Ordinary 23 C – September 8, 2019

Luke 14:23-35

Fred and his wife Edna went to the state fair every year. Every year Fred would say, “Edna, I’d like to ride in that there airplane.” And every year Edna would say, “I know Fred, but that airplane ride costs ten dollars, and ten dollars is ten dollars.”

One year Fred and Edna went to the fair and Fred said, “Edna, I’m 71 years old. If I don’t ride that airplane this year I may never get another chance.” Edna replied, “Fred that there airplane ride costs ten dollars, and ten dollars is ten dollars.”

The pilot overheard them and said, “Folks, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take you both up for a ride. If you can stay quiet for the entire ride and not say one word, I won’t charge you, but if you say one word it’s ten dollars.”

Fred and Edna agreed and up they go. The pilot does all kinds of twists and turns, rolls and dives, but not a word is heard. He does all his tricks over again, but still not a word.

They land and the pilot turns to Edna, “By golly, I did everything I could think of to get you to yell out, but you didn’t.”

Edna replied, “Well, I was going to say something when Fred fell out of the plane, but ten dollars is ten dollars.”

Our reading is quite clever. Jesus goes from saying to hate your family to giving financial advice, sort of worst-case, best – case. What seems like a guide to calculating the cost of holding on becomes guidance to let go of it all.

This is a great week t0 use humor to help us reflect on what we hold dearer that we hold onto Jesus. I guess. The Philemon passage fits nicely and has the rare advantage of allowing the preacher to preach from an entire chapter without missing lunch.

 

An 80 year old couple were having problems remembering things, so they decided to go to their doctor to get checked out to make sure nothing was wrong with them. When they arrived at the doctor’s, they explained to the doctor about the problems they were having with their memory.

After checking the couple out, the doctor tells them that they were physically okay but might want to start writing things down and make notes to help them remember things. The couple thanked the doctor and left.

Later that night while watching TV, the old man got up from his chair and his wife asks, “Where are you going?”

He replies, “To the kitchen.”

She asks, “Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?” He replies, “Sure.”

She then asks him, “Don’t you think you should write it down so you can remember it?” He says, “No, I can remember that.”

She then says, “Well, I also would like some strawberries on top. You had better write that down cause I know you’ll forget that.”

He says, “I can remember that, you want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries.”

She replies, “Well, I also would like whip cream on top. I know you will forget that so you better write it down.” With irritation in his voice, he says, “I don’t need to write that down, I can remember that.” He then fumes into the kitchen.

After about 20 minutes he returns from the kitchen and hands her a plate of bacon and eggs.

She stares at the plate for a moment and says, “You forgot my toast.”

In our lesson from Luke Jesus is talking about counting the costs of discipleship. If you cannot:

  1. Hate your mother and father, you cannot be my disciple.
  2. Take up the cross and follow me, you cannot ne my disciple.
  3. Give away all of your possessions, you cannot be my disciple.

It sounds like the ideal disciple is the teenage girl who has been told she has been grounded, lost her allowance,  and cannot go to the big dance. But just try to take away her cell phone.

For all of the snake pits of the world that entice us with good things before revealing their horrors, Jesus puts it right out there: Following me will not be easy. Preaching this text may not be either.

You can take the trip, but you have to leave your baggage behind.

Have a great week – Laurin

Ordinary 22 C – September 1, 2019

Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Where do pets come from?

It is reported that the following edition of the Book of Genesis was discovered in the Dead Seal Scrolls. If authentic, it would shed light on the question, “Where do pets come from?”

And Adam said, “Lord, when I was in the garden, you walked with me everyday. Now I do not see you anymore. I am lonesome here and it is difficult for me to remember how much you love me.”

And God said, “No problem! I will create a companion for you that will be with you forever and who will be a reflection of my love for you, so that you will know I love you, even when you cannot see me. Regardless of how selfish and childish and unlovable you may be, this new companion will accept you as you are and will love you as I do, in spite of yourself.”

And God created a new animal to be a companion for Adam. And it was a good animal. And God was pleased.

And the new animal was pleased to be with Adam and he wagged his tail. And Adam said, “But Lord, I have already named all the animals in the Kingdom and all the good names are taken and I cannot think of a name for this new animal.”

And God said, “No problem! Because I have created this new animal to be a reflection of my love for you, his name will be a reflection of my own name, and you will call him DOG.”

And Dog lived with Adam and was a companion to him and loved him. And Adam was comforted. And God was pleased. And Dog was content and wagged his tail.

After a while, it came to pass that Adam’s guardian angel came to the Lord and said, “Lord, Adam has become filled with pride. He struts and preens like a peacock and he believes he is worthy of adoration. Dog has indeed taught him that he is loved, but no one has taught him humility.”

And the Lord said, “No problem! I will create for him a companion who will be with him forever and who will see him as he is. The companion will remind him of his limitations, so he will know that he is not always worthy of adoration.”

And God created CAT to be a companion to Adam. And Cat would not obey Adam. And when Adam gazed into Cat’s eyes, he was reminded that he was not the supreme being. And Adam learned humility.

And God was pleased. And Adam was greatly improved. Eve really loved that Cat.

And Cat did not care one way or the other.

This story is how I began my sermon on the day I was elected pastor of my previous call, so I thought I would share it. I went on to talk about the doughnut hole, verses 2-6, about the healing of the man with dropsy. I get a little uncomfortable with the way that the lectionary leaves out verses that are not otherwise picked up in subsequent weeks.

Why can we not talk about the man with dropsy? Did we cure it? Is it now unimportant? It does seem to be an example of the very thing that the included verses illustrate: leaving out and being left out. I might help if we called it congestive heart failure.

One of the c0ntroversies of the week when I wrote this is whether transgendered folk belong to the group of people who cannot be discriminated against in hiring and firing. Yet another example of our collective dropsy.

Have a great week – Laurin

Ordinary 21 C – August 25, 2019

Luke 13:10-17

A man went to see his doctor because he was suffering from a miserable cold. His doctor prescribed some pills, but they didn’t help.
On his next visit the doctor gave him a shot, but that didn’t do any good.
On his third visit the doctor told the man, “Go home and take a hot bath. As soon as you finish bathing throw open all the windows and stand in the draft.”
“But doc,” protested the patient, “if I do that, I’ll get pneumonia.”
“I know,” said the doctor, “I can cure pneumonia.”

Yes, this is very similar to the joke about the mathematician applying for a job as a fireman. And there is something strikingly familiar about the text today. Jesus is the Good Samaritan. The religious folk do not simply ignore the man in the ditch, they forbid her healing. This reading does not simply invite us to consider who our neighbor is, but who we are, and it raises the stakes on good, praying, church going folks who believe that that piety is sufficient.

This is not an easy message to hear, and we must be careful. I once preached this as a monologue as delivered by Andy Griffith. If you know Andy well, you may not be reading this for the purpose of finding humor and thought for you Sunday preparations. Andy is from my childhood. An excerpt:

Anybody like Andy Griffith. Best television show ever.

Floyd, you won’t believe who came to church on Sunday! Sally Mae Jones Smith. We hadn’t seen her for eighteen years! Oh my gosh, she looked old. She was so stooped over … All those years of picking up socks, and magazines, and doing dishes. But there she was. Last we saw her, she was jumping up and down when the last of hers graduated.

Then the guest preacher, he just stops, right in the middle of the Joys and Concerns and he says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Sally was jumping up and down. Makes you wonder if it won’t be another eighteen years before we see her again.

Then the Pastor gets all agitated. It seems he doesn’t like anybody horning in on his turf.  He says, now look here. I sit in this office all week and don’t see a soul. I could have healed her on Monday; I could have healed her on Tuesday. I could have healed her on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. And if she had called me up and asked me to come see her, I could have healed her on Saturday, but Sunday is the Lord’s Day, or don’t you read your Bible. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Thou shalt not work on Sunday. And healing people is work.

But I got to tell you, if healing people is work, I don’t think Pastor has worked a day in his life, because he has been here six years, and he hain’t cured nobody. So I guess he was all defensive and all. But you know. Now that I get to thinking on it, there have been a lot of folks cured of stuff. It just weren’t particularly Pastor who done it.

Well, the guest preacher, he got huffy too. He says, You Hypocrite. You Hypocrite.

Why do preachers have to use all them big words? But we all know what a hypocrite is, don’t we. It’s all of those tee-totaling Baptists having a high old time when they get over to Mt. Pilot. I don’t think Pastor took kindly to being compared to one of them. He will sit right there with you in your living room and have a beer and watch a game, just like anybody except the Baptists who have to go over to Mt. Pilot and sit in a hotel room to watch the game.

So, do you really want to tackle hypocrisy?

Miroslav Volf is quoted as saying, “There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.”And he is being quoted widely in connection with the gun crisis in the United States.

Andy Griffith would have pointed out that even Barney Fife carried a gun. He even carried a bullet. Of course, Barney kept his bullet in his pocket.

Have a great week. May you find and be healing. – Laurin

Ordinary 20 C – August 18, 2019

Luke 12:49-56

 

One day a mathematician decides that he is sick of math. So, he walks down to the fire department and announces that he wants to become a fireman.

The fire chief says, “Well, you look like a good guy. I’d be glad to hire you, but first I have to give you a little test.”

The fire chief takes the mathematician to the alley behind the fire department which contains a dumpster, a spigot, and a hose. The chief then says, “OK, you’re walking in the alley and you see the dumpster here is on fire. What do you do?”

The mathematician replies, “Well, I hook up the hose to the spigot, turn the water on, and put out the fire.”

The chief says, “That’s great… perfect. Now I have to ask you just one more question. What do you do if you’re walking down the alley and you see the dumpster is not on fire?”

The mathematician puzzles over the question for a while and he finally says, “I light the dumpster on fire.”

The chief yells, “What? That’s horrible! Why would you light the dumpster on fire?”

The mathematician replies, “Well, that way I reduce the problem to one I’ve already solved.” from jokelabs.com

A problem that I never solved was how to preach this text, so I usually reduced it to a problem that I had solved: division is a bad, bad thing. Hopefully, you can make sense of it. I always stressed out when I found this kind of tension in the readings.

A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and in life. Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups – porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups and were eyeing each other’s cups. 

Now consider this: Life is the coffee, and the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and do not change the quality of Life. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided.”

So, don’t let the cups drive you … enjoy the coffee instead.

The subject of division did allow me to trot my favorite math joke:

There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can do math, and those who can’t.

And I can see why it was time for me to retire. As I reread my old sermons, the most appealling illustration I found was original. It is also so old that almost nobody in the congregation will have a clue what TV show I am referencing:

I am reminded of the great American folk hero, Jethro Bodine. For those of you who do not know the cultural reference, Jethro is a 30-year-old, multi million, 5th grader, whose uncle Jed found oil on his property and moved the family to Beverly, Hills that is.

Jethro is taking math in school. He calls division guzinda. You know, 2 guzinda 8, 4 times, 2 guzinda 4, 2, 2 guzinda 2, 1. It is they way the church seems to interpret Luke 12. This question guzinda the church 8, that question guzinda the church 4, the next question guzinda the church 2. Before you know it. Nobody guzinda the church. The thing is: the questions that divide us are the cups, not the coffee. We are here for Jesus.

Hope that you have a great week, and enjoy the coffee – Laurin

Ordinary 19C – August 11, 2019

Luke 12:32-40

A little boy wasn’t getting good marks in school. One day he tapped his teacher on the shoulder and said, “I don’t want to scare you, but my daddy says if I don’t get better grades, somebody is going to get a spanking.”

Jesus does not say, “I don’t want to scare you.” Jesus says, “do not fear.”

Today is an odd Sunday morning. I am writing this blog just as I have begun my Sunday mornings for many years with a cup of coffee and my laptop. And I am feeling blessed by my internet this morning. She has been away for several days, and I fear that she may leave again at any moment. Even now I feel that slowwwww walk towards the door. And unlike my recent Sabbaths, I will not be leaving for church in a few hours. Instead, I will be cut off from the outside. The powers are closing the state road for something called the Ironman Triathalon. When the internet goes, we will truly be off the grid. To misquote REM: It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I am not afraid.

Lenny had this problem of getting up late in the morning and was always late for work. His boss was mad at him and threatened to fire him if he didn’t do something about it. So Lenny went to his doctor who gave him a pill and told him to take it before he went to bed. Lenny slept well and in fact beat the alarm in the morning by almost two hours. He had a leisurely breakfast and drove cheerfully to work.

“Boss”, he said, ” The pill actually worked!”

“That’s all fine” said the boss, ” But where were you yesterday?”

Have a great week – Laurin

Ordinary 18C – August 4, 2019

Luke 12:13-21

Phil’s barn burned down, and Susan, his wife, called the insurance company ...

Susan: We had that barn insured for fifty thousand and I want my money.

Agent: Whoa there just a minute, Susan; it doesn't work quite like that. We will ascertain the value of the old barn and provide you with a new one of comparable worth.

Susan, after a pause: I'd like to cancel the policy on my Phil.

The urge to dive deeply into politics sorely tempts the soul this morning. I shall not do that here. But more particularly, the urge to talk about how money politics has divided the Christian community is a reasonable take on our Lukan reading for this week. The text is, as many are, about relationship. Jesus is asked to resolve a family squabble…about money. Money is just such a wedge that divides and divides and divides. When we think about money, our thoughts are more, more, more, and the divisor gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

We think that stories like the Feeding of the 5000 are about multiplying blessing, but another way to think about them is that the divisor is quite small. Oh yeah, you think that the money is the numerator…is that the problem?

There is lots of great humor out there about Christians and their money. There needs to be a lot, because the topic is always so close to the readings, and particularly Luke. There is the man who insisted on being buried with his wealth, so his widow wrote him a check and put it in his hands as they closed the casket. Then there is the man who packed several suitcases full of gold bars so that he would have riches in heaven, only to find that the streets are paved with his treasure. And here is one to close:

Two friends met in the street. One looked sad and almost on the verge of tears. The other man said, "Hey my friend, how come you look like the whole world has caved in?"

      The sad fellow said, "Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me 50-thousand dollars."

      "That's not bad at all...!" 

      "Hold on, I'm just getting started. Two weeks ago, a cousin I never knew kicked-the-bucket and left me 95-thousand, tax-free to boot."

      "Well, that's great! I'd like that."

      "Last week, my grandfather passed away. I inherited almost a million."

      "So why are so glum?"

      "This week - nothing!"

Have a great week – Laurin

Ordinary 17C – July 28, 2019

Luke 11:1-13 – The Lord’s Prayer

One day, Joe, Bob and Dave were hiking in a wilderness area when they came upon a large, raging, violent river. They needed to get to the other side, but had no idea of how to do so.

Joe prayed to God, saying, “Please God, give me the strength to cross this river.”

Poof! God gave him big arms and strong legs, and he was able to swim across the river in about two hours, although he almost drowned a couple of times.

Seeing this, Dave prayed to God, saying, “Please God, give me the strength and the tools to cross this river.”

Poof! God gave him a rowboat and he was able to row across the river in about an hour, after almost capsizing the boat a couple of times.

Bob had seen how this worked out for the other two, so he also prayed to God saying, “Please God, give me the strength and the tools, and the intelligence, to cross this river.”

Poof! God turned him into a woman. She looked at the map, hiked upstream a couple of hundred yards, then walked across the bridge.

I grew up in the Presbyterian(US) church and eventually became a minister in the Presbyterian church (PCUSA). We are the people who confuse everybody else by making our forgiveness petition about debt, while everybody else is talking about trespasses. To put it lightly, we are talking about financial transactions while everybody else is talking about sneaking into somebody’s yard. The modern ecumenical approach is to make the petiton about sin, while I would often find myslef saying debtpass. I think Luke would appreciate the word construction.

But what is truly interesting is that we want it balanced: debt for debt, trespass for trespass, sin for sin, and debtpass for debtpass. The petition in Luke is not balanced. (forgive us our sins as we forgive our debtors.) Redemption is not balanced, at least not by us!

Have a great week! – Laurin