The serious problem of the “good” Samaritan

 

The parable of the Samaritan in Luke 10 isn’t about figuring out who is “qualified” to help. It is about a radical love for God and others that is so deep, the first inclination is to help.

It’s risky. It’s dangerous. It puts us in hard situations.

And through all of it we find the presence and love of God.

That “go and do likewise” part is harder than we can imagine.

The “soil” of the American Church

Stanley Hauerwas offers some challenging words in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) in the Brazos Theological Commentary on Matthew.

It is hard to be a disciple and be rich. Surely, we may think, it cannot be that simple, but Jesus certainly seems to think that it is that simple. The lure of wealth and the cares of the world produced by wealth quite simply darken and choke our imaginations. As a result, the church falls prey to the deepest enemy of the gospel—sentimentality. The gospel becomes a formula for “giving our lives meaning” without judgment.

Hauerwas, S. (2006). Matthew (p. 129). Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

This is the challenge I was thinking of earlier. Abundance is tough in discipleship. Hauerwas doesn’t let the American Church off the hook.

The church in America simply is not a soil capable of growing deep roots.

Hauerwas, S. (2006). Matthew (p. 130). Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

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What a challenge. It’s too broad a statement… but I can’t dismiss it. When we survey American Christianity, and how soft we are… it’s also easy to simply agree with Hauerwas.

But this is why I do what I do. I believe as a pastor I can lead my church, and hopefully future churches we plant, into a depth that is needed. What is needed is a desperation in spite of our wealth. And, when called to surrender our privilege… we do it. THIS is what we’re unwilling to do. We are so American, we just aren’t ready to “lose”. This is the tough lesson that is ahead… and one we really need to learn in a hurry.

Friends, we need our hearts plowed up. The plowing is up to us. In a tough environment of prosperity, we need to learn surrender. When we keep refusing to learn, the radical changes in our current culture will force those changes. What I want is a church prepared so we don’t whine as much as the rest of the American church when it finally happens.

Prepare our hearts, O Lord!

plow field

The curse of abundance

Soaking up the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 for the past couple of days, it is a mirror for us as American Christians. There is an examination of the heart we can make out of this parable. It’s not one we’ve done so far, and it may be doubtful we’ll look too deep now, but it’s a necessary examination.

The problems of the seed not taking root are not blamed on poverty. If the word doesn’t take root, it’s because the soil hasn’t been plowed up. It’s not a matter of persecution being the problem. Persecution in this parable is a given. The problem in the weeds isn’t a “lack,” it’s an abundance.

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If a multiplication of the richness of the Kingdom isn’t happening in our lives as the word is revealed to us, it is our laziness that is at the root.

When we allow the deceitfulness of riches to distract us, we create something that looks good but isn’t bearing fruit. We need fruit in the American Church. Fruit doesn’t mean numbers. It’s the character of the King.

When we bear the fruit of the Kingdom, we’re not walking in fear. The American Church is walking in fear right now. There is a look that is “good,” but underneath is a rumbling of fear because we’re “losing our rights.” We’ve become so Americanized, we can’t see the benefit of actually losing something. We’re threatened by the smallest things. The deceitfulness of riches (and the “riches” of having so many “freedoms”) have led us to a place where we look good but we’re not bearing fruit.

It is time to plow up the ground of our hearts. That plowing, that preparation, is up to us. It is not a call for “revival” in the sense of we show up to church and the Spirit “sovereignly” falls.

It is a call to sit with a Bible open, a heart open, maybe a journal of some sort nearby, and no one else is looking. It is a call to PLOW, which means we don’t read the Word once and all of a sudden we have a “revelation.” We stay at it… and stay at it… and then “all of a sudden,” the Word “opens” to us. We need a new tenacity to stay at the Word and stay at prayer and “miraculously” the Spirit shows up!

We need a revival of one.

You.

Me.

Plow the ground. Find the treasure.

My Name is Legion

 

The bus and the kingdom of God

I ride  the  bus a lot and the other day was reminded once again of what is possible in the Kingdom of God.

Things don’t always run on time. And you take a little extra time to help people who need the extra time to get on board.

Greed isn’t about being rich

Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.” (Luke 12:15)

If we could easily identify “greed” as just a dollar amount, it would be so much easier. We often try to put a dollar amount on greed… and then tax it.

The warning is against all kinds of greed. The story Jesus then tells concerns a farmer who has enough storage for himself, but then his crop is bigger than his storage, so he builds bigger barns. He looked ahead for his provision.

At face value, there is a lot of American good in that very short story. He looked ahead. He thought of his retirement. He didn’t want to “be a burden” on anyone else…

And Jesus says God judged him that night.

Included in that “all kinds of greed” is the greed that doesn’t look out for others as well. There is a temptation to think the “bonus” we get is just for us. The failure is to check in with God and ask what that “bonus” may have as a purpose in our lives.

“All kinds of greed” doesn’t have a dollar amount. Another component is looking for more… just for more. It’s not seeing “the other” in our lives. It’s allowing the thought that the god of Mammon can be enough for us.

There are “all kinds of greed” we need to be aware of in our lives. We need a greater awareness of the resources we have in our lives, and how God might want us to use them.

 

Sheep and Goats

Tackling the parable of the sheep and the goats hasn’t been easy. I still don’t have this one working very well in my mind. Yet, when I think of this passage with “the least of these” being Jesus’ disciples (the Sent Ones), I reflect on those who have gone before. I think of those who have laid down their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ and one day those who put them to death will stand before the King of Kings and given an accounting for what they did to “the least of these.”

For Graham Staines and his two little boys, martyred in India in 1999. For Mehdi Dibaj and Bishop Haik, martyred in Iran in the early 1990s, I want to honor their memory. I want to reflect on what it means to live all out for my King, even in the midst of the comfort of America.

 

The Parable of the Sower

This week I begin prep for next Sunday’s message on Parables in Matthew 13. I love Matthew 13 because it gives the opportunity to reflect on the use of parables in the ministry of Jesus.

The biggest section is the parable of the sower. It is not the very top of my list for favorites in this chapter, but I do like it a lot. The main reason I like it is because it goes against the grain of how we are “doing church” in America. The way we “do church” right now is “target audiences.” Make sure you target a “receptive” audience and drag them in.

The problem is this: you don’t know exactly who is “receptive.” That is the point of the parable. The parable isn’t about the sower. It’s about the soils. We are to give out the seed. The soil condition is not up to us. The sowing of the seed IS up to us.

My task needs to focus on sowing the good news of the Kingdom of God. The condition of the soil (while I want it very much to be good soil ALL THE TIME) just isn’t my call. I grate against that lack of control as an obsessive American, but I can rest in the command to sow the seed if I will truly be a person of the Kingdom of God.

http://gnesiolutheran.com

The Calling of God and the Call of Distractions

Luke 10 tells three distinct stories, all of which combine for great reminders of ministry. Years ago I remember a minister talking about how he wanted to live in the spirit of Luke 10.
The first story is the sending out of the 72. It’s about the call. Ministers called of God can relate. There is the excitement of getting out and doing what God has called you to do.
I need that reminder. The call of Jesus to his disciples is to proclaim what you have learned and demonstrate it. They were to go out proclaiming the Kingdom (what Jesus had taught) and then demonstrate the power of the Kingdom (which Jesus had been doing all along). In other words, it was time for the baby eagles to get out of the nest and learn to flap their wings.
It had to have been a joyous time to have the 72 coming back and reporting!
“WOW! All you said and did, we said and did! Even demons were subject to us!”
It’s at this point Jesus reminds them to stay grounded. “”Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Keep perspective.
The second story incorporates the parable of the Good Samaritan. The first story is a reminder of the call of God. The second story is about staying focused. The priest and the Levite in the story should have helped the wounded man. What kept them from helping was the distractions of their day. They had their “duties.” If they stopped to help, they would be delayed from their duties.
They may have also been distracted by the prevailing thoughts of their day. Why stop to help? That may be a trap! Why stop to help? He probably got what he deserved!
Distractions can keep us from the call of God. We may think we’re living out the call, but we’ve forgotten the true call of God. The Samaritan remembered the true part. He exemplified the call of the Kingdom.
So much can call out to distract! It can be “good things.” It can just be menial things. We allow our time to get eaten up by mundane tasks. We miss those opportunities to live out the power of Kingdom.
Remember the “good part.” Remember to proclaim what you have learned. Remember to demonstrate the goodness of the Kingdom as well. And work to keep distractions to a minimum.

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…


The parable of the sower is refreshing to read if I quit thinking like an American.

If I think of this as an American, I’m wondering why this dumb farmer throws seed in places that aren’t conducive to growth. I wonder what’s wrong with the seed.

I miss the point.

But in sowing seed, the message of the Kingdom, we DON’T know the soil. We are just called to sow. We don’t know the results. It’s not our call.

Even if there is fruit, we don’t know how much. As an American, it drives me crazy. I want to control all that! I want LOTS of fruit! I want NUMBERS!

But no matter the size of the yield, fruit comes. Fruit is what counts.