. 
§  Another reason is that it’s difficult.  Why should God call you out of your comfort zone, to do things you’ve never done; to serve people you’d prefer to avoid; to give what you do not have; and to labors for which you cannot control the outcome?

Whether you realize it or not, your most basic needs are for security, approval, and control.  Answering God’s call means putting these needs in God’s hands (which is not easy to do). 

On the other hand, you can be doing godly things—like participating in church, helping the needy, or leading a ministry.  But you’re doing it all for yourself, and not for Jesus. 

And it’s easy to let fear and guilt drive you, especially as Jesus’ parable paints a very harsh picture of God.

But as is the case with all the judgment parables, we must interpret them by the cross.  You are not called because you must prove yourself worthy of God by your obedience and your success. 
God’s call is a promise of grace that is not to be taken lightly.  God’s will is not to be taken lightly. 

Yet when you answer God’s call, you entrust your needs and vulnerabilities into God’s hands.  Grace takes over—and the old rules no longer apply.  

When you think, “I can’t,” God says, “you will!” because you are called.

When you answer God’s call, everything changes!  You see that you were created by God to be a bearer of God’s salvation!  You are drawn into the Body of Christ, where God’s people will inspire you and empower you to live out your calling.  Your talents and possessions become spiritual gifts, through which God can accomplish far more than what is humanly possible.  God will lead you to places you never thought you’d go, to people you’d gone to great effort to avoid, and you become the presence of Jesus.  You will persist against all the people who reject and condemn you for your obedience.   Your exhaustion, your weakness, and your fear melt away—because grace has taken over.  You are a new creation, claimed by God to make all things new.

In other words, you don’t need to be a savvy entrepreneur, a shrewd investor, or a slick gambler to make ten talents out of five.   Just trust God! 

If you’re not living God’s call, you are not living a resurrected life!  But know that you have a calling—because you are loved and because God is love.  God’s call may happen in a split second to defend someone against an injustice.  It may be an invitation to make some much-needed changes so that you life may be centered on Christ.  It may be a call that changes your whole life. If you don’t know what your calling is; if you do know it but you’re afraid to obey it; or even if you’re not ready to be called, pray for God to lead you into it.   And if you are having a difficult day, and if you’re not finding any joy in where God has led you in this life, know that God will still be doing great things for you and through you. 

Your calling is not a burden, but a gift.  You’re called because you are loved.  You’re called because God wants you to be at the front of the new creation coming to this earth.  You’re called so that you can see what grace can do.  Be of good joy—because your call is waiting!