Archive for the ‘31st Sunday’ Category

Good Religion or Bad Religion! 11-5-2017

Monday, November 6th, 2017

What is the difference between good religion and bad religion.
That is the theme with which we are dealing today.
It should be noted that the primary difference between good
religion and bad does not lie in the realm of theological ideas. Jesus did
not denounce the scribes and Pharisees for what might be called
“doctrinal heresy”. In fact he almost seemed to approve of them at that
point. He told his disciples to “do everything and observe everything
they tell you”. But then he added, “Do not follow their example.” In
other words he approved of their religious theory but disapproved of
their religious practice. He did not like what their religion had done to
their character.
Jesus knew that in matters of religion it is possible to be doctrinally
correct and, at the same time, to be morally and ethically corrupt.
These people had so misused their religion as to make themselves
arrogant snobs. They were firmly convinced that they were just a little
bit better than the average run of people. And that, my friends, is one
sure sign of a religion gone bad.
Good religion always engenders humility. Bad religion engenders
arrogance. Whenever you and I begin to think that we are a little bit
better than some other person or some other group, we can mark it down
at that very point, our religion has started to go bad.
It works something like this: Since I am right and you are wrong,
and since I am better than you are, then God must surely be on my side
against you. This means that I have a divinely mandated responsibility
to get you straightened out. This gives me the right to impose my will
upon you. If I cannot change your mind then I must control your actions
so that you cannot corrupt the rest of society.
This is the attitude that brought about the crucifixion of Christ.
This is the attitude that created and sustained the institution of slavery.
This is the attitude that inspired and energized the Nazi regime in
Germany. This is the attitude that underlies all racial discrimination and
religious persecution. There is no more damnable attitude on the face of
the earth than the tragic notion that Gods is on my side against you.
Let me illustrate the attitude by citing two events of recent history
and a comment that was made concerning them. Some of us remember
the tragedy when a Korean passenger plane was shot down by a Soviet
jet fighter, killing two hundred sixty-nine people. The other event was
less publicized. It happened a few months later in that same region.
There was an accidental explosion on a Soviet military base that killed
approximately three hundred of their military personnel. A short time
later a nationally known television evangelist (Jerry Falwall) reminded
his listeners of both events and then gave his interpretation of them. He
pointed out that the second tragedy is shrouded in mystery. And no one
knows for sure what happened. But he insisted that he knew. His exact
words were these: “God struck the match.” In other words, God caused
the explosion. He was punishing them for what they had done to us.
The evangelist was saying that same old thing – God is on our side
against them. And I could not disagree more.
I am saying, my friends, that God is not on our side against
anybody. Our role in this world is not to conquer and control. It is to
save. Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be the one who serves
the rest.” That is good religion. And if we ever forget it, our religion
has started to go bad.
I close by quoting Mother Teresa. More than any person, she knew
what good religion is. She says: “Each person’s mission is a mission of
love. Begin in the place where you are, with the people closest to you.
Make your homes centers of compassion and forgive endlessly. Let no
one ever come to you without coming away better and happier…
“At the hour of death when we come face-to-face with God, we are
going to be judged on love; not how much we have done, but how much
love we put into doing”
Now that’s good religion!

Jesus came to See and to Save those who were Lost 10-30-2016

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

The first Sunday after All Saints Day we have saints fresh on our minds. Today the Gospel lesson tells the story of one such saint. He is curiously and obviously flawed. In fact, his sins and failures are so plain that his acceptance by God is somewhat a scandal. But in the end he becomes an example of Gods gracious work. And his inclusion in the circle of God gives ordinary people like us great hope. His name is Zacchaeus.
His is the story of a little, lonely, sinful man who has an encounter with Jesus while Zacchaeus was hiding in a tree. Quite a ridiculous place for a grown man, don’t you think? But that encounter with Jesus changed his life in a very big way. What lessons can this curious story teach us today?
FIRST, IF ZACCHAEUS CAN BE A SAINT, ANYONE CAN. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Even worse, he was a chief tax collector. Do not think IRS here, think Mafia or drug dealer. In the world of the New Testament, tax collectors were local Jews who purchased their tax collection job from the Romans, and then collected the hated taxes for the hated Romans from their neighbors, plus whatever extra they could squeeze on top for themselves. Tax collectors had to be greedy enough to sell their own soul for a shekel, and be willing to turn against their own family and friends to turn a profit.
As you might imagine, tax collectors were invariably wealthy, and invariably friendless. They were outcast from the Jewish synagogue, and every other gathering of Jews in town. So despised were tax collectors in the first century, that the phrases “tax collector” and “sinner” were considered synonymous. And yet Jesus sought out Zacchaeus. Like a hunted animal hiding in a tree, Zacchaeus found himself trapped in the scope of grace. And when Jesus offered a kind word of acceptance instead of a fire and brimstone sermon, Zacchaeus fell from the tree with wide-eyed amazement. How long had it been since someone from the “good side of town” wanted to eat with Zacchaeus?
The point for us is plain; Jesus has come to seek and to save those who are lost. Even before sinners are seeking God, God is seeking them. And sinners do not have to clean up their act before God will love them; rather it is Gods love offered first that causes a sinner to want to clean up his or her act. Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. That is the hope that keeps us all humble, and gives each of us the chance we do not deserve to be acceptable by God.
SECOND, GOD USES THE LIVES OF SAINTS TO SHOW THE WORLD GLIMPSES OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. What makes Zacchaeus a saint if it is not his moral purity or good deeds? It is the way God uses his story to instruct us all in the way of the gospel. Zacchaeus gives us all hope, precisely because he is so unworthy. And this story reminds the Church of our mission to embody the gracious initiative of Gods welcome.
Does it bother you that the sinners who were so drawn to Jesus in the New Testament are often so uncomfortable today in His Church? God does not only use lives that are pure and clean, like unbroken shiny glass windows. Sure the light of Gospel can shine through such clear lives, and thanks be to God for moral and godly people today like that. But God can also use broken, stained lives. Like odd shaped pieces of broken and stained glass, God can assemble these into a beautiful picture of the gospel too. The Church is a mosaic of stained glass lives, assembled in a way that only God could conceive. Stained glass can tell the story of the gospel too, can it not? Thanks be to God!
Zacchaeus was a new man after the meal with Jesus. He lost his Midas touch, gave away half of his money to the poor, and paid back every person he had cheated (which was the entire town!) four fold. He gave away his wealth, but gained a community of faith and friendship. And what is more, he foreshadowed the cross that would come only one week later for Jesus, when he would be again in the presence of thieves up a tree. And again, with his last breath, Jesus would be welcoming every crook who would accept a chance to sit at the banquet table of Paradise. Why? Because he had come to seek and to save those who were lost. People like you and me. People who call ourselves Church. If nothing else Church and Church people like Zacchaeus must be about seeking and welcoming those who are lost.
I close by asking that when you approach the table of the Lord today, think about that. Come humbly. Come gratefully and leave walking a bit taller than before.