Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
I always hated playing musical chairs as a kid. The music would start up and my little heart would start pounding. I still feel a little panic when I think about that game today. I was never a very athletically gifted child, so I knew that my chances of lasting very long in this game of quick reflexes were slim to none. I hated the feeling of embarrassment at being one of the first ones out. You had to just stand by and watch the rest of your friends continue to play- the kids who were better than you.
This feeling of dread and the belief that there wasn’t enough space for you, that you had to fight your way for a spot to sit down- that same feeling and belief were what the Reformers spoke out against and what Jesus addresses in today’s reading.
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
People believed and many people still believe that the love of God is like a game of musical chairs. The music of life starts up and we have to prepare ourselves to make the mad dash for a seat in heaven. If we aren’t good enough, then we have to sit outside the love of God by ourselves.
In the first century, there was a type of hierarchy present in households. Fathers were usually at the top and slaves were at the bottom. The slaves were utterly vulnerable and could be kicked out of the home at any time. They could simply be dismissed or they could be sold to another household. They had no real place in the home. At best they could consider a home to be a temporary lodging. Jesus asserts that we are slaves to sin and therefore we are vulnerable to its whims. If the power of poverty, illness, selfishness, injustice, or death decide to kick us out of our home of peace and hope- there isn’t a thing we can do about it. Jesus, however, comes to us and promises to give us a place in God’s house forever. In the house of the Son, you are accepted and loved unconditionally and no power of sin can change that. Continue reading
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Manager in our parable inadvertently does some good, godly things. He has been found out for having squandered his boss’ property that he was supposed to be taking care of. This Manager was in trouble and was about to lose his job. Before the paperwork could be signed and his pink slip could be delivered, the Manager decides to try to worm his way into the good graces of the clients he would soon no longer serve. “If I can scratch their back now, maybe they will scratch my back later. Maybe they will do me a solid and give me a place to crash and some food to eat until I can get on my feet again.” So the Manager sets out to visit his clients. He asks each of the clients how much debt they owe the Manager’s boss and methodically cuts it dramatically. 100 jugs of oil get cut to just 50 and 100 containers of wheat get cut to 80.
Imagine being 15 years in on your 30-year home mortgage and a representative from the bank comes to your home and says to you, “You know what? Let’s just forgive the rest of your mortgage payments. Your house is paid in full now. It’s yours.” Or imagine someone offering you or a family member 2 free years of college. Or imagine going to the supermarket and every trip for the next 10 years, every single thing in the store is marked “Buy one, get one free!”
What a deal! Suddenly you are freed up to take care of other debts, to get that surgery or doctor’s visit you’ve been putting off, to go back to school, or to get someone a nice Christmas present. From your perspective, this Manager, extravagantly and generously forgave your debts and freed you from all the worries tied up with that debt.
In a truly odd fashion, the Manager’s boss gets wind of this mass forgiveness and instead of sending him to jail for effectively giving away the money that likely belonged to the boss, he praises the Manager “because he had acted shrewdly.”
The manager had previously been reliant on himself and his ability to get money. He didn’t need the help of another soul when things were going his way. Then, his boss finds out that he’s been squandering his property. The situation changes suddenly. After some shrewd planning, the manager realizes that he needs to form community ASAP. From a purely self-serving motivation, this manager realizes that his only hope of surviving this life is to make some friends. Continue reading
Second Sunday after Christmas
On a busy street in Tokyo, Japan, a few dozen men nervously await their turn to take the stage. Wearing a stiff suit, businessman Yoshiharu Nishiguchi climbs the steps of the outdoor stage and stands in front of a giant heart made of pink tulips. His palms are sweating and his heart is pounding. He slowly inches his way toward the microphone. He has a message to give to his wife. He takes a deep breath, scans the dozens of curious passerbys and the TV cameras, and shouts at the top of his lungs, “Rieko, I love you!” Then, he walks off the stage and another man takes his place.
“Miwa!” the next man screams, “I love you!”
Kiyotaka Yamana first organized this “love-your-wife-shout-out” event 5 years ago. He felt that sometimes a person’s devotion to Japanese cultural values of modesty and pragmatism hurt relationships. In his own life and in the lives of other men, he observed that men were particularly hesitant to express their affection to their loved ones. Many people believed that love was something that should be implicitly understood and rarely, if ever, spoken aloud.
Yamana saw that we need to have a real, tangible confession of love in order to be confident that our loved ones love us back.
In the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye and Golde have been married for 25 years, have had a family together, and now their daughters are beginning to get married and start their own families. Even after all this time, Tevye wants to know if his wife, Golde, loves him. They had an arranged marriage at a young age and were told by their parents that they “would learn to love each other.” Tevye wants to hear the words “I love you,” to be absolutely certain of Golde’s love.
The Word can be a powerful thing. Without a clear word we are left wondering what someone else thinks or feels about us, but the word we share reveals our hearts. A word can change everything. Consider the words:
I am sorry
I love you
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” Saint Augustine professed that a word is an expression of our thoughts and desires and so God’s Word, Jesus the Christ, is the manifestation- the real presence- of God’s deepest thoughts and desires. Words reveal our hearts. Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, reveals God’s heart. Continue reading