14th Sunday after Pentecost

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 15th chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 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? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And 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.' 7 Just 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? 9 When 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.' 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do you ever lose things? Of course you do.  We all do.  As I was looking through this gospel reading this week, I wondered what kinds of things we could lose that would make us drop everything and go look for them.

The first thing I thought about was my keys. Did you ever misplace your keys?  The very first week I was at my congregation in Texas, I locked myself out of my office.  Everyone was gone for the day and all the phones were behind locked doors. I lived in the parsonage next door, but I couldn’t get into my house.  I thought about going to a neighbor’s and asking to use their phone to call a council member or the secretary to come over and let me in. 

I wasn’t even sure what would happen if I left the building. I didn’t know if the doors locked behind me.  I was panicking, trying to remember who in the church might live close by when the Day Care Director came back for something she forgot and let me in.  She was a good shepherd to me that day.

The second thing I thought about that would make me drop everything to look for it was my phone.  How many of you have put your phone down some place and then had to ask your spouse to call you so it would ring and you could find it? We have all done that, haven’t we? 

Stephen Merz gave me permission to tell you about losing his phone this past week.  It’s a new phone.  He just got it and he loves it.  It does everything he wants it to.  And he put it in an open pocket on the side of his pants and rode off on his motorcycle.  And it fell out.  When he realized it was lost, he retraced his path, riding very slowly, looking everywhere.  After a while, a truck driver saw him, and called out to him - “It’s here under my truck.”  The truck driver realized what Stephen must be doing riding so slowly when he saw the phone on the side of the road.  That man was a good shepherd to Stephen that day. 

We lose our keys.  We lose our phones. We lose other things, too. My cat is totally an indoor cat.  When we got him he had already been declawed by the previous owner, so he would not survive long outside.  So he’s totally an indoor cat.  However, if you could ask him, he would lie to you and tell you he is allowed to go outside.  And he tries to get out every time you open the door.  

Usually, he doesn’t get far.  He is a lot like the sheep in Jesus’s story. The first place he sees grass he stops and eats it, so that when you find him and bring him in he can throw up on the carpet. 

There was one time he got out of the parsonage in Nebraska on a Sunday morning before church.  He decided he didn’t want to come in and kept running away from us. We were in our bathrobes trying to catch him and bring him back.  Really, nobody but the altar guild was there yet, so nobody else saw us. 

Today, Jesus tells us a parable.  Parables help us understand what kind of God we have.  Most people identify the Shepherd and the woman with the coin as the God figures in the parable.  And that’s great.  God is the Good Shepherd who goes to find the lost sheep.  God is the woman who cleans her whole house to find one lost coin.  God is the one who celebrates finding the lost.

So here’s a question for you to think about today.  

God is the kind of God who searches for the lost. So, is God also the kind of God who loses things? 

Did you ever wonder about that?  The shepherd lost the sheep.  The woman lost the coin. The woman and the shepherd represent God. We are made in the image of God and we lose things.  Is this the kind of God we have? A God who loses people?

When we look back at our other readings today, they seem to support the idea that God does lose people sometimes. 

Here’s the scene we have in the first reading. This part of the story takes place when Moses has to go back to God to get the 10 Commandments replaced. You remember, God gave the people the 10 Commandments as a gift, as the list of instructions about how the world works, about how to get along with each other.  Moses comes down the mountain, face all shining from talking with God, and finds out they have melted all their jewelry and made an idol, a golden calf to worship. Moses is plenty angry and smashes the tablets. It looks like the people are lost.  They have wandered away from their God. 

God is plenty angry about this. Calls them a bunch of ungrateful, stiff-necked people.  Considers smiting them.  Considers writing them off because they are lost.  

I get that.  I get angry when the cat escapes and makes me run around to get him at inconvenient times, then barfs grass on my rug. 

So we have a God who loses people and gets angry about it. That sounds a little scary, doesn’t it?  I don’t think we like thinking about the wrath of God. We might prefer that God not let people get lost in the first place.  We might prefer to think that God doesn’t get angry about it. 

But, all of us know exactly how a parent feels when a child gets lost or makes a really bad decision. The anger is there.  If we didn’t love them, we wouldn’t get angry. We wouldn’t care. 

Our Psalm today is part of Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart.”  It’s a psalm of David, believed to be written after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan about his sins related to Bathsheba and Uriah. King David, chosen personally by God to rule the people, had gotten very lost. He was guilty of rape and murder.  This psalm is his prayer of repentance.  David knew he had a God who is merciful to sinners, a God who rejoices when sinners repent and the lost are found. 

Our epistle reading is part of the introduction to the letter from Paul to Timothy. Paul was certainly lost before he met Christ.  He was arresting Christians and bringing them to face trial and death.  He held everyone’s coats so they could throw stones at Stephen, the first martyr. But, Jesus, the Good Shepherd in our parable, found Paul when he was very lost, and used him to proclaim the gospel to the whole world. 

So, we do have a God who loses people. And we are those people. But, we have a God who loves us, loves us enough to find us, no matter where we have wandered.  Even when we are unfaithful, God’s faithfulness is great. God loves us more than we love our keys and our phones and our pets.  God loves us even more than we love our own children.  Loves us even more than life itself.  Jesus came and proved that to us. 

When we get lost, God says, “I have made you people in my very own image.  You bear my imprint, a baptismal cross on your brow.  You are marked as mine forever. You might be stiff-necked people.  You might have made some terrible decisions in your life. It doesn’t matter what you have done.  I will still drop everything and look for you.  I have created everything, so you can’t hide anywhere that I haven’t been. I will persist until I find you and I will bring you home. And when we get home, we will have a big celebration.  It will be the finest supper. I have invited everyone.

That’s the kind of God we have.  Amen.

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 14th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord. 

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 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; 9 and 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. 10 But 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. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." 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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last week we heard that Jesus interpreted the law about the Sabbath.  He taught us that people are more important than the rules and that grace is always more important than the law.  This week’s reading from Hebrews continues the same theme. Grace is God’s gift to us.  Grace is the lens through which we read the law. We can interpret every law by asking if it shows that we love our neighbors as ourselves. 

The tradition of the church says that perhaps either Paul or Apollos wrote the book of Hebrews.  This book is more like an extended sermon than a letter. The author quotes the Old Testament frequently and compares God’s new activity in Jesus Christ with God’s activity long ago with Israel. The writer lays out the demands of discipleship and describes the comforts that come with following Christ. 

And, isn’t that what a sermon does?  We look at God’s activity long ago in Jesus Christ to help us see how God is active and working in our lives now.  

The author of Hebrews writes:

“Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it… Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” 

The command to show hospitality to strangers appears many, many times in the Old Testament.

Exodus 12:49 says, “there shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.”

Exodus 23:9 says, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Leviticus 19:33-4 says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Interestingly, the word that is translated as stranger or alien in many English Bibles is literally translated as “guest” in Hebrew.  It is sometimes translated as “sojourner,” meaning someone who is traveling through a foreign land. That means something a little different to us doesn’t it?  What if we thought of all strangers as our guests?  What if we remember that we are all travelers through this land?  

Most of you have traveled to a foreign country.  Even if you haven’t been overseas, you know what hospitality looks like and how it feels when you are welcomed somewhere that’s not your home.  

You know what lack of hospitality looks like, too. You show up to your hotel tired and find that they lost your reservations. Or your luggage didn’t make it on the plane. Minor inconveniences, to be sure, but you still remember what it feels like to be treated with something less than kindness. 

Lack of hospitality isn’t just an individual problem, though.  Whole nations can and do treat the people of other nations as if they were somehow not humans created in the image of our loving God.

This past month marked the 400th anniversary of the first ship of enslaved African people to arrive on this continent. The first European settlers came to Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.  It only took them 12 years to bring slaves over. 

You might remember that I am from Virginia. This is the history of my people. I recently looked up some of my ancestors online and read the census records.  I already knew that my father’s side of the family owned slaves.  I had thought that my mother’s side was not well-to-do enough, but I was wrong.  

I am personally appalled that my ancestors owned other people.  And even worse, that they sometimes used scripture to justify their horrible behavior.  I cannot imagine that I would ever do that and I don’t believe that any of you would either. 

Racism is America’s original sin, and everyone, no matter their race, still suffers the ill effects that have passed down the generations. But the sin of thinking that my ethnic group is somehow better than yours is not unique or new to our country.  The Hebrew people were forced into slavery in Egypt, not 400 years ago, but approximately four thousand years ago, because a new king arose who didn’t know their history and saw an economic opportunity.

Even at a smaller local level, we humans show our weaknesses - our insecurities and our greed, by putting ourselves in a higher place than our neighbors.  Our neighbors might be a different skin color, or speak a different language, or just live on the other side of the tracks. 

Discipleship calls on us to remember that all people are created in the image of our loving God and that no one is better than anyone else.   Discipleship is hard because it’s far easier to show hospitality to people who look like us, act like us, and share our customs. 

Jesus speaks clearly that the people we think are the least in society - the ones who don’t work for a living, the ones who don’t have any money, the ones who are sick - they are the ones we should be hanging out with. They are the ones who should be first in line to receive our hospitality. 

Discipleship is hard.  Following Jesus means you have to hang out with the people he hangs out with.  Some of them look and act a lot like us.  Many of them don’t.  When this concerns me and makes me anxious, I try to remind myself of some very good news.  

There are comforts that come from following Jesus. My childhood Sunday school books had a picture of a white Jesus with light brown hair and green eyes, looking down lovingly at little children. I have green eyes and used to have light brown hair.  The guy in the picture could literally be my brother.  And although that picture made me gave me comfort as a child, the historical Jesus didn’t really look like that. 

One of my seminary classmates, Niveen Sarras, is from Palestine. She grew up in Bethlehem where her family still lives and where her uncle is a shepherd outside of the city.  For real. She used to always tell people that if they wanted to know what Jesus looked like, they should imagine he looked like her brother. Brown skin, long nose, dark hair, and dark brown eyes.  

It is good news and it brings comfort to me and to you that Jesus would have looked like Niveen’s brother. Because that means he hangs out with people who look different from him, people who look like us. It means that when we are strangers, he welcomes us as his guests.

Jesus shows us what generosity looks like. He is both host and guest at the meal.  He takes the lowest place at the table and invites us to enjoy the greatest feast there is.  He prepares the finest wine and bread.  He gives us all we need for strength each day. He forgives us when we do the things we shouldn’t and when we fail to do the things we should. 

And when, with God’s help and grace, you show hospitality to strangers, and entertain the angels, when you share what you have, Jesus says to you, “What you have done is pleasing to God.  You are blessed.” 


Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost, August 25, 2019

The holy gospel according to Luke, the 13th chapter. 

Glory to you, O Lord.

Now (Jesus) was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.  And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment."  When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."  But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?  And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?"  When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

What do you think about the law? Are rules important to you? How do you decide if a law is good or bad? 

School starts this week for our kids in Yakima.  Even if you are done with that part of your life, you can still remember the first week of school. Your first school days are filled with learning all the new rules.

Even if you are in the same building as last year, you probably have a different teacher, and different teachers have different rules.  Where to sit, how to line up, where to go for the fire drills.  When to raise your hand, when you can speak up, when you go for lunch.  

When I was in elementary school, I was anxious to please my teachers, to do everything right, and stay out of trouble.  I didn’t want to find out how much trouble I would be in at home if I broke the rules at school.  I was focused on learning and following the rules. 

Like most young children, I had a strong sense of fairness.  I wanted the rules to be the same for everyone.  I didn’t want anyone to have an advantage over anyone else. 

We played softball at recess nearly every day. We were very aware of the rules of the game.  Everyone got a turn at bat, even the bad players like me.  If a ball hit you, you got to walk to first base. Three strikes meant you were out.

The Bible is full of rules.  “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” We all remember the third commandment from our days in confirmation class.  This commandment has always been one of the primary markers of the Jewish faith. Along with the dietary laws, keeping the Sabbath was how you knew a family was Jewish. 

The Ten Commandments were given to Moses when the people were wandering in the wilderness.  They needed direction in their lives.  They had just escaped from slavery and needed to learn how to live as free people. They needed to be reminded that work was important, but rest was a gift of God, too. 

There are two different ways to see the ten commandments and the laws God gives us.  You can see them as rules that make demands on our lives, or you can see them as a gift from God.  God gave the people something good, something helpful.  And the people turned it into something restrictive.  

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus sees a woman who has been bent over for 18 years.  Luke tells us that a spirit had crippled her. By spirit, Luke means a demon, not a good spirit.  Her ailment wasn’t because of any sin she committed. She had been suffering a long time and  her medical condition wasn’t her fault. 

The religious leader sees the woman, too. He sees someone who should have to follow the rules.  In his mind she should wait another day for healing. She should get in line and wait her turn. After all, lots of other people came to Jesus through the proper channels on the right days of the week and were healed legally. 

Healing her on the Sabbath was illegal. It was against the law, God’s law. Healing this woman on the Sabbath was unfair to all those who had been legally healed on the other six days of the week. Jesus should have waited one more day. After all, what difference does one day make to someone who has been suffering 18 years?  She could wait another day. 

This synagogue leader has a point.  The law is there for a reason.  God gave the law.  This particular law is number three on God’s top ten list. No one has a right to break this very important law.  

We can understand this synagogue leader.  Rules and laws are there for a reason. The Ten Commandments are given by God.  We think they are important enough that we promise to teach them to our children when we bring them for baptism. We make our confirmation students memorize them and learn their meanings. 

We think everyone should follow the law.  We want our neighbors to stop when they see the red octagonal sign.  It’s safer for everyone when we go at the green light and signal our turns.  We believe it’s a good rule that three strikes mean you are out.

But, wait, in this story, Jesus breaks the law.  He doesn’t run a stop sign or do anything that isn’t safe. He heals a woman on the Sabbath. And this isn’t the only time he heals on the Sabbath, either.  

So we must ask ourselves, what does this law mean? How is Jesus interpreting the law?  Is he saying, “I’m the Son of God, so the rules don’t apply to me?”  No, Matthew reminds us that Jesus says he came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it. 

No, Jesus isn’t evading the law. I think perhaps, that Jesus is telling us that the purpose of the law is to help people, not to restrict them, not to hurt them. If the law can be summed up as loving God and loving your neighbor, then all laws must be interpreted by that standard.  

God gives us the Law as a gift. Even today, Jewish weekly synagogue worship always includes hymns of thanksgiving for the gift of the Sabbath. 

What if we thought of all of God’s Law that way, as a gift?  Isn’t it wonderful to have one day a week when you can rest?  Not worry about work? Not worry about anything we need to do?  One day a week when you know that God who made the universe loves you, wants you to have a time to rest, and can take care of things without your help? 

God gave the commandments to the people wandering in the wilderness as a way to organize their lives, as a way to help them.  They had been living their whole lives following orders from their owners. They needed to learn how to think for themselves and make good decisions, just like we all did when we were school children. God gave them the law out of love. 

Today, Jesus reminds us that the point of the law is to love God and love our neighbors.  One of the ways we love our neighbors is by being fair to everyone.  

If you know the rules, the game can be played fairly.  If you don’t know the rules, they don’t apply, and things just aren’t fair. Fairness is good, right?  

You know what’s even better than fairness, though?  Grace.  Grace is even better than fairness.  

Grace is better than fairness.  And before you start wondering if grace is unfair, you have to remember that grace is God’s gift to everyone. Christian writer, Anne Lamott, is known for saying, “Grace always bats last.”

When Jesus healed the woman, he taught us something about the law.  The law is important, but it always comes in second place.   Jesus showed us that grace is always more important than law.  

The law is a gift of God to us.  The Law helps us live our lives better. The Law helps keep order in the world.  The Law reminds us to take care of each other.  

The law also reminds us that we can never fully be the people God made us to be. That is why Grace always wins.  The law always comes in second when it is time for compassion and mercy and love. 

Jesus invites us to value the law as God’s gift to us.  But he asks us to remember that there is a far greater gift, the gift of grace and love.  Grace and love always have the last word. 


August 11, 2019 Sermon by Vicar Ethan Bergman

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost August 11, 2019

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and from the Holy Spirit our advocate and who guides us through the boundaries of life.

I usually am drawn to the Gospel when I read the lessons for each Sunday. Yet today’s scriptures Psalm 33 stood out for me.

I recently read a book by Walter Brueggemann about preaching the Old Testament. And another book by Brueggeman about Praying the Psalms.

Brueggemann is ordained in the United Church of Christ and is a retired Seminary Professor of Old Testament.

I was reminded of Brueggeman because I recently returned from a backpacking trip to Holden Village where my family stayed for 3 nights.

When I was a 20 something volunteer at Holden Village in 1975, I heard Brueggemann and Helmut Thielicke speak at a Pastor’s conference held at Holden Village in the wilderness of the North Cascades near the boundary of the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. 

Brueggemann spoke on the boundaries we all face in our lives. 

His definition of boundaries are any liminal times when we are at some sort of cross roads, some sort of transition. This could be at the time of a big decision that needs to be made or a turning point in our life journeys. 

The initial boundary Bruggemann spoke about was the transition the Israelites faced when they were about to enter the promised land after 40 years of wandering. 

You may remember that Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the promised land. He never got to experience the fullness of this transition while here on earth.

The boundary that Bruggeman speaks of may be the return of an illness that we had hoped was cured. 

It may be the joy we feel when a person gets married or when a new child is born.

This Transition may be the loss of a job and an unknown future.

It may be the excitement of a new job that brings with it a bit of anxiety.

This boundary may be the loss of a loved one.

It may also be finding a new friend to share with.

This transition may be moving to a new place with no friends.

It may be opening the door to a new spiritual practice that is new

I’m sure you all could add to this list.

I recently re-listened to one of Brueggemann’s Holden lectures from 1975. He made several statements that were memorable and humorous.

Helmut Thielicke was a German Lutheran. Brueggemann is a Nebraskan United Church of Christ Professor and Pastor. 

Bruggemann stated that this conference at Holden Village had two speakers. One who doesn’t speak English very well but speaks very good Lutheran referring to the German Thielicke.

The other speaker doesn’t speak Lutheran very well but speaks pretty good English referring to himself.

Brueggemann’s main message was about the radical nature of our Faith and a gift of a new land that the Israelites faced. The reference to a new land is a metaphor for anything new in our life.

We may not be facing a new land, yet we are often at boundaries or transitions in our lives like the Israelites were when they were shown the Promised Land. 

In one of the books I read Brueggemann says there is no need to necessarily make a direct link between preaching the Old Testament and the New Testament. 

This is especially true of the Psalms where people are probing and voice authentic emotional extremes that we can relate to in our own lives.

Yet in today’s scriptures there are connections that unite together. There seems to be a wonderful flow in the messages that we hear in the readings for today especially as I reflect on the boundaries that we are often faced with.

Today’s Psalm 33 addresses the question about what we are called to do in boundary times in verse 20 which states: 

20 Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield. 21 Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

What does it look like to have our soul wait for the Lord when we are facing a transition?

What does it feel like to have our hearts glad in Him, trusting His holy and majestic name even though the boundaries we face are daunting, discouraging and maybe even intimidating? When these boundaries may cause fear and trembling?

As we hope and have faith in the Lord, we wait for Him and experience, maybe sometimes in a great amount, maybe sometimes in a lesser amount that God is our help and shield. 

We are glad and experience fulfillment in Him as we face those often frightening and fear-provoking transitions in our walk here on earth.

We probably have all experienced that fulfillment at times that have helped reorient our course in life.

My wife and I faced a boundary 40 years ago. We married and almost immediately moved to Alaska, another huge boundary time. A significant transition. We moved into a large unknown.

I remember when each of our three children were born that I felt unprepared as a parent. We were at another transition with each birth. 

When each child was born I hoped for the set of instructions and there weren’t any. We had to wing it as parents.

Yet I felt a deep hope and faith that God would be there with us in tough times and great times to be our shield and offer Carla and I guidance as we faced the inevitable decisions of life.

We may never fully get to that place, that promised land, while here on earth. We may never get to that place where we at all times and in all places put our total trust in God and Jesus our Lord and Savior.

Yet we can pray to God that His steadfast love be upon us so that we place our hope and faith in Him when we are faced with a boundary, a transition of an unknown future.

How do we put this in practice in our world when waiting for the Lord?

How do we wait patiently for a peaceful, sacred space, and presence when these may seem so difficult to reach?

Abram was at a boundary in Genesis 15. He seemed to realize that he couldn’t take matters into his own hands after he tried to do it himself. 

He had to wait for the Lord to do wonderful things. He had to wait for the Lord to make His offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky.

In Genesis 15 we hear

(God) took (Abram) outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

God is asking Abram to wait and to trust as Abram faced this boundary of the unknown.

But as we all know, it is sometimes very difficult to put this divine request from God into practice.

We don’t tend to be very good at waiting and trusting. 

We want to do it now by ourselves when we face boundaries, when we face transitions.

I think that is one reason many people don’t claim a faith in God. I think many people don’t want to accept that they can’t make it on their own. 

They want to tackle the boundaries in their lives by themselves. They don’t want to be dependent on a higher power.

The fact is we all fall short of God’s glory. We all fail at times.

Yet there is consolation when we fall short of God’s request. 

In Luke 12 we hear Jesus addressing His beloved Disciples:

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 

God has given us the Kingdom. We are promised a life with God. Our God is a giving God. It gives Him great pleasure to give, without anything required on our part.

And Jesus adds a request that we:

33 Sell our possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Because Jesus knows that what we store up on earth is not a true treasure. 

The true fortune is the pearl of great price that God delivered with Jesus’ death on the cross, when our sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus and we were without restrictions given our salvation.

This is wealth that can’t be destroyed or taken away!

So sisters and brothers, I pray today and this week, that as we face boundaries in our lives, that we position as much trust as we are able to place in God’s hands. 

God has promised that His steadfast love will be upon us all the days of our lives, even in the boundary times of change and transformation. 

God has promised to give us the kingdom. What more can we trust in and hope for?


Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, August 4, 2019

Luke 12:13-21

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 12th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord. 

13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.  

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wouldn’t it be fun to be really rich?

We all enjoy thinking about being wealthy.  Studies show that most people really truly believe that if they just made 10% more than they do now, they would be truly happy. 

But, what if you got a raise that doubled your salary?  What would you do if tomorrow you won the lottery?  Ponder that for a moment. 

We all wonder what it would be like to be outrageously wealthy, to be part pf the 1%.  What would it be like to live like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or Oprah...  

It is fun to think about, isn’t it?  Would you travel?  Pay off your debts? Build a bigger house?  Buy a new car, or several?  Build a bigger garage to store everything? 

Or, maybe you would save it for your retirement?  Invest it wisely so it would draw interest and provide income for the rest of your life? 

Maybe you thought about ways to help your kids.  Maybe you would put money aside for your grandchildren and their education?  

Did the idea of tithing pop into anyone’s brain?  Hopefully, it did for you.  It doesn’t for most people.  

When people are surveyed about what they would do with a big increase in wealth, they answer practically.  They say things like, “I would pay off my debts.  Then I would make sure my retirement and my children’s education are funded.  After that, I might buy something nice or go somewhere fun.”

That’s what people say they would do.  What people actually do is very different.  They get bigger houses, fancy cars, and more gadgets.  They take nice vacations and speculate on bad investments.  They give away a smaller percentage of their money to charity, than they did before they got wealthy.  

They end up with more debt than ever, which creates even more stress in their lives. The number of lottery winners who end up declaring bankruptcy is legendary.  

They end up gaining nothing that makes them happy, or more loving, or more joyful.  They do not become more generous.  

This is not a problem for us, since we are not likely to come into a big pile of money. No one here is part of the 1%.  But we are still tempted to think, “All I need is just a little bit more, and I can sit back, relax, and be truly happy.” 

Luke tells us that a man comes up and asks Jesus to settle a family dispute.  It was not uncommon to ask a rabbi to settle a dispute.  Just a couple of weeks ago, Martha asked Jesus to settle the issue between her and her sister Mary over the housework. Settling family disputes was part of the rabbi’s job description. 

This man has an issue with his brother over their inheritance.  There is nothing like money to cause family arguments.  When I worked as a hospital social worker, part of my job was helping families make discharge plans. Sometimes there were arguments among the grown children about what would be best for their mom or dad.  The arguments always came down to money - who would get it at the end. It was very sad. 

Jesus decided to answer the man’s request by telling a story, a parable.  The story goes something like this.  Once upon a time there was a rich farmer.  One year the rich farmer had an amazing harvest.  It was a bumper crop!  It was so big that his barns wouldn’t even hold all of it.  It was a banner year.  

So the rich man starts talking through the situation, with himself.  He says to himself, “Self, what should I do?  I have no place to store all my crops.”  He thinks to himself for a minute, then he starts talking to himself again, “I know, I will tear down these barns and build even bigger barns.  Then I will have plenty of storage space for the grain and all my other goods.”  Because bigger is always better, right?  Bigger garages for more cars, bigger houses, bigger bank accounts...

And then the rich man says to himself, “I will have so much stored up that I won’t have to work anymore.  I can eat, drink, and be merry.”

You notice that the rich man is only talking to himself, not to anyone else.  There isn’t another person in the conversation to offer an opinion.  So God, who hears our secret thoughts, responded to him directly. God calls him a fool.  God says, “Hey rich guy, you forgot something.  Remember that old saying? You can’t take it with you! This is what happens when you are storing up riches for yourself and are not rich toward God.”  

Jesus’ parable reminds me of another story, a fable this time.  Once upon a time there was a very rich man.  He was nearing the end of his life.  The angel of death came for him, and he decided to strike up a deal with the angel.  He asked the angel if he could bring something to heaven with him.  The angel consulted with the archangels and they decided to agree to his request.

The angel of death would come back tomorrow.  The rich man would be allowed to bring only one suitcase, but he could fill it with whatever he wanted.  So the rich man went to the bank and converted all his money, everything he had, into gold bars and filled his suitcase with the bricks.  

When he arrived at the pearly gates he had the suitcase in his hand.  St. Peter said this was very irregular, but the angel verified that the man had asked special permission.  Peter said, “Open it up and let’s see what you brought.”  Peter looked at the gold bricks and shook his head.  “Well, I guess it’s OK, but for the life of me, I don’t know what you want with a bunch of street paving stones.”  

Money is like bricks.  The brick itself is neither good nor bad. It can be used for evil, to harm or kill. Or it can be used for good - to build a hospital, a school, a church, a home.  Money itself is neither good nor bad.  What matters is what you do with it.

Last year, in our stewardship campaign, we talked about being “Blessed by Less.” We went through our possessions and gave lots of things away through a huge church yard sale.  Do you miss anything you donated?  Can you even remember what you got rid of?  Me, neither.  Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. 

Let’s go back to the rich man in Jesus’ parable.  Did you notice who he only talked to himself.  He only thought of himself.   

God called him a fool.  He's a fool, because wise people know, that the resources of our world are limited. Wise people know that one person’s hoarding takes away from the needs of others. Wise people use wealth for the common good.

Wise people know that true wealth does not consist of an abundance of possessions.  True wealth is found in our relationships. True joy is found in our love for God and our neighbors. 

The rich man has an even greater problem than being a fool.  He’s greedy.  He believes that accumulating wealth is the source of his long term security.  Money has become his idol.  How many hungry people could be fed with his abundant harvest? How many people’s lives would be improved if he even just lowered his prices a bit and made the grain more affordable? What if he raised the pay of his workers with his profits? 

The rich man’s love of money has caused him to violate the two great commandments - to love the Lord with all his heart, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself.  

A few minutes ago, I asked you to ponder what it would be like to be wealthy. Now, I ask you to ponder what it would be like -  if you trusted that you already have everything you need. You already have everything you need, and you always will.  

How would you change your lives?  What would you spend less time doing?  What would you spend more time doing? What would you spend less money on?  What would you spend more money on? What can you share with your neighbors?

Whenever we share God’s abundance with someone, we are helping Jesus himself. And Jesus reminds us that having a lot of stuff isn’t what matters in life. What matters is being rich toward God.  

The truth is that we do have everything we need and we always will. God gives us our daily bread. We have enough to eat and drink.  God gives us family and friends and neighbors to love.  

We can rejoice and be merry.  God has made us rich by giving us the greatest gift of all. Jesus came to save us. He even went to the cross and grave for us.

This same Jesus who rose from the dead gives us life. Whether we live a long life, or even if we die tomorrow, Jesus promises to be with us, both in this world, and the next.  Amen. 

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - Vicar Ethan Bergman preaching

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who along with the Holy Spirit provides us all with our Daily Bread. Amen.

I am a Seminary student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul Minnesota. It normally takes a student about 4 years to complete a Master of Divinity degree at Luther Seminary. I started seminary in 1976. 

My friend Joe Medley and I drove our rusty green station wagon the nearly 2000 miles from Oregon to St.Paul, MN in August of 1976.  If God would have given me the revelation that “Ethan, you will start Seminary now, in 1976 and finish in 2021, “ I probably would have turned around and headed back to Oregon.

My 45 year plan isn’t advertised in the Seminary catalog. Of course, I wasn’t a seminary student that entire time. Many other life experiences happened. 

Carla and I got married. We have three adult children. We taught 5 years in Alaska. I went to graduate school at WSU in Nutrition.

I became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. 

I have taught nutrition at CWU for 33 years. 

And I think that is God’s point in my life and in our universal calling as children of God. We all bring our entire lives when we serve God. I believe we are all theologians and we bring our life experiences into our call in life, whatever that happens to be.

So I have a lens on life and theology that includes food and nutrition and hunger issues. 

True confessions, I can turn almost any scripture into a homily about food and hunger issues.

And this week’s lesson plays right into that wheelhouse because food and daily bread are central to Luke’s Gospel reading!

1. Lord’s Prayer: Luke’s Version

The disciples requested that their teacher, Jesus, teach them to pray.

Jesus responded with the Lord’s Prayer. 

Jesus instructs the disciples to ask for something pretty simple: Give us this day our daily bread.

Some things to consider here: As we contemplate the Lord’s Prayer, notice the plural nature of the request: Give Us Today Our Daily Bread.

This is a universal, communal Us.

The request is asking God to provide Daily Bread to all of us; all of God’s creation.

Also, this is a petition for this day, today. Not tomorrow or next week. When a person requires food or water it is an essential need.

Daily Bread goes beyond food alone.

In Luther’s explanation of the Fourth Petition, Give Us today our Daily Bread, Luther asks what does this mean? 

Luther thinks Daily Bread is much more than simply something to eat.

Luther expands this list to include all daily needs incorporating clothing, shoes, house, farm, field, livestock, money, property, and even an upright spouse, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors. 

There are no conditions set here such as where they live, or if they are mentally and physically able to help themselves. 

Jesus is instructing His Disciples to pray that all people in all times and all places have the necessities of life. 

After Jesus finishes with the instruction to His Disciples about how to pray, he weaves a story that includes daily bread as a central component.

2. Parable about a man in need of daily bread

We probably have all had a long lost friend show up at our doorstep and say something like, “I was in the neighborhood so I thought I’d drop over.”

People drop over unannounced and we might consider that as an interruption.

Henry Nouwen gives a different perspective on interruptions.

Henry Nouwen was a Dutch priest, professor, writer and theologian. 

Nouwen said this about interruptions:

“While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. 

And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, "You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work."

What if we all saw interruptions as a gift? What if, instead of resisting them out of frustration, we saw them as an opportunity to be open to God and to build community.

So in today’s parable, Jesus sets up such a hypothetical scenario that considers our reactions when we have an unexpected interruption and how those interruptions help build community.

In this proposed situation, Jesus said to His Disciples, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, "Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.'

Today, we have quite a few choices when we need something to eat late at night if we have the means to purchase the food we need. 

I noticed that the McDonalds in Ellensburg is open 24 hours.

Yet another option is to ask a friend to help. 

In verse 8 we hear : I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his  friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

The Greek word that is translated as ‘persistence’ may also be translated as ‘shamelessness’ or ‘impudence’ or ‘perseverance.’ Sometimes persistence or perseverance or shameless asking may be required to get something done.

The man in this parable was shameless and bold in asking his neighbor to help meet the need for Daily Bread even though it was an inopportune time. 

If we personalize this a bit and put ourselves in this situation, we are often given the opportunity to help those in need.

3. How do we respond to requests when they surface in our own lives and in the lives of our sisters and brothers? 

Jesus poses two somewhat outrageous questions: If your child asks for an egg do you give her a scorpion? If your child asks for a fish do you give him a snake?

We are asked to give the uninvited guest their daily bread.

This reaching out and helping that provides daily bread for one another helps build community. It helps build a healthy dependence on one another to know there are children of God who love and support each other.

This is an invitation for us to consider: 

How do we respond to our sisters and brothers who have daily bread requirements that aren’t being met? Even in times that aren’t convenient for us. 

Are we willing to shamelessly and boldly ask our neighbors to join with us to help meet the essentials of those in our universal community who require good nutrition, clothing, a livable wage, or safe housing?

Jesus died on the cross and all of our sins were nailed to the cross with Him. We have the happy exchange of our sins for freedom and salvation so that we are free to live a life devoted to God and His creation. We are free to serve our sisters and brothers.

We are each put in our life situations to serve our Creator and all that He created. 

This place in life is different for each one of us. We are given opportunities to see Christ in our brothers and sisters and help provide the daily bread essential for each person.

This daily bread may take the form of advocacy for those who don’t have adequate housing or clothing or a safe environment to live.

This daily bread may be in the form of donated food.  

Like someone served by ELCA World Hunger when we contribute to meet the needs of people all over the world. 

Dave Hellerich and I attended the ELCA World Hunger Gathering in Minneapolis last weekend. There are still 1 in 10 people who are hungry in the world.  That is about 820 million people including hungry people in every US zip code.

Or this person we are helping may be in Yakima when we contribute to the local agencies such as Northwest Harvest or Camp Hope.

Or this daily bread may be in offering a listening ear when a person feels distraught. 

Or this daily bread may be in helping with yard work or other household chores when a sister or brother is not up to the task.

Lord, as we enter this coming week, we ask you to help us to provide daily bread and to do your work with our hands.


Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 21, 2019

The holy gospel according to Luke, the 10th chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.

38Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today, Jesus says to you, “Don’t worry.  I love you, and no one else’s opinion matters but mine.” 

Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent one hot, summer afternoon.  He was an old man by then, so he was probably dozing a bit in the heat. And, before he knew it, three strangers were standing outside looking down at him.  

Well, he jumped up, as fast as an old man could jump, and ran over to greet them. In his culture, offering hospitality was a sacred obligation.   

Sarah got busy right away.  She kneaded the flour with the lard and added the milk.  She shaped the biscuits and started baking them on her little kitchen fire.  

Abraham chose a calf then told a servant to prepare it for a great meal for the three strangers, these unexpected guests.

Abraham and Sarah understood that you never know if a stranger might be an angel - someone with a message from God for you.  All strangers must be treated as if they are angels, because you just never know. Hospitality is that important.

With all the things going on in our country today, it gives us something to wonder about too.  What if the strangers in our midst are angels?  What if they come with a message from God for us?  Jesus says that whatever we do for the least of these among us we do for him.  Just something to think about…something to ponder in your hearts today…

Today’s gospel lesson is the familiar story of Mary and Martha. Martha is worried and distracted.  She has a lot of important company.  She knew the story of Abraham and Sarah.  But on this day, she knew that she wasn’t just entertaining strangers who might possibly be angels.  Her guest was the Lord Jesus himself and all 12 disciples.  That’s a lot of pressure for the host. 

Abraham didn't have to worry.  He had Sarah to bake the bread.  He had servants to slaughter the calf and prepare it for roasting.  All he had to do was serve dinner to his guests. And there were only three guests.  

Poor Martha had Jesus and the twelve disciples, plus Mary, their brother Lazarus, and whoever else happened to stop by to listen to Jesus.  And she had no help at all.   

She had worked herself into a frenzy.  She was worried.  She was distracted.  She had so many things to do that she just couldn’t keep up with it and she had reached the end of her rope.  

Her culture taught that it was her job as the host to put on a great dinner for all the guests.  And in those days, nobody could call ahead.  They just showed up.  All thirteen of them.  And who knows, they could be staying for days.  

There were so many cultural expectations.  This was the woman’s job.  The tasks of hospitality were all things that she was supposed to do.  Martha felt obligated.  She felt frazzled.  She didn’t see any real options available to her.  There was so much pressure.  There were so many expectations.  It was her house and the burdens were all on her.  

Martha was trying to do the best she could. I have been there and I bet you have, too. We all have days when we are trying to do the best we can, but we keep running on empty.  The more we work, the less we seem to get done.  We just keep seeing more and more and more that we need to do.  We get frazzled.  We feel like we have run out of options. 

And we seem to be the only one who cares.  Nobody else is helping us or noticing or even caring. Some days we have so much stuff that we need to do that we don’t even have time to make a list.  Even just to have the satisfaction of checking things off.  We don’t even have time to think about why we are doing all those things.  We just do them because they are expected and we have always done them.

Martha was upset and she went to Jesus to ask for help, to speak up for justice in the division of labor.  

There are several things that Jesus does not say to Martha. Notice what Jesus doesn’t say:

He does not say, “You need to work smarter, not harder.”

He does not say, “Let’s get an efficiency expert in here to teach you how to manage your time better.”

He does not say, “If you kept this house clean all the time, you wouldn’t have so much to do when company shows up.”

He does not say, “You’re right, Mary should help you.”

He does not say, “This is woman’s work and you and your sister need to do it.”

Please notice! Jesus also does not say, “Hospitality doesn’t matter.” 

Instead, Jesus reassures Martha.  He says, “Don’t worry.” He calms her down.  He tells her that there are better priorities than the ones she is working on.

Jesus tells Martha that he is there with her. He says, “Don’t worry.”  He tells her that she is free to sit and listen to him.  She doesn’t need to follow the traditional cultural roles.  She doesn’t need to do all those things that everyone else tells her to do, that everyone else expects her to do.  Jesus reminds her that being busy all the time isn’t what's important.  

Jesus is the only one Martha needs to listen to.  He says, "Don't worry.  I love you. Nobody else’s opinion matters."  

Jesus says the same things to us that he said to Martha.  He says, “Don’t worry.” He tells us he loves us and that no one else’s opinion matters, just his.  We don’t have to listen to what society thinks we should do just because we are women, or just because we are men, or boys or girls.  

Jesus says we are free to get our priorities straight.  He says, “Don’t worry.” He give us the freedom to spend time just sitting and listening to him.  He sets us free to use our time to read and study God’s word.  He sets us free to attend worship every week with our friends and family and to make worship a priority in our lives. 

Being busy may make us feel important.  We even brag to each other about how busy we are and feel good about ourselves because we are busier than other people. Jesus says we are free to stop doing that. He sets us free to have other priorities for ourselves.  Free to do the things that matter most.  

Jesus says, “Don’t worry.”  We don’t have to fill our time trying to live up to social expectations.  We can sit and listen at his feet without being concerned about what society thinks.  

Hospitality still matters. And Jesus doesn’t say that we never have to work.  Jesus says, “Don’t worry.”  He tells us that when we have our priorities straight, we will be able to stop worrying.  

The three men who came to see Abraham and Sarah brought a message from God.  It was a blessing of good news.  Sarah would have a son.  God had great plans for their family.  

Jesus came to see Martha and Mary and brought a blessing of good news.  Jesus said, “Don’t worry.”  He told them to have a seat and listen to him.  He told them that women have a place at his feet. He told everybody that women are welcome as his disciples.  

Jesus comes to this house today, too.  He says to us, “Don’t worry.  You are all welcome to sit at my feet and learn from me.”   

Today Jesus is the host.  He has provided the meal for us to share.  Amen.  

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 10th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." 28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." 

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. We have all heard many sermons on it through out the years.  We all know that the moral of the story is that we should be like the Samaritan and take care of our neighbors. 

Seminary professor, Mark Allen Powell, says that he likes to look at Bible stories, and other stories as well, in what he calls a narrative fashion.  That is, he hears a story and asks the question, “Who do you identify with in the story?”  

Powell says there are a couple of ways of identifying with characters. The first way is the realistic way.  For example, I might identify with the priest in the story of the Good Samaritan because I am a pastor and I realistically have something in common with the priest. 

The second way you might identify with a character in a story is the idealistic way.  You might choose to identify with a character in your favorite movie —  you could decide to identify with Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel or one of the other Avengers because you wish you had their superpower. You wish you were the one who could be the hero and save the day. That’s idealistic. 

There are a number of characters in this story, so let’s go through them and see who you might identify with and why.

I already said that I could identify with the priest.  He was an important person in the community.  Certain privileges came with his status.  I know about that.  I can wear this shirt into any store in town and at least three employees will come over and ask if they can help me find what I need.  I have worn it in airports. They don’t go through my luggage and I am automatically sent to the shortest line. 

When our daughter worked at Augsburg Publishing, one of her co-workers borrowed one of these shirts from the store so he could return an expensive Christmas gift at the mall. He was black and he didn’t have a receipt.  He knew there wouldn’t be any problem if he was dressed like a pastor. 

You may not identify with the priest because you are not a pastor. But, you could identify with the levite. The levite could be compared to a very active church member. You could be a committee chair, or on the council, or a choir member. 

The levite had status in the community just like the priest. Preachers will point out that there were rules against touching a dead person.  The priest and the levite could have thought the man in the ditch was dead, so they didn’t want to defile themselves.  You could say they were actually keeping the law by passing on the other side of the street.

Powell says that identifying with a character can be idealistic. So, you may want to identify with the Samaritan, because he’s the good guy and you like to think that you would be a helper here. 

It’s also very common for preachers to point out that the Samaritan was someone who was disliked by the people from Judea. From the distance of our perspective, Jews and Samaritans would have been very much alike. They had the same religion. They just had their religious headquarters in different places, you know, like Constantinople and Rome, or like Chicago and St. Louis. 

They were so much alike that their few differences made them think they should agree on everything. In other words, they disliked each other with the intensity that only members of the same family can dislike each other. 

Sometimes preachers point out that the Samaritan was from a different ethnic group and suggest a contemporary parallel.  Dr. Powell tells us that one preacher suggested that in our time the Samaritan would be an African American man.  That pastor had a cross burning on his lawn that night.  

Another character in the story is the lawyer who asked the original question.  A lawyer in New Testament times was not actually an attorney.  He’s a scholar who studies biblical law.  His goal is to get to the truth.  He wants to understand and obey God’s will in all things.  That’s why Jesus asks him, “What do you read there?” Jesus is asking him how he interprets what he reads in the scripture.  

Perhaps you are like this lawyer.  You are a student of the Bible.  You are hungry to hear what the scriptures say about how you are supposed to live your life.  You love God and you love God’s word and you want to know and understand so that you can do God’s will.

So, we have the Priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, and the Lawyer.  But, there is another character in the story that Jesus tells.  There’s the man in the ditch.

We don’t typically identify with the guy in lying half dead and naked on the side of the road.  He was robbed and beaten.  He’s in pain and things don’t look good for him. We ask questions like, “What was he doing on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho anyway?”  That stretch of highway is notorious for thieves. He should have known better. 

We not only don’t usually identify with the guy in the ditch, we tend to blame the victim here. Maybe, he did make some bad decisions that contributed to his situation.  We don’t know. We didn’t ask why the priest and the levite and the Samaritan were on that road, though, did we? 

Today, I would like to suggest that we don’t only think of ourselves as the priest or the levite or the Samaritan or the lawyer in this story, but that we identify ourselves as the guy in the ditch.  You see, if you live long enough there will be times in your life when you feel like the guy in the ditch. 

There will be times when we go down a road we shouldn’t take. There will be times when we make bad decisions.  There will be times when we were just minding our own business, doing what we were supposed to be doing, but ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and ran into the wrong people. In everybody’s life there are some bad times. 

There are times when we need help and the people we thought would help us pretend not to see us and crossed on the other side of the road. And there will be times when we have to accept help from people we thought we didn’t like. 

Most of the time we get to be one of the privileged characters. But, sometimes we are the guy in the ditch. 

We only need to listen to the news for five minutes to hear about other people who are lying on the side of the road. Neighbors experiencing homelessness in our own community. Neighbors imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. Neighbors who are children living in cages at our Southern border. Neighbors hearing ICE knocking at their doors today. Just listen to the news for a few minutes; you will hear about our neighbors in need.

There are times in our lives when can identify with everyone in this story. We have all suffered at the hands of the robbers and we have all ignored our neighbors in need. We all need strength and blessing, forgiveness and rescue. We all need the One who is merciful to come and save us. 

Regardless of who you are, Jesus is the Samaritan in your story. He is the stranger who came to earth and treated us as his neighbors. Jesus is the One who risked his own life to rescue you from certain death when you were lying on the side of the road. 

Jesus is the One who paid the price to heal us. He is the one who went on his way, not knowing if we would ever wake up and be grateful for what he did. He is the one who promised to come back to us. Jesus is the one who showed us mercy. 

Jesus is the One who makes all of us neighbors. Jesus makes us neighbors not just with those who are like us and live near us. He makes us neighbors with people who worship differently, or not at all. He makes us neighbors with people who have different political beliefs, different languages, different cultures. 

Jesus is the One who makes us all neighbors. He is the One who shows us all mercy. 

Today, Jesus says to you, “Go and do likewise.” Amen. 

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, July 7, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 10th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others

and sent them on ahead of him in pairs

  to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 

He said to them, 

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 

therefore ask the Lord of the harvest 

to send out laborers into his harvest. 

Go on your way. 

See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 

Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; 

and greet no one on the road. 

Whatever house you enter, first say, "Peace to this house!' 

And if anyone is there who shares in peace, 

your peace will rest on that person; 

but if not, it will return to you. 

Remain in the same house, 

eating and drinking whatever they provide, 

for the laborer deserves to be paid. 

Do not move about from house to house. 

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, 

eat what is set before you; 

cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 

"The kingdom of God has come near to you.' 

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, 

go out into its streets and say, 

"Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, 

we wipe off in protest against you. 

Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'” 

"Whoever listens to you listens to me, 

and whoever rejects you rejects me, 

and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

The seventy returned with joy, saying, 

"Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" 

He said to them, 

"I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 

See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, 

and over all the power of the enemy; 

and nothing will hurt you. 

Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, 

that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ. 351

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last year when I went to Scotland and Ireland I kept looking at all the pretty bags and purses.  I especially liked the tartan plaid ones.  I think the weaving is beautiful, but I didn’t buy any.  I just looked.  Evidently, I looked at those bags enough that my daughter noticed and got me one for Christmas.  

I have several purses.  They all have to meet certain criteria for size - that is, be big enough to hold my ipad - and they all have to have the right number and size of pockets for my phone and glasses and keys.  

In addition to my purses, I had special bags that I used when I was in school.  They had to hold my laptop and books.  Even when I wasn’t in school, I had a very pretty bag that I got at a Global Mission Event. I used to carry it to work every day. Maybe that is a lot of baggage, I don’t know.   

You know what it’s like.  We need our electronic devices and other stuff.  It’s convenient to have someplace to put our wallets with our ID and credit cards, our checkbooks, our cell phones, and our keys.   

We keep things like this close to us because we feel insecure without them. Identity theft is a concern for many people these days. It seems you can’t travel anywhere without ID cards.  We pay for everything we need with credit cards.  Even the newest monopoly game uses electronic banking instead of cash.

In today’s gospel, Luke tells us a story about Jesus sending seventy people out on a mission.  

Imagine with me today, that we are among those people being sent out.  It is quite an honor.  In the story just before this one in the gospel, Jesus turns down some would-be followers. They told Jesus they really wanted to follow him, but they had some other stuff to do first, and they would have to catch him later.  

We have been chosen to go out on this mission.  But Jesus has some instructions, including a list of things we aren’t supposed to bring with us.  First of all, Jesus is sending us out without our bags.  

Just like the airlines these days, he’s not even allowing one free bag a piece.  

It seems all of our old identities and all of our old baggage interfere with the mission he is giving us.  

Additionally, we don’t get to follow our own itinerary.  We don’t get to pick where we go.  

Jesus makes the plans and he has chosen the places for the seventy of us to go.  

Seventy is a special number in the Hebrew Bible and biblical numbers are usually symbolic.  

Seventy is the number of nations descended from Noah.  

Seventy is the number of elders Moses chose to lead the people.  

Sixty-five is the number of synods in the ELCA, so the mission of Jesus is definitely larger than just our own church.  

This is not one of those vacation type mission trips either.   We aren’t allowed to make any side trips to visit with friends, or get distracted by a bunch of social activities, or waste time with idle conversations along the side of the road.  Jesus says the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

This is going to be a working trip. Maybe it will feel like too much work sometimes, but we will always have a job. 

Jesus has good reason for all his instructions.  The mission is important and He wants us to be safe.  He reminds us that there will be wolves in the places where we are going. Wolves are the bad guys in both fairy tales and Bible stories.  They are the ones who steal sheep, especially the weaker young ones.  Jesus said we will be like lambs in the midst of these wolves.  

This could be very scary, if we had to go alone, but we don’t.   Jesus is sending us out together.  There is a large group of us and we will travel in pairs.  We will have each other.  We will help each other out.  We will support each other.   We can depend on each other.  

We will be gathering this harvest together.  The way we do that is by sharing the peace of Christ everywhere we go, and by telling everyone that the Reign of God is near.  

The reign of God is near. Isn’t this what we pray for when we say, “Your Kingdom come,” in the prayer that Jesus taught us?

What does the Reign of God look like?  

Imagine it - a world where God is supreme ruler.  

The harvest is plentiful.  Many, many people are waiting to hear the good news that we have to share. In God’s reign, whenever people greet each other they share the peace of Christ.  

Everyone shows hospitality to strangers no matter where they come from or what documents they carry with them.  

The harvest is plentiful. 

Food is shared and no one goes hungry.  

Everyone has a place to stay and shelter for the night.  

Everyone has meaningful work and is paid a fair wage.  

Everyone has access to health care, and the sick are made well.  

In this world where God reigns, we don’t need our baggage anymore.   Once it gave us our individual identity.  Now, God has given us new identities.  Together, we are the baptized children of God, all sent by Jesus, as missionaries to the world. 

We have been marked by the cross of Christ forever.  God gives us real power and authority In the name of Jesus.  

In the name of Jesus, we can even cast out the demons in our world.  

We no longer need to fear the wolves because together we have the power and authority of Jesus. He has promised that nothing will hurt us.  

Jesus calls us to leave our baggage behind and proclaim that the reign of God is near.  

He sends us as lambs in the midst of wolves, yet we are never sent alone.  

He gives us each other.  He gives us the power of his name.  The Lamb of God is with us whenever we are together.    

We proclaim that the reign of God is near every time we sing.  Today we have great reason to “praise the Lord, lift every voice, alleluia, sing Rejoice.”

The reign of God is near.  Our names are written in heaven.