Sermon on Luke 15 for Sept. 16
2007-09-14 by David von Schlichten

The sermon is significantly different from the sermon outline I posted yesterday. Scroll down to read the outline.

          The Good Lord is Trying to Tell Us Something

(word count: 865)

text: Luke 15:1-10

main point: Our calling is to focus on, not wrath, but compassionate love, a calling that has stunning implications for how we respond to outcasts and how we regard ourselves.

Have you noticed how we Christians tend to call God “the Good Lord” immediately before we talk about God doing something wrathful? When a disaster happens, such as a hurricane, we often say, “The Good Lord is trying to tell us something.” What we mean is, “God is mad at us, and we better shape up before he destroys us.”

I never hear anyone say, “The Good Lord is trying to tell us something” and then follow that statement with good news instead of bad. Have you? What if we said that? “The Good Lord is trying to tell us, not bad news always, but primarily the Good News.”

Luke 15:1-10 tells us the Good News. Jesus is talking to religious leaders. They have been grumbling about him spending time with the wrong crowd, with outcasts, lowlifes. In response, Jesus says, “When a shepherd loses a sheep, he leaves behind the others to look for the lost one. When the shepherd finds him, he is thrilled. When a woman loses one of her valuable coins that can help support her family, she sweeps the house until she finds it. Then she cheers for joy. 'Woo-hoo!' That's how God and the angels are when someone repents.”

In other words, Jesus teaches us that the Good Lord offers us mercy. Why is Jesus associating with the lowlifes of society? Because God, in his mercy, seeks the lost to save them.

Further, the implication is that we are to do likewise. We the Pharisees and scribes, the religious insiders, the ones who come to church, are to seek and help the wayward, the lost, the alleged lowlifes, the outcasts, and then we are to be thrilled when they return to God.

The Good Lord is trying to tell us something, and it is the Good News. God is merciful. God has a wrathful side, but his dominant hand, his “righting” hand, is his merciful hand, the hand reaching out with healing love to all, including people we think deserve wrath.

Indeed, the whole point of the cross and the empty tomb is merciful love. John 3:17 declares that Christ came, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The religious leaders in Luke 15 are judgmental against the outcasts, but the Good Lord is trying to tell them, “Seek the lost, and rejoice when they are found.”

What if we lived that way, responding to the people we label as outcasts by seeking them and being joyful when they are found? Do you keep your eyes open for opportunities to seek outcasts and maybe help them return to God?

“But Pastor, if I spend time with outcasts, don't I run the risk of their wickedness rubbing off on me?” That is a risk, but the Holy Spirit helps us through Scripture, sacrament, the Church and other ways to keep us on track. When we do stray, we ask God for forgiveness, and it is accomplished.

It is indeed risky reaching to outcasts, trying to help them. They may try to take advantage of us or hurt us. They may try to con us. “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” Jesus says. We are to be cautious and smart, but we are still to reach to the outcasts to try to bring them back.

If we spend time with outcasts, are we somehow excusing their bad behavior? No, the whole point of being with them is to help them shuffle off their immoral coil, to help them walk or run back to God.

Whom do you consider an outcast? Drug addicts? People who abuse the welfare system? Sex-offenders? How can you reach to them? Not everyone will be receptive to the Good News. Not everyone will want our help. Even so, Jesus calls us to be open to helping the outcast. How to do that would be worth praying over and discussing here at St. James.

Someone calls the church asking for money. If we give her some, she might spend it on drugs. Instead, we can give her a food voucher or pay a past-due bill for her. We can also pray with her, and we can follow up with a note or card, an invitation to worship. Nothing pushy. Just reaching to the outcast, stretching ourselves, not being Pharisees, but seeking the lost.

Seek the lost, just as Jesus has sought us and rejoiced over our return. For we are not so different from the official outcasts of society. Each of us is an outcast; the difference is one of degree or labeling. Everyone sins, including you and me. When it comes to the Kingdom of God, all of us have made ourselves into outcasts, but the Good Lord is trying to tell us something. The Good Lord is trying to tell us that he is quick to forgive us and kill the fatted calf for us. The Good Lord is running toward us with tears in his eyes and arms outstretched. Can you hear him? He is shouting, “Welcome home! Now seek the outcast, just as I have sought you.”

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, poedifier





Sermon Outline on Luke 15:1-10 (and 1 Timothy) (Sept 16)
2007-09-13 by David von Schlichten

Man, this outline came hard. I need a nap. 

Frankly, there were so many good ideas in Lectionary Homiletics and at this site that I had difficulty focusing on a topic or text.

At my Wednesday Bible study, a point that one of my parishioners brought up was, “If we are not to associate with bad people, then how are we to welcome outcasts and eat with sinners?” That was the second time in three days that I had heard, in substance, that question, so I feel called to address it in the sermon.

Still, I struggled with finding a main point of focus. I returned to Holly Hearon's blog (scroll down to read blog). I was struck anew by her statement that, in the Gospel reading, we are asked to identify, not so much with the lost, but with God. That seems to be main point-material.

Thank be to the Holy Spirit, here's a start:

The Good Lord Is Trying to Tell Us Something

text: Luke 15:1-10 (and 1 Timothy)

main point: Our calling is to focus on, not wrath, but compassionate love, a calling that has stunning implications for how we respond to outcasts. At the same time, this calling directs us to see that God shows us compassion, too, just as he did with Paul.

I. When you hear the word “God,” what do you think of?

A. Many of us will say “Love and mercy,” but we often fixate on rules, wrath, scolding, and judgment instead of love and mercy

B. “Sure, Jesus died for me and loves me, and now I better get my act together, so he doesn't send me to hell.”

C. “Of course Jesus loves my enemies, but they better shape up, or he's going to get them!”

D. Act of God = natural disaster (why not beautiful weather?)

E. When something bad happens, people often say, “The Good Lord is trying to tell us something,” which means that God's mad, and we better shape up (How come the Good Lord is never trying to tell us something joyful? Ah, but he is.)

II. Luke 15:1-10 presents a view of God that runs opposite to words of judgment

A. There is a wrathful side to God, but Luke 15 stresses mercy to the judgmental religious leaders Jesus is talking to

B. In explaining why he eats with sinners, Jesus tells stories about searching for the lost and being jubilant over finding them; God is the same with sinners who repent

C. Implication: We are to be likewise; seeking the lost, jubilant over their return

D. This message of joyful forgiveness dominates Christ's ministry and Scripture in general

E. The whole point of the cross and the empty tomb is joyful forgiveness

III. What if we lived this way, responding to the people we label as outcasts by seeking them out and being joyful over their return?

A. But won't I become one of them if I associate with them? Not if you stay focused on the Gospel

B. Will they hurt me? There is risk in reaching to outcasts

C. Is seeking them out condoning their behavior? No, it's caring for them

D. Some people you just can't talk to; true, but let's not be too quick to give up; remember Paul in 1 Timothy; he was a terrible sinner, but he was far from hopelesss

IV. As we do all this, we remember that God has sought and saved us, too, and is joyful over our return; each time we fail, God will seek us and throw a party upon finding us

Something like that. Open to the Spirit, I'll keep working right after my nap, ever

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, poedifier





Response
2007-09-13 by Rick Brand

Listening to all this good material, a conclusion which seems to be forming for me is that all of them talk about what God is doing and the texts really don't worry too much about what we humans do. God is the actor, and our place is to receive, rejoice and share.   But I guess that would make it too easy.



Response to Hearon and Highlights of This Week's Articles in "Lectionary Homiletics"
2007-09-12 by David von Schlichten

In her blog entry and response to a reader's question, Holly Hearon shows how a preacher can smoothly integrate the readings. She emphasizes the contrast between the judgment-oriented passage of Jeremiah and the grace-oriented passage of Luke and suggests that 1 Timothy works especially well with the latter and that the Jeremiah and Luke passages can work as two sides of the same coin (what some of us call the law-gospel dialectic). 

Hearon also provides helpful information regarding the Gospel, including background on the silver coins. See below for Hearon's blog entry.

(Also, see the "Free Samples" section (under samples for the coming Sunday) for an article by R. Alan Culpepper. The article is about Luke 15:1-10.)

Hearon's highlighting of grace works well with what I have lifted up from this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics:

“Exegesis”

Brian K. Peterson writes that, like the sheep and the coin, Paul in 1 Timothy is the lost who has been found and that the gospel does not merely save us but also transforms our lives, according to 1 Timothy.

“Theological Themes”

Roger J. Gench, whose congregation is in Washington, D.C., writes of General David Petraeus, war, and the current civil war between liberals and conservatives in the United States, including in the Church. Gench explains that, in his manual on how to deal with insurgency warfare, Petraeus advises at one point, in a nutshell, “Don't shoot, take risks, and get involved” (p.58; the quote is Gench's summation of a Petraeus quote). Gench suggests that conservatives and liberals should heed this counsel to stop shooting, take risks, and get involved in relationships with one another.

1 Timothy says that Christ came into the world to save sinners. Just as Christ stopped shooting, took risks and got involved for our salvation, we are to do likewise. Such instruction may sound naïve, but, Gench says, a little “second naivete” may be in order, “second naivete” being a term from Paul Riceour that means to have faith in our mysterious God, despite our knowledge that could produce doubt.

There is much more in Gench's article, including intelligent writing about both Riceour and Martin Luther King, Jr. The essay is first-rate.

“Pastoral Implications”

Along similar lines, John C. Carr writes that defensiveness and aggressive counterattacks tend to be deleterious reactions to hostility. What if, instead, following 1 Timothy, we Christians responded with greater love and less defensiveness when people attack our religion or even our nation? Respectfully and sensitively, Carr wonders what would have happened if Western nations had responded in such a manner to 9/11?

“Scripture and Screen”

Dan R. Dick writes about the TV show “Heroes.” Heroes have a super-power. For us Christians, "our salvation is our super-power" (p.61).

“Preaching the Lesson”

David J. Schlafer, in an exceptionally well-written essay, unpacks the word “confession,” pointing out the different ways people may construe this word. In 1 Timothy, Paul's confession is neither “self-justification nor self-condemnation” (p.62). He states what he has done and then says that he has been saved by God. Schlafer writes, “The author is clear: God does not value people because they are worthwhile; people are worthwhile because God values them” (62).

“A Sermon”

In his sermon, “Attitude Up or Attitude Down?,” D. William McIvor proclaims with notable clarity that we humans tend to live in an attitude-down world but that God calls us to be an attitude-up people. In other words, we tend to be judgmental, but God calls us to be, not judgmental, but merciful.

Thank you to Dr. Hearon and everyone for such graceful work.

Willing to be a bit naive, I am

Yours in Christ,

 David von Schlichten, poedifier





Question on 1 Timothy 1:12-17
2007-09-11 by Holly Hearon

Dr Hearon

Thanks for your thoughts on Jeremiah and Luke on GoodPreacher.

I am preaching on 1 Timothy 1:12-17.

Could you share some thoughts on 1 Timothy and how that text might be preached with either Jeremiah text or Luke text?

Thanks!

The 1 Timothy text picks up on the theme of God's grace towards sinners (1:15). In dialogue with Jeremiah it could explore the need to recognize not only our personal sin but ways in which we are culpable in terms of systemic evil ("The only thing evil needs to flourish is for good people to do nothing"). In terms of Luke, the 1 Timothy text could be woven into the invitation by the parables to view others through the eyes of God. Where do we seat ourselves? Among the pure or among the sinners? There is a tension in the Christian life between striving to do what is good and right, while maintaining an appropriate humility that acknowledges our potential for failure and our ongoing need for mercy - from God and towards one another.

(Holly Hearon is Associate Professor of New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary.)

 





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