Brueggemann, Solomon, and Jesus

Walter Brueggemann enjoys pairing an Old Testament text with a New Testament text during a sermon. And I enjoy when he does it. That is what he did this week at the Festival of Homiletics. Brueggemann paired I Kings 4.20-28; 9.15-19 and Luke 12.13-31 and talked about “Meat, Anxiety and Injustice.”

After reading the I Kings 4 text he emphasizes the large amount of goods Solomon has access to. It is a fact that Solomon has plenty. When we read the text we see that is an understatement. Solomon has an overabundance. Brueggemann calls Solomon the great carnivore.

“Solomon’s daily provisions were thirty cors of the finest flour and sixty cors of meal,  ten head of stall-fed cattle, twenty of pasture-fed cattle and a hundred sheep and goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice fowl… Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses, and twelve thousand horses… The district governors, each in his month, supplied provisions for King Solomon and all who came to the king’s table. They saw to it that nothing was lacking. They also brought to the proper place their quotas of barley and straw for the chariot horses and the other horses.”

Yet, he did not have enough to satisfy. When we arrive at I Kings 9 King Solomon continues to accumulate more. After reading the gospel text, he highlights Jesus’s words about greed. Jesus gives an imperative (Luke 12.15), this is followed by a story (Luke 12.16ff.). Brueggemann adds this is a story that might be reminiscent of Solomon. It is foolish to think more is better. It is foolish to think more will keep one safe. It is foolish to tear down barns and build bigger barns in order to accumulate more.

Brueggemann goes on to say that more is an illusion. The “more system” intends to keep us busy wanting more. Not even the great King Solomon could accumulate enough. Desiring more only enslaves us to a regime of anxiety.

In a statement of contrast, the gospel tells us the creatures know better. They know hibernation and migration. They do not sow or reap, “they have no storeroom or barn, and yet God feeds them.” People are the only ones who do not seem to know. People are the only ones who think more is better. All this creates is anxiety and all this anxiety does not add even a nanosecond to our lives.

Brueggemann, who loves to discuss justice, then adds “when anxious and greedy, we are unable to do justice.”

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A Good Friday Sermon

Luke 23.39-43

It’s Good Friday. We can’t help but think of the cross. Maybe we need Good Friday to help us reflect on and understand what happened there at the place called skull. I fear sometimes we start thinking of the cross as religious furniture or inspirational jewelry. But today we are reminded that what happened to Jesus was an execution.

And we have the unusual opportunity to eavesdrop on the words being said there. What kind of words do we expect to hear at an execution? We listen but we are not data collectors. We listen because we are learning how to follow. And we hear words like this “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

There is a lack of reverence in the text. We can be certain the scene was loud. It is full of the sounds of violence. Soldiers were shouting. Hammers were pounding. Gamblers were gambling. Mocking voices from the crowd. Screams of despair.

Luke wants us to know some of the words that were said. And they are interesting. Rulers were saying, “let him save himself.” Soldiers were saying “save yourself.” A criminal from the cross is saying “save yourself and us.” Three times we are told that people hostile to Jesus are telling him to “save yourself.” Jesus does not reply.

And then, Luke gives us a brief conversation. The other criminal replies to the first one “Do you not even fear God?” And he speaks to Jesus “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This time Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Most of us are in favor of being saved. We are in favor of being rescued. In fact we have been raised on stories about being saved. We have all heard stories about a brave knight in shining armor who rides fearlessly into a scene where a fair maiden is trapped and held against her wishes by a fire breathing dragon. We know how this goes. This gallant knight saves the maiden. That is unless my daughters are telling the story. In their version of the story the knight messes everything up and the maiden has to bust them both out.

The Gospel of Luke is full of people who are in need of saving. Luke is, after all, the gospel that tells us Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost.” In Luke we find stories about lost sheep, lost coins, and lost sons. And in the end they are all found, or if you will, they are saved.

Luke brings all sorts of unlikely people into the story. Shepherds, soldiers, tax collectors, women who live unclean lives, lepers and other unclean people, Samaritans, Levi, Zaccheus, two criminals hanging on the cross, even Peter in the gospel says “I am a sinful man.”

Luke wants us to know, all of these are welcome in the kingdom. People keep entering the story and Jesus keeps saving people. Wherever they come from, whatever they have done, he simply continues to do what he claimed he came to do. He is seeking and saving the lost. And for this, he was crucified.

And we start to realize something. Jesus is not crucified for saving people as much as for saving the wrong people. Even at his own execution, he is hanging out with the same kind of people he has been hanging out with for his entire ministry. And he is still welcoming undeserving people into the kingdom.

“Today you will be with me in paradise.” This word from the cross tells us something about grace. This word is exactly the kind of thing Jesus is executed for. This criminal does not deserve saving. But not even a cross can stop Jesus from seeking and saving the lost.

This word reminds us that following Jesus takes us beyond the borders of the present world. This word takes us beyond what we deserve.

All the way through the gospel, all the way to the cross, people complained about who Jesus spent time with. Now at the place called skull, the one who eats and drinks with sinners also dies with them and for them. Jesus is crucified because he would not stop saving the wrong people. He never stops welcoming unlikely, undeserving people into the kingdom.

It is one thing to talk about Jesus welcoming unlikely and underserving people into the kingdom. It is one thing to listen as Jesus speaks these words from the cross. After all, this is the kind of thing we have come to expect from Jesus. It is far more challenging to actually be inviting, welcoming and loving. We all know people who simply do not deserve it. We know some who have been places and done things that are difficult to look past. We are know people who are really hard to talk to. People who vote for the wrong candidates (what are they thinking)? People who cheer for the wrong team. People who listen to the wrong music. The fact is, some simply do not deserve the same saving we do. The idea of spending eternity with some people does not sound like heaven at all.

This is not easy stuff, this welcoming others into the kingdom. Yet, the fact remains, we are not the managers of the guest list – we are the welcome committee.

We do not know what else these criminals and Jesus may have said to one another while on the cross. If they said anything else, Luke did not think it was necessary to record it. Yet the conversation continues. And you and I are part of it. Each of us are asking Jesus to do what we would like him to do or we are trusting that he knows what he is talking about. We are all either asking for or receiving something we do not deserve. That is worth repeating.  We are all either asking for or receiving something we do not deserve.

Today we listen to these words from the cross. We need Good Friday to help us reflect on and understand what happened. We listen but we are not data collectors. We listen because we want to learn how to follow. But what happens on the cross makes following Jesus very hard. We hear words like this and we are reminded how Jesus kept welcoming unlikely and undeserving people into the kingdom. We are reminded how he kept saving the wrong people. But it is not enough to be reminded. As followers we are expected to be welcoming and inviting and loving as well – but beware – one has already been crucified for this kind of behavior.

Advent Surprise

(A Written Sermon, Luke 2.8-20)

One thing that stands out in this text is the element of surprise. The shepherds were in the fields shepherding. They were not waiting for angels to show. This is not like Linus’s pumpkin patch where he goes out on purpose to sit and wait for a visit from the Great Pumpkin. These shepherds were here to look after sheep. They were here working in fields they had worked before without supernatural visitors. They are expecting nothing different on this night. But then, surprise… a visitor from heaven. And then, astonishing news. And then a crowd of visitors from heaven. Yes, of the many things that are going on this night and in this text… surprise is certainly one of them.

And then (and we do not want to minimize this) they went looking for Jesus. They could have questioned whether they were getting enough rest. They could have questioned what was in that bottle they had been drinking. They could have questioned whether they should have eaten that second helping of whatever that was. But the shepherds went looking for a Saviour. They went looking for Christ the Lord. They went looking for Jesus.

The text is straightforward about this “when the angels had left them and had gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.”

Luke does not record that anyone else went looking. In fact, the gospels seem to go out of their way to suggest that people were just not that interested. It is recorded that “all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” But we do not know if any of them went to find out for themselves. Surely the star was seen by others, yet we are only told the magi followed it. The scholars in the king’s palace were able to tell exactly where to find the child king, yet do not make an effort to find him. But Luke wants us to know the shepherds went looking for Jesus.

The text says “they hurried off and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby.” The text presents the shepherds as eager explorers, seeking, working their way through fields and wilderness to make sense of what they have heard. They are intent about finding Jesus. The shepherds become ideal characters to talk about during Advent. We are all trying to make sense of this news, the news that Jesus is born to save the world. Advent calls for each of us to be seeking Jesus.

Yet it is so easy to become distracted during Advent. After all, there are only so many shopping days until Christmas. It becomes easier to look for a good deal, to look for free shipping, it becomes easier to look for what to serve or what to wear. The shepherds, these characters in the Advent of Jesus, remind us that what is important is to find Jesus. In fact they hurry, they have an urgency to find out if this news could be true.

The shepherds seem so noble, almost dignified. We have romanticized their part of the story. They are such an important part of the story that we forget, shepherds are people on the fringe. It is possible no one would have noticed if they went missing. Still these are the folks God chose to tell first about this good news.

My friend Layne has brought to my attention a connection with women we find later in the gospel. Women, like shepherds,would not have been first century decision makers, powerless in society. Yet women were the first people God chose to tell about resurrection. It is interesting how intentional God is about telling shepherds in the fields and women at the tomb, he sends angels to make sure that these particular people receive this particular message.

These people may not have had much power, much influence on the surface, certainly not in earthly kingdoms. But in God’s kingdom they receive special invitations. No one would have been bragging about the idea that God spoke to shepherds first about Christmas or to women first about Easter. Yet that is what we discover in the gospel about the way that God works.

We started by noting the element of surprise in the story. There is the surprise that a child was born in a stable and laid in a manger and will be the Savior of the world. And the surprise that this news was delivered to shepherds who were watching flocks in fields at night. And the surprise that comes with the implications this news has for us. Yes, this text reminds us Christmas is full of surprises – because God is full of surprises.

Enough Gospel to Go Around

Later this month I will have the opportunity to be in conversation with preachers about preaching (and am looking forward to it). Our texts will be the four gospels. While Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell the same story, they are each interested in different aspects of discipleship. Here is an introduction to one emphasis of our conversation.

Luke’s Gospel wants us to be sure to know there is enough gospel to go around. There are no quotas or limits. We do not have to budget gospel or worry that it will run out. In the gospel, Jesus is throwing good news around as if there is an endless supply. One of the questions Luke seems to ask is “How are things different now that Jesus has arrived?” and Luke’s Gospel seems to answer that question with “Let me tell you…”

Early in the Gospel Jesus preaches a sermon. (It is not well received. Perhaps it is good for us to discover here that not all sermons are well received. Perhaps we should evaluate our definition of success). In this sermon Jesus tells us how things are now different. There will be good news and freedom and recovery of sight and favor. The recipients include the poor and prisoners and blind and oppressed. We are supposed to catch on to the notion that there is enough gospel to go around. And this is only the beginning. Luke will give us multiple pictures of what that looks like.

Preaching as Lullaby

It is true that we do not know the songs Mary may have sung to Jesus and his brothers to help them sleep at night. But thanks to Luke we do know at least one song she sang during pregnancy. It is difficult to believe she would have only sung this one time. It was a song about scattering the proud and bringing down rulers. It was a song about lifting the humble and filling the hungry. Should we be surprised if her lullabies may have been a little political as well?

There is much to be made about tone, volume, and affect during communication. But the content of our communication is equally important. We might think of Mary as if she is a meek and mild Madonna who would sing only calming lullabies. Yet the content of her song has the language of a revolution. It may not have played on pop radio, but others likely sang similar songs if not this very same one. No wonder Herod the Great was so nervous. I suspect Luke would expect us to be as revolutionary in our preaching. I don’t know if the powers that be are nervous when we preach, but perhaps they should be.

“Father, Into Your Hands…” – A Sermon Starter

As with other words from Jesus, we are able to talk more intelligently about this text when we are attentive to the episode surrounding the text (context). For example, a natural tension arises in this scene as it appears Jesus has his life taken from him. Jewish leaders have been convincing that this man needs to die. Roman executioners appear to be in charge of his fate. Yet, Jesus is not swayed by this alliance of power. Instead his words suggest ongoing confidence in the Father. On account of this confidence, Jesus gives his life on his own terms.

Luke has already told us what Jesus has said about the hostile world and what he has said to the undeserving criminal. Now Jesus is giving his very spirit into the hands of the Father. Each of these statements reveal a consistency in the worldview of Jesus. When preaching, we can communicate this by reaching back into the gospel to highlight his tendencies to forgive, to invite the undeserving into the kingdom, and his own dependence on the Father.

Again, we do not want to ignore surrounding events. We want to remember the sun is darkened for three hours, the temple veil is torn in two, the centurion praises God and declares the innocence of Jesus, and a member of the council is waiting for the kingdom of God. Perhaps Luke wants to be sure we recognize that Jesus knew what he was doing when he put total trust in the Father.

The challenge for preaching these texts remains “What will we do with this information?” This short look proposes that in response to the hostile world – Jesus is forgiving. In response to the undeserving sinner – Jesus is welcoming. And in response to the Father – Jesus is self-giving. This at least provides a starting point for preaching these “last words” of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke.

“Today You Will Be With Me” – A Sermon Starter

The second statement from the cross may prompt us to explore the type of people we find Jesus hanging around with in the Gospel. More specifically, we might be interested in the types of people Jesus invites into the kingdom. There is a substantial list of people who are welcomed by Jesus that may prompt a series of questions. Does everyone receive this invitation the same? Are others always in agreement with those Jesus chooses to invite? What tensions enter the narrative due to Jesus and his care free invitations? Is there any significance of this criminal being with Jesus?

Luke includes multiple people who may appear unlikely to be welcomed into the kingdom. Perhaps it would be valuable to examine any number of them on the way to our text where Jesus speaks with this criminal at this place called skull. These words are spoken in the context of a conversation between three men who are being executed, one of them Jesus. It is of interest that Jesus not only spent his life with such people, but also his death. He dies with them and for them. Jesus is crucified because of conversations like this one. Yet he does not stop, not even now, not even from the cross.

We do not know what else, if anything, these three on the cross may have said to one another. If there was anything else, Luke did not think it necessary to report it. Yet this conversation continues. Every one of us continues to ask for or to receive what we do not deserve. We are either asking Jesus to do things the way we want them done “Save us and yourself” or we are believing he knows what he is doing “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Again, we are not accumulating information for the sake of information. When working toward application, we ask ourselves “what are we to do with this information?” It is not enough to know that Jesus welcomed unlikely people into his kingdom. We are also expected to be inviting as well. But be aware, one has already been crucified for this kind of behavior.