I wanted to preach a sermon about doing the mission of God, not just talking about doing the mission of God. I thought a sermon about how we can change our minds in the process of determining what God is calling us to do would be interesting. I would have loved to talk about how Jesus deems tax collectors and prostitutes more worthy of the kingdom of God than the chief priests and elders and what that might mean in our context. I would have settled for a sermon about how everyone in the parable enters into the kingdom of God whether or not they actually do the will of God.
Unfortunately, none of these lovely sermon ideas actually reflect the point of Jesus’ parable and encounter with the chief priests and elders.
Compassion. Jesus had compassion for the crowds, verse 36 reads. Out of Matthew’s account of Jesus summoning the disciples and giving them authority to heal and cleanse and sending them to cure the sick and raise the dead, the word compassion jumps out at me. When we practice compassion, we see the world from the perspective of someone else. We at least momentarily step into the head and heart space of another person. If the person is sick, we imagine ourselves in the hospital, poked by nurses and doctors who are working to heal us, releasing control over who comes in and out of our room, enduring a roommate with noisy relatives or constant TV-watching, feeling lousy all the long, long days that we are there.
In 381 of the common era, approximately 300 years after Jesus lived, died, was raised, and ascended, church leaders gathered for the Council of Constantinople. The council was called by Theodosius I, the Holy Roman Emperor, in the city of Constantinople, a city now called Istanbul in the present-day nation of Turkey. This was the second time the Roman emperor had convened church leaders to debate the core beliefs of Christianity. The first time had been in 325 in Nicea where they wrote the first version of the Nicene Creed. In 381 at the Council of Constantinople, the leaders of the church formulated the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the doctrine which states that Christians believe in one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each equally and fully God. The output of the council was the Nicene Creed in basically its present form. From the first council in 325 to the second council in 381, the major item up for debate was whether the Holy Spirit was equally God in relation to both God the Creator and Jesus.
You—just you, you apart from whatever material things you have or don’t have—you are a gift to us all, just by being yourself and sharing yourself here with us as we pray and break bread and sing and talk together.
ELCA pastor Heidi Neumark in her brilliant book Breathing Spaces describes her 19 years of ministry at Transfiguration Lutheran Church in the South Bronx. Just as has happened in many cities, the neighborhood around Transfiguration Lutheran had transitioned from one socio economic status to another, from one ethnic and racial composition to another, from dealing with certain social problems to others in the years before and during Pastor Heidi’s time at Transfiguration, namely 1984 through 2003.
You may know that I have been trying to bike more and drive less. Because my biking is primarily for the purpose of transportation, I have slowly been figuring out the best routes to get to the places I normally go.
Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha. When he becomes ill, his sisters send for Jesus, but Jesus delays his trip to Bethany for the express purpose of revealing God’s glory. Before Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus dies. Mary and Martha are angry with Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” they say. But Jesus declares, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Clearly, Jesus plans to raise Lazarus from the dead.
He waits until there can be no mistake, waits until Lazarus has been dead four days, waits so that no one can erroneously claim Jesus’ actions are merely a healing. Jesus makes sure that everyone sees Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead by the power of God.
I’m going to start by telling you something that might be shocking. I dislike how many Christians do evangelism.
At its Greek root, the word evangelism simply denotes the practice of sharing the gospel. While that practice is certainly something we want to do, we want to share the gospel, the details about how we share the gospel are important, at least to me.
Just as people of other religions do, many Christians believe that we have a corner on the market of truth. Right?
By the power of God, the Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt, successfully crossed the Red Sea, fled from the Egyptian army, and found refuge in the wilderness and even manna each morning laying on the ground like dew to feed them. They didn’t know it at the time, but they would wander in the wilderness for forty years while they searched for the promised land. They would soon receive the Ten Commandments and a host of other laws.
In the meantime, the people were thirsty. The wilderness into which they had been spewed was much like our own desert landscape here in Arizona: dry, harsh, prickly, sandy, home to a plethora of insects and reptiles.
When I was 15 years old and getting confirmed, I wrote in my required confirmation essay that I would never be a leader in organized religion because I didn’t believe organized religion was necessary for the world.
Six years later, I was sitting in worship at the home congregation of my college roommate, and I just suddenly knew that I would be a pastor. My view on the subject hadn’t changed, to be clear. I didn’t want to be a pastor; I just knew that I would. It was like the decision was taken completely out of my hands.
Oscar Romero was a Roman Catholic priest turned bishop and then archbishop of El Salvador from 1977 until 1980 when he was assassinated by para-military personnel inside a church in the middle of a worship service he was leading.
During those three years, he used the pulpit and his regular weekly radio address to call out corruption among El Salvador’s leaders and the repression of the Salvadoran people. There were many things to fear in El Salvador in the late 1970s: disappearances, torture, rape, murder, the low-level threat of military occupation of city streets. In this context, on November 13, 1977, preaching on the very same biblical passage we read today, Archbishop Romero echoed Jesus’ words. He said: I tell you, brothers and sisters, let us not be frightened.
To be a reformer of the church is risky. Today, we remember and celebrate the work of Martin Luther, a reformer of the church, who lived in early sixteenth century Germany, the reformer whose name our own Lutheran church bears. Where Wycliffe and Huss and Tyndale were silenced, either through the successful banning of their books or their execution, Luther’s voice somehow managed to be heard.