September 2016 Archives

The chasm separating the rich and the poor seems insurmountable just as was the chasm separating the wicked and the good in the Hebrew land of shades. But Jesus is the bridge.

Note: This sermon was a rerecord done as the recorder did not function on Sunday when It was delivered.  

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 25 - 19th Sunday after Pentecost

"The Chasm".  Text is from Luke 16:19-31 

Click here for sermon audio 






Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

This is a classic parable of Jesus in Luke, and when we approach it it sounds like a classic reversal. Here we have a two significant characters. First we have the rich man. He enjoys all the things life has to offer, and wants for nothing. He has failed, however, to take notice of the suffering even at the gate of his house and has left Lazarus, a poor soul, hungry there, with dogs licking his wounds. As what comes to all mortal men, the both of them die. However, the fortunes are now reversed, as Lazarus, upon his ending, is carried off by angels and received into the land of the dead by Abraham, the patriarch of all the children of Israel. The rich man, however, is condemned into Hades, and suffers unending pain and torment. 

Crying out to Abraham, the rich man wishes for some small favor, that he send poor Lazarus with the slightest bit of water to quench his thirst. Having been refused that, because of the distance of the chasm, that the patriarch send Lazarus to warn his brothers against the life that caused he himself to find torment. Abraham says it is impossible, if they are not swayed by Moses, and the words of the prophets like we heard from Amos this morning, a dead man rising up would not make any difference. 

So one thing that we find in this passage is that even in death, the rich man is entitled. He doesn't appear to be overly remorseful of his behavior, and even fails to acknowledge Lazarus directly, but continues to expet Lazarus to serve his needs. Abraham, bid Lazarus to quench my thirst. Abraham bid Lazarus to warn my brothers. At first glance it appears that the rich man has earned his comeuppance. He did not even see Lazarus in life, he failed to acknowledge the suffering at his doorstep, and even in suffering fails to see his own culpability, choosing to objectify Lazarus and not see him as a human being. 

The gospel is for everyone. Even rich people. 

30 pieces of silver.jpg

This is an unrehearsed homily, so there is no accompanying text!  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 21, 2016 - 19th Wednesday after Pentecost

"Nineteenth Wednesday after Pentecost".  Text is from 1 Timothy 6:6-19  

Jesus forewarned of the cross during his lifetime. And it is at the center of the Christian life. And for every Christian we see it behind us and before us.  

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 18 - Holy Cross Sunday

"Lost and Rescued".  Text is from John 3:13-17

Click here for sermon audio 



Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

This short little passage from John comes from a discourse Jesus is having with a man by the name of Nicodemus, a Pharasee who wanted to learn more about who Jesus was and was seeking him out to understand what it was to be a follower of Christ. Jesus first explains how a person must be born again to be received into the kingdom of God which baffles and mystifies Nicodemus. And Jesus asks Nicodemus how someone such as him who is professing to be a teacher of the people of Israel, not already know these things.

We know what Jesus is teaching are new teachings for the people of Israel, and yet, he still responds to Nicodemus as if he is supposed to already know these things. We learn how Nicodemus comes to faith is part of the process of learning, part of the process of becoming a disciple of Christ. 

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who don't believe. And it really seems to be absurd when you look at it.  

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This is an unrehearsed homily, so there is no accompanying text!  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 14, 2016 - Holy Cross Day

"Seventeenth Wednesday after Pentecost".  Text is from 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 

We cry when we lose things. We are joyful when we discover things we'd lost. God cries when God loses us. God is super joyful when we are found.

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 11 - 17th Sunday after Pentecost

"Lost and Rescued".  Text is from Luke 15-1-10

Click here for sermon audio  



Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

Jesus is offering us a parable which is kind of a double parable, essentially outlining the same thing in both parts. 

It is a classic response to complaining Pharisees about the invitation Jesus had extended to tax collectors and sinners (and I love how Luke described it, as if tax collector was a different category of sin unto itself). Luke allows us to remember that tax collectors were not simply sinners but people...Jewish people who collaborated with the Roman authorities. They grumble as they always do about the way Jesus conducts himself. Imagine this holy messiah who they've been told that Jesus is, and Jesus has done nothing to dissuade that belief, but rather than hang out with the important Jewish folk like the priests and Levites, kings and other synagogue leaders, Jesus surrounds himself with the likes of these. 

Paul claimed to be the worst of the worst. And yet God saved him. 

File"-Saint Paul Writing His Epistles" by Valentin de Boulogne

This is an unrehearsed homily, so there is no accompanying text!  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 7, 2016 - 17th Wednesday after Pentecost

"Seventeenth Wednesday after Pentecost".  Text is from 1 Timothy 1:12-17 

Jesus had a hard act to follow. Picking up your cross means a lot more than saying something is "your cross to bear". It means that you're willing to go the length. But God's promise to us is greater than any cost.

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 4 - 16th Sunday after Pentecost

"Cost of Discipleship".  Text is from Luke 14:25-33

Click here for sermon audio  




Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

What about this word, "hate"? I have to say, I really hate it when I read Jesus using that word, "hate". And yet, here Jesus is, at a stop along the way to Jerusalem, as his followers continue to grow in number, he is saying to them that unless they hate their family, their spouses, their lives even, they cannot be his disciple and follow him where he is going. 

And that's not the only rough thing that Jesus seems to be saying to the people following him this morning, things I doubt that many of them really wanted to hear. Because after all, these crowds who have been following him to Jerusalem (is he ever going to get there?) have been growing in number. But not all of them are ready to take on the cloak that he is offering. 

Jesus uses the example of building a tower, and whether or not one is prepared to make the effort to build it. Whether one is ready to take on the cost of building the tower, lest they finish the building at the foundation and become an object of ridicule to all who would see the half finished foundation. One almost wonders if there was a particular building that had been started at that point in one of the nearby towns of which the people following would have been familiar. 

And then he uses the example of a king going off to war, setting out to defend himself against his enemy neighbor only to find out that he has half the number of soldiers the opponent has, and deciding to use diplomacy instead. That king will survive to fight another war, but is incapable of setting off on the current campaign. 

It was in this way that Jesus explained that the cost of discipleship was hard, and those who were not able to pay such a cost would not be able to follow him. Jesus was indeed offering some harsh words, and many of those who had been following him were not at all ready to receive them.

Hate your family? Give up all your possessions? Or don't bother trying to follow me as my disciple.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R0211-316, Dietrich Bonhoeffer mit SchülernHow do we deal with all the hate here? While some people who have commented on the gospel want to say that the word here is really something that means "love less", Luke chose a word in Greek that was somewhat strong and has some clear implications. The word "hate" seems to be intentional. And so how do we reconcile the God of Love with a Jesus who is telling us to hate our families, our friends all the people we come from? 

But this is the kind of saying we hear from Jesus that was remembered as it was said. Jesus was frequently prone to hyperbole. If Luke is telling us Jesus said "hate" Jesus probably said something that was intended to be understood as our definition of hate. But the early disciples, and particularly Luke's audience would have been in a place where they understood some of the consequences of following Jesus. Your old lives are now gone. Your new life is one where you have to decide to give up all those old things, putting away those old relationships that are going to keep you following either an oppressive system of law or cultic pagan worship that was all too often mixed up self-indulgent practices. 

But most people did not actually know what they were signing up for when they made that decision to take Jesus' path. When the going got tough, people dropped off. Sure, they had made an impulsive decision to leave what they knew all their lives, but when they finally considered the cost, that they were burning bridges back home and that not everything was sunshine and daffodils on the trip forward...no, in fact you had this person everyone was telling you would be king of kings and savior to all and he was yelling at those around him, and you started to see that the authorities were not at all happy about him either. And while Jesus is using hyperbole, he does so in order to make it crystal clear that the good news he was carrying, that God was here and there was a golden hope at the end of road and nothing should come between them and God. There would be sacrifice. They would have to give up their possessions, because all those things could do little more than get in the way. 

But does our savior, the one who is telling us to proclaim this gospel of love, that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, want us to truly "hate" our families of origin? Because when you truly got down to it, even the greatest of his disciples were not always strong enough to give up everything, and we know from other places that God's forgiveness is unconditional. That we don't always give everything to God that we should, that we often fall short of meeting the requisite requirements for living the life of good discipleship.

What will discipleship cost you? Christians in the early centuries understood crucifixion and its implications. The public execution of Jesus of Nazareth was not the invention of crucifixion, it was common throughout the Roman empire. And even the people of Israel were familiar with it. During a rebellion a generation earlier, some two thousand Judeans were crucified by the Roman governor of Syria. So they knew what it meant to carry a cross around.  So when you tell someone that something is your cross to bear, that you have a troublesome best friend or are dealing with a cranky client, are you actually minimizing what that particular saying means? Something that is a cross to bear is something that not only you take to your death but it will be the death of you. That was the cost of discipleship for many early Christians. 

But today? The 20th century German theologian and scholar Dietrich Boenhoeffer wrote an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount entitled the Cost of Discipleship in which he describes the difference between cheap and costly grace. He talks about the unconditional forgiveness that God provides to all of us in terms of the cost for us. Bonhoeffer writes: "cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ." 

It is the notion that once having sinned, one can hear the gospel that says everything is forgiven. Stay as you are and enjoy the fruits of that forgiveness. It ignores the understanding that faith without works is dead, that a grace that is given freely without the power to change one's life is likely not the true grace given to us by our lord and God.

Bonhoeffer then talks about costly grace: "costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'"

Bonhoeffer is often described as a Lutheran martyr, because he was executed by the Germans in 1945, only days before the liberation of the camp he was at, because his faith led him to oppose the regime and denounce the evil that pervaded the conflict in Germany. Bonhoeffer paid the ultimate cost for his own discipleship to Jesus Christ, whether he intended to or not

There is nothing which denies that the grace that surpasses all understanding is freely given from God. The question comes, therefore is that when we receive grace are we truly open? God's forgiveness is not like human forgiveness. God's forgiveness is a grace that is so powerful, our lives are changed. We become his word in the world and live out the powerful good news that seeks in us to proclaim to the world around us. 

The message of Jesus Christ is hope. It is in that desire to follow Christ, to give up what makes us comfortable, to say good bye to our old ways of life and thinking that is the evidence that we are harbingers of God's costly grace. Remember that, while tomorrow is holiday, that God's work continues in the world and he calls on us, his disciples to be his hands for his work. The cost may be great, but it is not impossible to bear, and in our gratitude for the fulfillment of God's promise to us, we may be ever joyful in that cost. 

Amen. 

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