Blog for days 279 + 280 “True Sacrifice” and “The Extremity of Need” Luke 17-19
October 7, 2021, 9:27 AM

Blog for days 279 + 280 “True Sacrifice” and “The Extremity of Need” Luke 17-19

[A quick note—as school becomes more intense, I may be doing more blogs like this and combining days. Personally it is best for me and for my relationship with God if I can write every day, but as for all of us, real life gets in the way of our best intentions.]

The kingdom of God is at hand. That’s a puzzling sentence, a puzzling thing for Jesus to say. Pastors talk about it among themselves; we worry how to preach about it. But now that I have read the phrase over and over, I think it is much simpler to understand. Jesus is simply saying: “Here I am!! I’m right here! God is in your midst!” That is the simplicity of the kingdom at hand. It’s a “here now, right now” understanding, and even though the Son of God was saying wherever he traveled and taught, not many people received it.

We should understand that this still applies to us, and to the world today because when Jesus ascended into heaven, he left what behind? The advocate. The paraclete. The helper. The Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit. I am able to say my favorite one-word prayer, “Emmanuel”, because Jesus remains with us in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The kingdom is at hand.

But the kingdom is also not quite here. What I mean by that is that we are not yet living with God in the new heaven and the new earth, as promised. Jesus is coming a second time. He is going to return in a final confrontation against evil and death. The question is—do we believe that?

Most of us are pretty happy to believe in the possibility of miracles. Many of us have experienced them. We understand the power of prayer to change us, and accept it as a way to communicate with the Creator of the Universe. (That is so powerful to write—when we pray we communicate with the Creator of the Universe!) We experience the peace of God in our worship services, and in the gifts of family and friendships.

But Jesus is being clear with the disciples that while his presence with them is a great good thing, a day is coming when the Son of Man will return and we need to be prepared in our hearts to be part of it. Numerous stories that we read today from our friend, Luke, remind us of the mportance of being ready, the importance of being persistent in our faith like the widow who keeps annoying the judge until she gets what she wants.

Let me stop there. What do we need to be persistent about in our faith? What do we need to keep working on, to pray about? Do you feel connected or disconnected right now from God? If you feel connected, why is that? What is happening, or how are you responding to God in such a way that you feel God’s presence? If you feel disconnected, do you have any ideas about why that is the case? Have you been participating in worship services? I’m not asking as the Attendance Police, I’m asking as a fellow Christian. In other words are you spending time in an environment where God may seem more accessible, where you are surrounded by signs and symbols that speak his name and that allow your soul to ‘marinate’ in God’s presence? That may be your own living room by watching online, or it may be the church community that misses your actual presence with them.

There’s just so much in here—the rich ruler who cannot break his relationship with money in order to follow Jesus. And can I tell you that I get that? Money equals status, and money equals security. Living a life of poverty as a college student is charming. Living a life of poverty as a senior citizen is exhausting, anxiety-producing and stressful. Many of us think that money would solve a lot of problems, but the reality is that our very own society can actually address social problems for those who are in need—we can provide food, shelter and care. We have enough ‘extra’ in our society to spread wealth around more equitably, but we have an attitude of ownership over the one thing that can genuinely help solve some of our deepest cultural problems. That’s why Jesus tells tells the rich man that is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Money, money management and self-sufficiency can take the place of care for others, and for our need to depend fully on God.

And yet….the talents, right? Or as this Bible calls them, the pounds (Luke 19: 11-27). The pounds are clearly some type of currency and Jesus tells the story about how the nobleman expects his servants to increase the wealth he gives them. STOP RIGHT THERE!!!! Jesus uses the idea of wealth because it will be an image that resonates with his audience. Those who hear will understand what Jesus means when he uses this example. We would too. If Jesus had said it this way “A wealthy stockbroker gave three of his traders $100,000…” we would probably assume that those traders would do their job of earning more money with the money given by the stockbroker. That’s what they were supposed to do, right?

So these stories of money use money as a common denominator for the listeners. Yes, they are about money, but the main point is the kingdom of God, as always. And anything that gets in the way of our ability to attain the kingdom and to invite others in as well is an obstacle for us that keeps us farther from the good things that God has planned for us.

Two quick stories to end, and then one more comment on a Jesus teaching.

One: a pastor friend of mine often says this “I am going to heaven and I hope to take as many people with me as I can!” Excellent goal, good friend! He is not just self-centered. He is using his ‘ten pounds’ of faith to encourage others on the path.

Two: when I was too young to know better, I had a ‘vision’ that was central to my faith foundation. In this picture/image/moment, I was given a choice of directions, but either way I went, God allowed me to see that I was leading a line of people who were all connected to me and each other by holding hands. As a young person, it reminded me of a kite tail that got so long I could not see the end. And God let me know clearly that my choice would affect allllllll  those people as well. That vision broke my thirteen-year old heart. I felt the weight and the importance of my decision in that moment, and oh!--you know I chose the path of Life, the Way of Jesus, at that moment. I refer to that as my true Confirmation.

And a final comment on the passage about the ten lepers (Luke 17: 11-18). This is one of my favorite passages, but it is a cautionary passage. Ten lepers are healed—they are, in effect, touched by new life. Jesus offers this new life to anyone who hears and believes, but so few recognize the true value of what is offered. Of the ten lepers that are healed of their physical/obvious illness, only one returns with gratitude. I hold that picture in my heart because it is the picture I want to embody.

And so I end with a question: what are you thankful for today? About three years ago, I posted this provocative statement—What if you woke up today with only what you thanked God for yesterday? Now, thank goodness, God is not like that!!! But it does make me aware of the abundance in my life and gratitude is always a good thing that can lift us out of a mental funk because it shines light on simple things.

Dear God, I am thankful for hot coffee, peanut butter toast in the morning, morning glories that surprise me, water, my bed, Alistair (don’t tell him he was after coffee and peanut butter!), my son Alex, my whole family…..

The list could go on all day into next week. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,


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