Jesus Levels with Us!

February 17, 2019

Luke 6:17-26

“Some years ago, on the day before All Saints’ Day, the country’s best distance runners met in Central Park. These included two old friends, Ryan Hall and Ryan Shay. Ordinarily they would be racing in the New York City Marathon, which was to be held the next day, but like other elite runners, they were competing in the marathon trials for the U.S. Olympic team.

The two men started side by side, and three miles into the race, both were near the lead. But this day belonged to Ryan Hall. Over the last few miles, he ran all alone in front, pumping his fists with joy. As he reached the finish, he raised his arms in triumph, knowing that his victory meant a berth in the Olympics.

It wasn’t until the press conference that Hall learned that his friend and mentor had collapsed at the five-mile mark. Shay had died of a heart attack at the age of 28.

Friends remembered a remarkable man who had grown up near the ironworks of northern Michigan and had retained that iron hardness. Teammates recalled how Shay had chided and pushed them to excel. The heart that had pushed them, and has in particular pushed Hall to greatness, had not been built to last. Long ago, Shay had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart. As his father noted, “The thing that made him such a great runner may have killed him.”

Blessings and woes lie close to each other. In ancient times, good fortune was often taken as a sign of divine favor. But in this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus stands that on its head. We might just as well assume that the poor, hungry and grieving are God’s beloved.”[1]

Jesus speaks truth to injustice and reveals to us what the kingdom of God will look like when we move beyond trying to one up the other.

To move to that point where humanity is living in equality is a sign of the kingdom of God. In the meantime, we are far from that! There are massive differences between the rich and poor which just seems to be growing greater. There is a renewed sense of racial hatred. I have witnessed this in Richmond as people have made disparaging remarks about our Latino neighbors. When beliefs do not line up, it seems to be an on-switch to become verbally abusive. To find Jesus amongst these practices and beliefs is nearly impossible.

These are the same issues that Jesus is addressing in his day. He knows that people have lost their way and are taking advantage of one another. It is through his sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel that he begins to truly irk the authorities. What he has to share, they do not want to hear. The truth can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Jesus’ words are harsh when they fall on ears that are not open to the gospel message of love and grace. These words are meant to challenge us. They are meant to raise us up to a greater awareness. These words are meant to be counter-cultural.

So, what do we do when we are of this world? A world that has become more secular and the good news does not seem so good to many. How do we live as Christians in a world where Jesus’ message puts us on the outside? Outside of the wealth. Outside of the perceived power. Outside of endless blessings.

The first step has already been taken by Jesus. He was born incarnate in this world to bring the message of God’s love and grace to a world that has lost its way. Jesus comes to jar us out of our complacency. Jesus comes to remind us whose we are, and as God’s beloved children, we are already blessed beyond belief. That does not mean our blessings do not come without woes. We are still living on this side of the full in-breaking of the kingdom of God.

Ryan Shay started that race feeling blessed for the God given talent that he had, however the woe that came to him, his friends, and his family through his untimely death was incomprehensible. However, God was there to pick up the pieces and remind them of the saving love of Jesus Christ. We too will have woes. We never know what they will be.

Do we bring some of them on ourselves? You bet!

Are some out of our control? Yes!

But Jesus comes to us. He comes to a level place as the gospel tells us. He draws us even and reminds us that we too are loved. We are not called to stand on mountains and have power over others. We are not to stay in the valleys and wallow in self-pity. We are called to be in that level place with Jesus where the kingdom of God is breaking in. Where love and grace rule the day. Not wealth or poverty, feast or famine, health or sickness, have or have-not. We are called to live into that place where all are equal, and the kingdom of God shines bright.

Let us pray. Lord, you challenge us. Your words and promise bring us to points that are uncomfortable and different from many other noises in society. We pray for your guidance as we try to be part of your movement to bring the kingdom of God closer to humanity. Amen.


[1] Lawrence Wood, Blessings alongside Woes, Sundays Coming, The Christian Century

What Are You Willing to Leave Behind?

February 10, 2019

Luke 5:1-11

God comes to each and everyone of us in different manners. Jesus shows up when we are least expecting him and calls us to a life of letting go. You may have a story to share of that very moment, or you may still be waiting for such a moment. Sister Grace, in early twenties and contemplating making final vows in her spiritual community, wondered how the women ahead of her in the formation process could be sure they were ready to make this commitment. One Saturday morning, she was discussing this with a friend who was planning to make final vows in a few months. Her friend said to her, “Have you tried asking God about this?” Grace replied, “I hadn’t thought about that,” and actually went to her room to pray. When she prayed, asking if God wanted her to make final vows, she experienced her bedroom suddenly filled with light, more than the sun streaming through the windows could account for. And she felt deeply loved by God. However, this surprisingly immediate response to her prayer and the intensity of God’s love and presence frightened her and she fled her room.

Her friend noticed her pacing one of the corridors and commented, “I thought you said you were going to pray.” Grace responded, “I did, and God is in my room right now!” Her friend asked her the next logical question, “Then what are you doing out here? Don’t you think you should go back?” Grace replied, “I’ve got enough of an answer for now!”[1]

Jesus has been traveling around the country side healing and teaching. Luke shares some of these stories before the calling of the first disciples. He had to establish himself and build some credibility. The call to Simon comes as Jesus borrows his boat to speak to the people gathered along the lake shore. It is morning and all the fishermen were coming in after a night of work and I am sure that Simon and his group are not only tired, but also quite frustrated and angry. They did not catch a single thing while out that night. Now Jesus wants to commandeer his boat. He says yes, perhaps with a bit of reluctancy.

When Jesus instructs him to let down his nets, Simon reminds him that the night was not productive, but okay, I’ll humor you. Jesus surprises him a second time as he pulls in a net full of fish. So much fish that he must call his partners over so that they can fill their boat too! At this point, we would expect him to thank Jesus. Right? Nope! He more or less tells Jesus, “Go away Lord, get out of here! I am a sinner and not worthy of this generous gift!” Like Sister Grace, he cannot handle the presence of God and wants to get as far away as possible.

We are living in denial if we say we have never done something similar. The power and presence of God can be overwhelming! Sometimes, when we want to experience that power and God seems distant, we get even angrier and tell God to get lost for a while. This is our attempt to manage God in our lives, and let me tell you, it usually does not end the way that we want it to. “God, you may enter some parts of my life, but not that part!” However, we do not have a say where God shows up!

We must be open to Jesus showing up in the weirdest places that we would have never expected! We should not be surprised, because he did it time and time again throughout the gospels. He eats with tax collectors. He has conversations with prostitutes. He welcomes the sick and the dying. He speaks with gentiles and shows his love for them. His presence among the least of society is one we can easily witness in the gospels today. For Simon, he still probably didn’t quite know what he was getting into. However, he knows that he is a sinner and yet Jesus still wants him to follow him. First, he leaves behind the thought of that bed that he was going to get in after an unsuccessful night of fishing, and then once they make their way back to the shore, he leaves the boats of fish behind to follow Jesus. He left everything!

What is in your boat that you are being called to leave behind?

For Sister Grace, it was her doubts and her reluctance to truly invite God into her prayers. For me, it was a life of complacency where I would have been a store manager. Now, for some, that may be their calling. For me, I knew that God was calling me to something different. Something weird! It is in the weird that I found Christ calling me to something much fuller and richer that spoke to the life that God had created in me. Each of us need to find that same thing.

Jesus does not only call us, but he also equips us for the journey ahead. For Simon and the other disciples that follow him, he will teach them to be the fisher of people! He will continue to teach them and will prepare them to share the good news once his mission is complete. While we are sinners too, we also are equipped by following Jesus and his teachings. While Jesus may show up when we least expect it and calls us to let go of the worldly things in our lives, he will never leave us to carry out his message alone.

Let us pray. Jesus, you call us to places we would never venture without your prodding. May we be open to the Spirit empowering us to listen to where our journey may lead next. Amen.


[1] Janet K. Ruffing, Spiritual Direction, Beyond the Beginnings, pg. 37.