Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Monthly Archives: October 2010

Notes for a message based on Luke 18:9-14

Have you ever accomplish something very important, maybe serve on a committee in church, or helped with a special function in church, and you put your whole heart and soul into that project. How did you feel after such an accomplishment? Did you want the whole world to know about what you’ve done?

 

Point is that most of us, if not ALL OF US have accomplished something in our lives that we deserved recognition for. All of us feel good about our accomplishments at one time or another and all of us take pleasure and enjoy when those accomplishments are recognized.

 

Let us look at the audience, at the people to whom Jesus told today’s parable… Look at the verse Luke 18:9: “Then Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone else…” (NLT) I am talking about folks who can relate to the song by Mac Davis “O Lord it’s so hard to be humble…”

 

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror, Cuz I get better looking each day.
To know me is to love me, I must be 
          {here is a word not appropriate for church – I will improvise} 
                                           a really cool dude
Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble But I’m doin’ the best that I can

Let us be honest, at times all of us sang a version of this song in one time or another.

 

Knowing Jesus having the Holy Spirit to shape and mold our lives invites each and every one of us to examine our lives: and folks it is a grueling process. It is hard to go through this process, it is hard to look at our own lives, it is hard to face our own sinfulness, it is hard to accept that we cannot even come close to the example that Jesus set for us. For those who are familiar with 12 step programs, I am talking about something similar to a combination of steps four, five and six.

 

Often what happens when we HONESTLY go through this process – keyword here is HONESTLY – we may end up feeling unworthy to ask God for anything. Maybe our sinful nature and behaviors are despised as the lowest kind of evil by those whom we consider respectable. We may even struggle with self-deprecation and self-loathing. If we truly recognize our shortcomings we may wonder if we even dare to approach God to ask for His help in our lives.

 

Today’s parable tells us that God welcomes us even when we feel low and when our hearts are heavy. Today’s parable contrasts a person who is singing “O Lord it’s so hard to be humble” with a person whose spirit is so broken and whose heart is so heavy that he does not even dare to lift up his eyes.

 

Notice, Jesus does not say that the Pharisee is a bad person. Likewise Jesus does not say that the Tax Collector is a good person. Today’s parable does not make such a distinction. Today’s parable simply contrasts two people who are at different points in their lives.

 

So what’s in it for us? What can we take home with us when we leave the church today? What can we chew on for the next week?

 

Today’s parable tells us about the Pharisee who had enough religion to be virtuous, but not enough to be humble. As a result his religion drove him away from the tax collector and from God. We can read today’s parable as a warning against pride and as an exposition of illusion of self-sufficiency.

 

However if we hear today’s parable only as such a warning, we will miss much of what Jesus was telling his congregation on that day. Jesus was talking about connection between Pharisee’s attitude of pride towards God with his contempt for the tax collector. What Jesus was telling us is that God’s Grace is available to all.

 

But Jesus made an important distinction: just because God’s Grace is available to all does not mean that everyone is ready to receive it. Today’s story makes a point that only those who learned empathy, only those who can understand struggles of others will be open to recognize and to receive God’s Grace when it is given to them. The point is that in order for us to receive God’s Grace we need to learn to recognize God’s Grace. We learn to live as Christians, and we learn to walk as Christians by recognizing Christ in others.

 

Jesus Himself made this point in the Sermon on the Mount. Turn your Bibles to Luke 6:36-38:

NLT Luke 6:36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

37 "Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.

Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you.

Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.

38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full — pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back. " {love, compassion, empathy, money}

And today I want to ask you:

· The Pharisee set himself apart. Do you separate yourself from any groups or individuals?

· As he was praying, the Pharisee was trying to convince himself that he is worthy of God’s Love? Are there ever times when you are trying to convince yourself instead of just accepting His Love?

Those are tough questions that require honest look by each one of us into our own hearts. Unfortunately there are no easy answers. But our journey towards God, as we grow in grace and compassion is full of such questions.

Lectionary Readings for year “C” – P22

This week’s readings are: Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

 

You can find these readings here:  NIV  // NRSV  // The Message

Stump the Pastor: Do I Have To Go To Church To Be a Christian?

The other day I was in Martins supermarket talking to an acquaintance and that person asked me, “do I have to go to church to be a Christian?”

 

What a great question… I promised to think about it and post my reply on this blog.

 

Here is the short and a long of it: “It depends on your definition of the word ‘church’.”

 

If you understand ‘church’ to be a building with pews in it, then you do not have to go to church. Just like sitting in a garage does not make you a car, sitting in a church building does not make you a Christian.

 

The truth is that church is not a building. Church is a community of individuals who gather regularly to celebrate the love of God, the friendship of Jesus and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Church is a community that gathers on a regular basis to share their joys and concerns, to celebrate the sacraments (Baptism and the Holy Communion) to lean on each other in difficult times and to be engaged in works of Christian charity, mission and outreach beyond the boundaries of their community.

 

A person cannot be considered a Christian unless he or she actively belongs to such a community.

 

I realize that a reasonable retort would be, “but I believe in a personal relationship with God and I am a good person because I support a long list of charities…”

 

When we read the Gospels and Early Christian Writings of the Holy Scriptures, we discover that the only person who wanted to be a “lone ranger” was Nicodemus (John 3) who came to Jesus “by night.” Although he was earnest in wanting to follow Jesus, he wanted God to accommodate him and his desires for autonomy. His story is in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3. Nicodemus was not willing to give up his habits and creature comfort to become one of the disciples of Jesus.

 

What I like about Nicodemus is that he did not pretend to be someone who he was not. He said something like “following Jesus is not for me” and moved on with his life.

On the road again…

 

In North Carolina, approx. 7 AM

 

In South Carolina, approx 10:30 am

In Dairy Queen in Richmond Hill, Georgia approx. 3 PM

 

In Visitor Information Center exiting Georgia, approx. 3:45 PM

 

 

 

In Florida, approx. 4:15 PM

 

Driving in Central Florida, Approx. 6 PM

Message notes for a sermon based on Luke 18:1-8

 

This week’s readings are: Jer 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; Psalm 19; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

This readings can be found here:  NIV  // NRSV  // The Message

 

There is a Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy planned a picnic for the next day. In the first frame she is saying to Charlie Brown, "I just hope to goodness that it doesn’t rain tomorrow…" In the second frame we see Charlie walking away as he is muttering to himself: "Hoping to goodness is not theologically sound."

 

Charlie Brown is correct. "Hoping to goodness" is not sound theology. Fixing our hope upon God is. Being persistent and focusing in FIXING OUR HOPE UPON GOD IS the sound theology.

 

In order to understand today’s scriptures we need to understand what today’s parable is about. Luke gives us a hint in the first verse of chapter 18 where we hear these words: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”

 

All of us remember times when our hearts cried to the Lord: “When Jesus? How much longer? I cannot take it any more? What should I do now?” Because we remember such times in our own lives, it is easy for us to empathize with the widow in today’s parable.

 

When we hear that the widow kept bringing her pleas to the judge who eventually satisfied her requests, then subconsciously SUBCONSCIOUSLY we make an association: we remember the times when our hearts cried to God: “How much longer? When Jesus?” and we see ourselves in a widow as she is coming to judge with her pleas.

 

And when we do that, subconsciously we associate the judge with God.

 

I do not know about you, but God that I know, God that touched my heart, God that I learned about from the Bible, God who is walking by my side is nothing like the judge in today’s parable.

 

In today’s parable Jesus was NOT comparing judge with God. In today’s parable Jesus was contrasting the judge with God. The point that Jesus is making is that if an unjust judge eventually listens to the widow, how much more quickly will a caring, loving God respond to one of his children… one of us.

 

Today’s parable is about:

  1. relying on God,

  2. continually building relationship with God through prayer and

  3. not giving up.

And by the way, Paul echoed this when he wrote (I quote The Message translation):

2…proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple.

3You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food–catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. 4They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. 5But you–keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant. (2 Timothy 4:2-5 The Message)

So what’s in it for us? How do we apply all that to our own lives?

 

Have you ever felt swamped by life? Have you ever felt that there is not enough time in the day to accomplish everything that you have to do? Have you ever felt so tired that you could not lift a finger? Have you ever felt drained of all energy and feeling nauseous at the thought that you have to do something? Be it schoolwork, or special project with a deadline at work or preparing for a special event at home and needing to spruce up the house… Christmas shoping… Anybody ever frantically ran around the mall looking for that special gift for that special someone in your life?

 

Such feelings and emotions come at times upon everybody: young and old, male and female, young and old, rich and poor.

 

And if I had to summarize the whole Bible in a few words, if I had to boil down the whole of Bible starting with Genesis and ending with Revelation in a few sentences, I would do it as “God wants to have a relationship with each and every one of us. God wants to help us to deal with those times when we are swamped and tired, frustrated and feeling down. God wants to walk by our side and help us deal with our lives if we let Him to do just that.”

 

Today’s parable shows us that God is a little bit like the widow who kept persistently coming to the judge; He is persistently knocking on the doors of our hearts and souls. And as God is trying to help each and every one of us, there is just a little bit of that judge inside of us, wanting to keep our “freedom” and “independence” and not wanting to be bothered, not wanting to hear when the Holy Spirit directs us because when we hear Him, usually it means that we need to change something in our own lives. That “little bit of the judge” inside, makes us place our hopes “TO GOODNESS” instead of fixing our hopes on Gracious and Loving God.

 

Today I want to ask you:

Is God knocking on the doors of your heart today?

     Do you feel the Holy Spirit moving within you?

           Are you “HOPING TO GOODNESS” like Lucy in today’s opening illustration or are you putting your faith and hope in your relationship with God?

               Do you do your part to cultivate that relationship?

That is SOOOOO Cool

 

 

 

 

In 2008 we saw something similar… This is really cool.

Very PoMo [or post-modern 4 my theo-gumbas]

Lectionary Readings for year “C” – P21

This week’s readings are: Jer 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; Psalm 19; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

 

This readings can be found here:  NIV  // NRSV  // The Message

Notes For a Message Based on Luke 17:11-19; “C” – P20

Readings for this week are: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-12 or UMH 790; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

You can read these texts here: NIV  // NRSV  // The Message

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Can you imagine what life was like for the Disciples of Jesus? They left everything behind to follow a “grass-roots Rabbi,” someone who did not have a formal education and yet could explain and illustrate complicated matters of life and faith in simple language that everybody could relate to.

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In the beginning, they left everything and began following him because he was able to touch something in their souls; he was able to quench their thirst and their hunger for God; he was able to inspire them and encourage them to be better men and women.

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Originally the disciples came from all different walks of life; in the past some had worked in farming and agriculture (fishermen and peasants), others were professionals working as bureaucrats for local governments (collecting taxes, keeping books, etc) or in construction (laborers, engineers, carvers, artists).

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In the past, their backgrounds had separated them; fishermen did not want to hang around tax collectors and tax collectors did not want to have anything to do with anyone else unless it involved the exchange of money.

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The disciples had followed this “grass-roots Rabbi” for close to three years now. They learned so much from Jesus; it was frustrating at times because Jesus had a tendency to challenge them to look at everything from a different point of view. Education was never meant to be an easy endeavor, and Jesus was not an easy teacher.

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At that stage of their journey, however, they started to see the fruits of that education. It was so exhilarating to be able to help others. Jesus kept sending them out on little side trips, usually two-by-two, and they would help anyone who asked.

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Still, following Jesus was not easy. Sometimes they were cold by night, sometimes they were hot, thirsty and hungry by day. Often they were tired, their feet hurting after long walks between villages. Sometimes they were welcomed, sometimes they were shunned. These experiences built a common bond among them.

clip_image016Things that used to separate them, their social status, their education or lack thereof, their ethnic, professional and religious identities, simply did not seem like a big deal anymore because they learned to see how God worked through each of them. Shared mission, shared experiences and a shared story built a bond and a connection among them.

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Following Jesus INFUSED their lives with a shared sense of belonging to God and to each other. Following Jesus gave them a sense of purpose and mission in life.

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Truth be told, as Jesus traveled the countryside, men and women came out in droves to hear him speak, or to ask for healing. Many inquired what would it take to join their group; the great majority decided against it because the price was way too high and they were not willing to pay it (Luke 9:57-62). Who in their right mind would voluntarily subject themselves to the hardships of the road without a guaranteed future reward? How do you explain “a shared sense of belonging” to someone who does not want to expend any effort in order to belong?

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Today’s Gospel reading took place while they were traveling in the territory between Samaria and Judea. As Jesus and the Disciples were walking through a village, there were ten lepers standing at a distance. Instead of shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” as they were supposed to according to the Law (Leviticus 13:45), they called out, “Jesus, have pity on us.”

 

Had they heard through the grapevine about the “grass-roots Rabbi” who gave vision to the blind and taught the lame to walk? Did they do it for sport because there was nothing better to do and they were bored? Were they asking for healing, or were they hoping for a meal? We don’t know.

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Can you imagine what life was like for these ten men? Persons with leprosy were shunned by society (Lev 13:45-46; Num 5:2). They were forced to live in their own colonies (2 Kings 7:3) and keep distance from non-lepers for the fear of infecting others.

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In the past, as healthy and accepted members of society, these ten men were separated by ethnic and religious identities. While they were still healthy, their feelings were mutual; Judeans would not even think of mixing with Samaritans and Samaritans did not harbor any warm feelings towards Judeans either. That animosity seemed like ancient history now because at the time we met them, these ten men shared an unfortunate common bond. They were sick with leprosy, and that made them outcasts. Their common misfortune broke down racial, national and cultural barriers. In the common tragedy of leprosy, religious, ethnic, and racial differences that seemed so important in the past lost their meaning. A shared tragedy and a realization that they are in need of healing and reconciliation tends to unite men and women who experience it.

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For whatever reason, these ten men cried out to Jesus for help. In response, Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests (Luke 17:14). As they set out for that journey, as they stepped out on faith, all ten were healed.

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The story continues with Luke making a point that only one of the ten, the Samaritan, returned to thank Jesus. That is when Jesus mused/reflected, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:17-18).

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Truth be told, Jesus knew where the other nine were. They were on their way to show themselves to the priests; they were doing what their religion was telling them to do. That is what was expected of them and they were very happy to do what was expected of them. Only one of ten, thought it important to walk the extra mile and do something above and beyond what was expected of him. He came back to Jesus to thank him.

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I wonder how his life changed as a result. I am not talking about the obvious things like being healed from leprosy and being restored from the status of an outcast. I wonder what transformation happened inside him as a direct result of that decision to walk an extra mile and to thank Jesus for the healing? I wonder what happened to his sense of belonging, to his sense of mission, to his spiritual connection to God?

 

Every man, woman and child who came in contact with Jesus, or who made a decision to follow Jesus was changed. Those who responded to that change with their lives, making a choice to become tools in God’s hands were infused and inspired with a sense of mission to make disciples.

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Today I want to ask you, where do you see yourselves in today’s story? Are you with the crowds that would like to follow Jesus but are not willing to pay the costs of discipleship? Are you with the Disciples, embarking on a journey with Jesus, not quite sure where it will take you? Are you willing to accept God’s mission and make it your own? Are you with lepers, in need of healing and reconciliation?

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Those who had the courage to follow Jesus, found excitement, fulfillment, purpose and meaning in their lives. They responded to that excitement, fulfillment, purpose and meaning by partnering with God to reach out to others. We who have been blessed are now called to become partners with God, to be instruments of blessing to God and to others… That is what mission is. That is what Jesus saved us for, to “… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything [JESUS] have commanded [us]. …" (Matt 28:18-20).

Thinking Towards Sunday; “What About the Lepers?”

I am going to preach on the Gospel Lesson:  Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)

 

Today’s Gospel reading took place while they were in the territory between Samaria and Judea. As Jesus and the Disciples were walking through a village, there were ten lepers standing at a distance. Instead of shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45) they called out, “Jesus, have pity on us.”

 

Had they heard through the grapevine about the “grass-roots Rabbi” who gave vision to the blind and taught the lame to walk? Did they do it for sport because there was nothing better to do and they were bored? We don’t know.

 

Can you imagine what life was like for these ten men? Persons with leprosy were shunned by society (Lev 13:45-46; Num 5:2). They were forced to live in their own colonies (2 Kings 7:3) and keep distance from non-lepers.

 

In the past, as healthy and accepted members of society, these ten men were separated by ethnic and religious identities. While they were still healthy, their feelings were mutual; Judeans would not even think of mixing with Samaritans and Samaritans did not harbor any warm feelings towards Judeans either. That seemed like ancient history now because at the time we met them, these ten men shared an unfortunate common bond. They were sick with leprosy, and that made them outcasts. Their common misfortune broke down racial, national and cultural barriers. In the common tragedy of leprosy, religious, ethnic, and racial differences that seemed so important in the past lost their meaning. Nothing unites men and women more than a shared tragedy. Nothing unites men and women more than recognition that they are in need of healing and reconciliation.

 

These ten men cried out to Jesus for help. In response, Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests (Luke 17:14). As they set out for that journey, as they stepped out on faith, all ten were healed.

 

The story continues with Luke making a point that only one of ten, the Samaritan, returned to thank Jesus. That is when Jesus mused/reflected, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:17-18).

Truth be told, Jesus knew where the other nine were. They were on their way to show themselves to the priests; they were doing what their religion was telling them to do. That is what was expected of them and they were very happy to do what was expected of them. Only one of ten, thought it important to walk the extra mile and do something above and beyond what was expected of him. He came back to Jesus to thank him.

 

I wonder how his life changed as a result. I am not talking about the obvious things like leprosy gone and he does not have to be an outcast anymore. I wonder what transformation happened inside him as a result of that decision to walk an extra mile and to thank Jesus for what he done?

 

Any Ideas?

Thinking Towards Sunday; “What About the Disciples?”

I am going to preach on the Gospel Lesson:  Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)

Can you imagine what life was like for the Disciples of Jesus? They left everything behind to follow a “grass-roots Rabbi,” someone who did not have formal education and yet could explain and illustrate complicated matters of life and faith in a simple language that everybody could relate to.

 

In the beginning they left everything and began following him because he was able to touch something in their souls; he was able to quench their thirst and their hunger for God; he was able to inspire them and encourage them to be better men and women.

 

Originally the disciples came from all different walks of life; in the past some worked in agriculture (fishermen and peasants), others were professionals working as bureaucrats for local governments (collecting taxes, keeping books, etc) or in construction (laborers, engineers, carvers, artists). In the past their backgrounds had separated them; fishermen did not want to hang around tax collectors and tax collectors did not want to have anything to do with anyone else unless it involved the exchange of money.

 

The disciples had followed this “grass-roots Rabbi” for close to three years now. They were learning so much from Jesus; it was frustrating at times because Jesus had a tendency to challenge them to look at everything from a different point of view. Education was never meant to be an easy endeavor, and Jesus was not an easy teacher. At that stage of their journey, however, they started to see the fruits of that education. It must have been so exhilarating to be able to help others. Jesus kept sending them out on little side trips, usually two-by-two, and they would help anyone who asked.

 

Following Jesus was not easy. Sometimes they were cold by night, sometimes they were thirsty and hungry by day. Often they were tired, their feet hurting after long walks between villages. Sometimes they were welcomed, sometimes they were shunned. These experiences built a common bond among them. Things that used to separate them, their social status, their education or lack thereof, their ethnic, professional and religious identities, simply did not seem like a big deal anymore because they learned to see how God worked through each of them. Nothing unites men and women more than a shared mission, shared experience and a shared story.

Truth be told, as Jesus traveled the countryside, men and women came out in droves to hear him speak, or to ask for healing. Many inquired what would it take to join their group; the great majority decided against it because the price was way too high and they were not willing to pay it. Who in their right mind would voluntarily subject themselves to the hardships of the road without a guaranteed future reward?

 

 

I wonder what similarities were there between the Disciples and Ten Lepers in their emotional and spiritual makeup?

Any ideas?

20

20

 

“Every princess wants to live happily ever after with the ‘ogre’ she married”
== Fiona

Lectionary Readings for 20th Sunday After Pentecost, Year “C”

 

Readings for this week are: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-12 or UMH 790; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

 

You can read these texts here: NIV  // NRSV  // The Message

My Lord And I; Working towards Heritage Sunday

Working towards Heritage Sunday

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