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Cracked Pots & Kingdom Currency

An elder monk had two large pots, each hung on the end of a pole which he carried across his neck. Each day he traveled to a stream to retrieve water for the abbey. One pot delivered a full portion of water but the other was cracked and arrived bearing only half. Observing this a young monk asked; “why don’t you fix that pot? It’s cracked and not very useful. If you repair it, it would be good again.”

The elder monk smiled and asked the younger brother to accompany him to the stream. The elder monk said nothing as they walked and the younger noticed the beautiful flowers along one side of the path. This made him smile because they reminded him of the fresh flowers that adorn the tables in the dining room. Arriving at the stream, the elder asked; “Did you notice the flowers? When the pot became cracked, I planted flower seeds on that side. Every day while walking back from the stream, they are watered and each day I pick them to decorate our tables.”

Sometimes in life things we deem not very good can be used to do something great.

Here’s what’s happening…

Jesus is in the midst of telling 5 parables, this is number 4. We spoke about two of them last week and number 3 is the “the prodigal son” parable.

Similar to the way the lost son gave no good account of his inheritance so too the bad manager with his master’s wealth. The Greek says the both the prodigal son and the shrewd manager, literally “scattered in all directions” the wealth. In other words they thew it away.

This parable is only found in Luke’s gospel. Jesus is teaching and Luke tells us in 16v13-14 the religious leaders are listening in.

Hard to manage…

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.

The two main characters in Jesus’ tale are “a certain rich man” and his house manager.

In the first century world, the “rich man” was probably Greek or Roman and lived in luxury in Jerusalem.  His steward would likely have been a slave or freedman. The steward had access to his master’s wealth, and took care of the owner’s various properties supplying the homes and properties with what they needed

Word comes to the ears of the rich man his manager had been less than forthright in his dealings. He’s lining his pockets with the master’s money. Upon hearing this the manager is called on the carpet. He is so busted! The owner says “you’re fired and you owe me the money you stole!”

Obviously the manager hasn’t been saving it because the Greek reads he “scattered it in all directions”! Its gone. What’s he to do? Not being able to pay your debts was, and still is, a big deal. If he can’t come up with the dough the authorities will come up with a nice long prison sentence. It’s too much money to earn doing manual labor and he’s too old to do the back breaking work. He refuses to suffer the humiliation of asking relatives, friends, for the funds.

He’s in trouble. No money, no job, definitely no references and words going to get around that he’s a thief. The embarrassment, the shame of his dismissal and the truth of him being a crook are almost more than he can bear. He needs a plan…quick! Life as he knows it is slipping away.

Sneaky…

4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;

The light bulb comes on. He’s got an idea. The dishonest house manager, instead of coming clean, is going to save himself by doing what he’s good at, being dishonest. Remember, there’s no Facebook, instant messaging or even telephones. It takes a while for word to get around. Instead of waiting for the rumor of his firing to reach the client’s ears he visits them on his way back from his master’s house to collect his things. He powers on his laptop, pulls up the accounts on his quick-books software and starts cold calling folks who are in debt to his ex-master. He then makes them an offer they can’t refuse. He tells them the “generous master” is offering an opportunity, to make major cuts into their debts, as much as 50%! They must sign the new bill quickly before the deal expires.

By doing this he is making his master very popular and placing him in a bind.  The clients would have no way of knowing this wonderful offer wasn’t valid and the master’s reputation would be at stake if he decided to void the new deals.

In a culture where shame and honor are so very important, by the time the master finds out what the steward has done he would have no choice to but to honor the agreement. To take back his gift of discounting their bills and admitting he can’t control those under his watch was very shameful. The steward has the master between a rock and a hard place. He is much more clever, shrewd, dishonest and ruthless than the master realized. 

Interesting story but what exactly is Jesus saying?

v8…for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

We don’t often find Jesus using a dishonest person as an example to follow. Is that what he’s doing? Not really, but he is telling the disciples to be shrewd, clever, resourceful enough to use things of this world, such as money, for the kingdom’s advancement.  

Both money and power can corrupt resulting in much suffering but God can use these to make an eternal difference.

When used for selfish means money and power bring slavery, oppressions, taxes, indebtedness. Used for kingdom purposes, for others, they can bring freedom, provision and help for those in need.

Luke’s gospel is very much concerned with the plight of those who have little or no social standing, who depend upon the generosity of others to survive. In Luke 14, Jesus tells a host to invite the poor, lame, blind, those who cannot help themselves to his banquet table. In Luke 15, Jesus tells the religious leaders they have failed at their jobs because they are eating their full, clothing and taking care of themselves when those they are responsible for are hungry, naked, hurt, lost and dying.

v10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

This is not Jesus ranting against wealth. It is a warning. Whether we have a lot or little what we possess must not possess us. We must be willing to give it away. Oftentimes Jesus’ teachings on riches are for others those who have more than we do. Everyone, no matter the size of their bank account, car they drive or house they live in, have things in their life they treasure, value greatly. Could be money, might be family, even their life. If the treasures aren’t being used for God’s kingdom then the treasure is more valuable to them than God’s kingdom.

John Petty, New Testament writer states: More than any other gospel, Luke confronts the issue of money and wealth.  In Luke’s (version) of the Lord’s Prayer, … forgiveness is explicitly linked with… (monetary) debts. “…(we obtain) release us from our sins, (as we release others from what is (earthly) owed to us).”

What we hold onto reveals what has a hold on us. In Luke 6, Luke 12, and Luke 15, Jesus calls on his followers to release their earthly treasure to those in need. Whatever we value must be at God’s disposal. This is what it means to be a part of God’s kingdom.

Reflection

Psalm 113 says “I will praise the Lord! I will blessed be the name of the Lord forever. From the rising of the sun to its setting I will praise the name of the Lord. There is no one like my God, who is high above all. He raises up the lowly, lifts up the needy and gives ones who are cast out a home. He calls me a child of the Most High. Praise the Lord!” 

Water Jugs

Jesus, the Baaaaad Boy

Gospel of Saint Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

What’s happening is… 

In Luke 5v29-32, Jesus was in the house of a tax collector named Levi. Of course this displeased the rank and file of the religious leaders and they grumbled in their hearts and out loud about Jesus hanging out with sinners.  

Following Jesus’ public relations disaster in Luke 14, with the crowd was at his beck and call, Jesus doesn’t give a rousing, running out of the locker rooms ready to take on the world kind of speech, instead he says to the people “only if you hate your family, hate your life, carry a cross and get rid of everything you own can you follow me. 

In the Jewish world a father’s wishes, desires and commands always came first. He was the first and last word on any subject (dads and guys are thinking “ah, the good ol’ days!)”. To disobey a father’s instructions, to go another direction, to stray from his direction was a serious breach of family values and would be considered separation from the the family. A good Jewish father would forbid his children from following unlawful teachings and sinful instructions as espoused by Jesus. A child wanting to follow Jesus would have to go against their father’s commands. This would be tantamount to turning their back on their family, pulling away from the ones who raised them, hating their father and family. Being disowned would be the result.

Jesus laid it all on the table when he emphasized that following him, being a disciple, would be to sacrifice anything that pulled you away from the way of the Master. No doubt that some who followed Jesus left everything behind, invested their very lives, physically and socially to be his disciple.

The words of Jesus take new meaning when he says, in Luke 18v19-21; “My mother, my brothers and sisters, my family are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

This table’s open

Luke 15v1 – Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

Luke tells the reader that ALL tax collectors, sinners, law breakers and outsiders were drawing near and being drawn to Jesus. All of them! Think about that for a moment. The very people the religious establishment shunned, had been told weren’t welcome, pushed away, were flocking to Jesus. This is amazing…and condemning. It’s not that sinners dislike Jesus, they dislike a lot of those they find around him. See how that works? The religious leaders didn’t like the people hanging out with Jesus and maybe those folks felt the same way. Hmm...maybe this is why there are so many empty chairs in churches today.

Of course the pharisees, being the sticks in the mud they are, begin to grumble, mumble against Jesus being with these undesirables. They had a problem with Jesus allowing them to come to him, partaking of a meal with them, partying with them, most of all, sharing God’s message and love with them

Similar to their question, actually a complaint, in Luke 5v29-32 when they inquired; “Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?” in other words, “what do people like that have to do with God?” Jesus, gives a coherent answer to this bewildering question; “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” In other words, “those who know they need God, get God.”

Jesus had dared a host, in Luke 14, not to consider the influential, upper crust, well to do, can do something for you, folks the next time he’s sending out invitations to a party. Instead, welcome those who never get an invitation since they have nothing to offer in return, “…the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind…” Jesus practiced what he taught. It is those who have nothing to offer Jesus, and he nothing to gain, who are having their lives changed by him.

Eating with outsiders though was more than grabbing a bite at Burger King…

A Jew’s commitment to purity, their sense of what God requires of them and their fear of risking exposure to the world which caused them to shun outsiders and criticize those who engaged, more than necessary, with non-Jews. To share a meal, have table fellowship, in the ancient world meant mutual acceptance, to receive, condone, not only the person, but what they represented. For the religious leaders, Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, violated their worldview. “Why would Jesus get close to the socially objectionable, to people like tax collectors and sinners? If Jewish people were the chosen ones, why bother?” 

Jesus makes friends with the lowest of the low. Sinners, sexually impure, thieves, diseased, poor, beggars, women, and worst of all? Tax collectors! Nasty, sell outs collecting revenue for the Romans, the enemy, the oppressors of the Jewish people!

Again, Jesus needs a good relations manager because he’s not good and winning the acceptable friends and influencing the proper people!

Little BO-Peep…

Instead of telling them where to stick it, Jesus tells one of his stories;  

v3 – So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 

When we hear this story it’s a reminder that whoever is lost, wherever the are, whatever their worth, Jesus finds them and brings ’em home. However, that’s not what the religious leaders, charged with the care of God’s children, God’s flock heard…

Prophet, speak against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat-lings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.”

Whoa! This text is from Ezekiel 34:1-6 and it levels the so-called “shepherds of Israel.” Jesus is telling them “You’re not doing your job! You stink! You’re terrible! If you’re not going to do it then God will raise up someone who will! I wouldn’t have to be doing these things you find so repulsive if you understood it’s what God called you do!

What an indictment! Jesus is “strengthening the weak, healing the sick, feeding them, clothing them, binding their injuries, and bringing back the strays” because the religious leaders have forgotten it’s what their occupation requires. The sheep are wandering, lost, being killed, because they have no shepherd, their leaders have failed.

Before anyone is tempted to chime in regarding clergy, pastors, ministers, elders, deacons, boards and church leadership, Jesus calls all of his followers, every disciple, to do the things the Jewish leaders refuse to do…“strengthen the weak, heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bind the injured, and bringing back the strays.” Hmm..maybe this is why there are so many empty chairs in our churches today. Again, just a thought.

Jesus says seek, not avoid the lost. Look for, not the other way. Carry, don’t add more burden. Heaven rejoices when the dumb, dirty, disoriented, sheep is found, so why do the religious leaders condemn it for being lost? Hmm..maybe this is why there are so many empty chairs…I digress.  

Jesus says; v7 – “…there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Who are these 99 who need “no repentance?” or asked a different way “am I, are you, one of those 99 who need no repentance?” (shaking head emphatically “no”) Exactly. If you have to ask the question you aren’t one. Only those who think they need no repentance seek none. Ironically, they are the most lost of all.

Change in the couch cushion

 v8 – “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’

Here, Jesus goes, turning over the apple cart again. This time the main figure is a woman! Jesus just can’t help himself making people uncomfortable. Our heroine is turning the house inside out, tossing the couch cushions, sweeping under the fridge, looking everywhere for her valuable treasure. She looks all day, doesn’t find it, gets dark, doesn’t stop. Broom in one hand, flashlight in the other, keeps on looking. Finally, after diving into every nook and cranny she locates the coin! Immediately she posts a photo on facebook, tweets out the discovery, texts her best friends, and calls everyone in her address book. “I found the coin! I found the coin! Let me show you the money!”(Jerry McGuire imitation)

Notice a couple of things. One, family isn’t mentioned. Remember, in Luke 14, Jesus just told them to “hate” their families. Chances are there are some in the crowds who left their families when they chose to follow Jesus on the way.

Second, there’s no formal repentance from the sheep or the coin. No special prayer is mentioned. Simply lost and then found. Granted neither the sheep or the coin is capable or repentance, but to get stuck here missed the point. This isn’t about us. Jesus is giving a glimpse into the heart of the Father and the Son. A look into their earnest desire for us. It’s about God and relationship not us and our response. 

Listen to what Jesus says in verse 10,

v10 – I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

God is after us, pursuing us, chasing us. Coming to us. Receiving us. He is the seeking shepherd! We are the dumb, dirty, disoriented sheep. The clueless coin that rolls away. Why? His love, his nature, who he is, compels him to do so. Motivates him to go to staggering lengths to prove his desire to to pull you close! We just need to be willing to be found.

Reflection

Psalm 79 says “O’ Lord, do not remember our faults and let your love and compassion find us. For we are lost and lowly. Help us, O God, for only you can save us. Deliver us and forgive our sins. We desire to be free. Let our cries come before you and according to your great love keep us safe. Let us be one of your sheep, part of your flock. We will praise you and give you thanks.”

Repeat these phrases after me and reflect upon what the Lord has said to you in the service today:

God, we are lost and lowly...

Father, forgive us and free us

Jesus, you are my shepherd

God, we give you thanks…”

 

baby_lamb1

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

35104840 (2)A family meal, on a Sabbath Sunday, erupted into a gun battle after a father and son clashed over how to properly cook a chicken in Bluewell, West Virginia. The two men began to argue over the best way to prepare a skinless bird. It progressed into a physical confrontation and escalated to both of them shooting at each other with their own .22-caliber handguns. The son was struck by a bullet that went through the upper part of his right ear and lodged in the back of his head. He survived, was treated at a hospital and released. The father was not injured but was charged with malicious wounding. Both were booked on wanton endangerment.  Be careful who you invite to Sunday dinner.

This passage appears only in Luke’s gospel.  Jesus has been on his way to Jerusalem ever since 9:51.  Along the way, he heals, casts out demons, teaches the disciples, crowds and mourns over Jerusalem 13:34-35. 

A Dinner to Remember,  Luke chapter 14

1On one occasion when Jesus[a] was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had abnormal swelling. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” 4 But they were silent. So Jesus[b] took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child[c] or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” 6 And they could not reply to this.

The scene opens with Jesus on the way to the home of a pharisee to eat a meal on the sabbath.  This is a formula for disaster! Talk about a reality show waiting to happen!

A Greek symposia is a dinner followed by a discussion/debate. Often meals such as these were places for vigorous political, social, and class conversations. Pharisees were not overly wealthy but better off than most of their constituents. An invitation to eat in a home of a Pharisee would’ve been considered an important invite if Jesus was impressed by such things. Too bad he isn’t.

Jesus had run ins with the P’s before. What Jesus did and didn’t do on the Sabbath in Luke 6 and Luke 13 told the Pharisees quite a lot about his politics and theology. Jesus had embarrassed them, on their own turf,  and Luke tells us in 11v54 the Pharisees were “lying in wait for Jesus, to catch him in something he might say.” 

Chapter 14v1 says again; “they were watching him closely as he made his way to the dinner. Is Jesus on his best behavior? Depends on what that phrase means. He stops and heals a man with abnormal swelling on the Sabbath and then questions/grills the P’s about  it. Jesus isn’t concerned about impressing those in power. He heals the poor, helpless and lower crust of society because they need it, not because they can do something for him.

Contrast this with the guests at the dinner he’s attending who are choosing “places of honor” in verse 7.  They are trying to “move up” in society by finding the best place to sit down. The most prominent place would be the position nearest the host of the dinner. Important banquets and the seating that accompanied them were of great importance to high society.

Watching them tussle over where to put their keisters, Jesus makes an observation

8‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

This isn’t a normal Jesus’ illustration, parable or story. It’s more like him instructing these supposedly highfalutin, sophisticated types how to act properly in these occasions for maximum effect.

Don’t push your way to the front, don’t assume, play it cool” Jesus says. What happens if someone more important than you shows up and the host tells you to get stepping, take a back seat, move out of the way for this VIP. How embarrassing and shameful! It’s more prudent to stay back and be invited up front.

Finished with the guests, Jesus now turns his attention to the host…

Not the high and mighty”, Jesus says, “but the low and weak should be honored guests.”

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 

Jesus’ words to the host are confusing! Perhaps Jesus doesn’t know how the social game is played. The host invited those who would enhance his social standing. This dinner party, those invited, the seating arrangements, all evidence of the importance of those attending and how this, in turn, would elevate the social standing of the host. Only impressive people were asked to come, no one of low social standing, little political or religious power.

Jesus challenges him to turn this on its head! Make the dinners and social occasions about those with no social standing, who can’t help you get ahead. An opportunity to not promote one’s self but giving the least of these a moment to shine.

Jesus is casting a worldview, a reality where a chance to advance, improve the life of another is the goal. A culture where people aren’t used to serve our means, our upward trajectory, our aspirations but where giving, helping others is the aspiration.

14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

You will be blessed,” Jesus says. Blessed when? Blessed how? In what way? By being a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Blessed to be among “resurrection of the just.”

Wrapping it Up

When Jesus comes to dinner he has a way of making what is held dear, value and treasure seem silly, then reorients the heart to hold dear, value and treasure the things that really matter. 

Reflection

Psalm 143 “… O Lord, answer us… Please do not hide your face,…Let us hear of your steadfast love today, for in you we place our trust. Show us the way we should go, for to you we lift up our soul. 9 Save us, O Lord, … 10 Teach us to do your will, for you are our God. May your good spirit lead us on a level path….”

Prayer Phrases to Reflect on Today

Show us the way we should go…

Teach us to do your will…

May your good spirit…

Lead us on a level path…

bdl

*September 1, 2013

Gone Fishing

A message based on the gospel of Luke, chapter 5.

(…and yes, this was the year I grew my hair out!)

*pre-production video

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