Luke 17:1-4 – A Person Is a Person, No Matter How Small

Horton Hears a Who

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So, watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (NIV)

“A person’s a person no matter how small” said Horton the elephant to all the people that were completely unconcerned for the residents of Whoville living on a clover. The people were uninterested because the Who’s were invisible to them. Dr. Seuss chose to make Horton an elephant, a large creature able to hear with big ears and be attentive to the small.

Largeness can only come through becoming small.

“Little ones,” people who no one sees or notices, matter to Jesus, and so they ought to matter to us, too. Invisible people need to become visible to us. They need to become visible to us because Jesus sees them – they are not invisible to him. Jesus often mingled with little people – children, women who had no rights, social misfits like lepers, the chronically ill, religious outsiders, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Our world is filled with similar people – angry adolescents, unwanted babies, forgotten old people, the mentally ill, moral failures, immigrants and refugees, and, if we have eyes to see and big ears to hear, lots of underprivileged people who reside on the dark underbelly of society. They are around us, even if they are invisible to us.

Jesus envisioned a community that sees, honors, and protects little people. Truth be told, we are all little people before God, and he notices us. And, so, we are to become humble enough to see the little people around us. The only way to become great in the kingdom of God is to descend, not ascend, into greatness. The chief enemy of any community is a desire to be prominent, to be the Big Cheese – it is called “pride” and it will separate us from God if we hold onto it.  Which is why we must do all we can to radically cut it out of our lives.

This is a big deal to Jesus. So, here’s the deal: We are not to welcome people because they are great, wise, rich, powerful, good-looking, and look like you and me – we are to welcome others because they are noticed by Jesus. Like Horton the elephant,

Christ the Lord hears the cry from the place of smallness and is determined to do something about it.

The proud person who seeks prominence is always looking for greener pastures and impressing others. The proud connect with people who will help advance them up the ladder of success. Through that process of advancement, the proud do not care who they step on along the way. The Christ follower, however, is to be different. Christians are to give small, insignificant people of society the time of day, treat them as important, and advocate for their needs.

It was the Apostle Peter, a guy who learned the hard way about paying attention to those different from himself, who quoted the Old Testament in saying, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:9) That is, basic love for another prevents them from committing the sins they would have if they were unloved. If we do not love, it would be better for us to be killed in a tragic millstone death. Jesus does not want people acting like leeches, just sucking the life out of others to get what they want.

So, what do we do about it? How shall we then live? A person’s a person no matter how small. We need humility. We need to lower our sights and our bodies to see little people. We cannot truly see a two-year-old toddler unless we lower ourselves to view them as equal and important.

The way to see another requires slowing down, observing, and stooping or sitting to look them in the eye and give them the dignity of attention they deserve.

The danger of reading a post like this is the thought that all this stuff is really for someone else. After all, I don’t want to hurt anyone or see anybody deprived, so maybe the experts and professionals ought to handle it all. Yet, the fact remains that we do no one any good when we neglect getting on the floor. When we assume blessing for ourselves without the intent of giving it to others, we have come under the judgment of Christ. Perhaps we fear forgiveness – either accepting an apology from another or offering one to someone we have wronged. Out of sight, out of mind, is the approach of the one who causes others to stumble and make them fall.

Christ’s admonition is to watch ourselves, to be vigilant of both overt and covert sins against the unseen and forgotten among us. The pyramid below concerning racism is just one example of many other forms of causing others to stumble and fall:

white supremacy pyramid

Even though I write this warning, dear friends, I am confident of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation, deliverance, and liberation for all persons. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped others and continue to help them. Continue to show this same diligence so that what you hope for may be fully realized; and, imitate those who through faith and patience are doing good work. May the Lord be with you.

For those deprived of their human needs and their human rights: Just God, may they may be given the dignity by others which you confer on all his people.

For all who are forgotten and unseen, especially the poor, the sick, and the aged: All-seeing God, may you move us to love them as the image of Christ.

For all who are lonely or afraid, for teenagers on the street, the elderly in nursing homes, prisoners with no one to visit them, and all whom the world has forgotten: Lord Christ, may you lead us to them.

For those who suffer mental illness or disorder: Attentive God, may we cherish the gifts you have given them, and in their lives hear the voice of your love.

For each human life: Creator God, may we value every person as you do. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

Matthew 10:5-23 – Jesus the Troublemaker

Jesus, 12th century Romanesque
A 12th century Romanesque depiction of Jesus

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (NIV)

How do you view Jesus? I trust it includes plenty of compassion. I hope your view of Jesus also encompasses taking on the establishment and causing trouble. “I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves,” said Jesus to his disciples. Well, my goodness, that sounds unsafe! Sometimes we might lose sight that Jesus is much less concerned about our sense of safety and security than we are. That doesn’t make Jesus uncaring; it just means he sometimes has a different hierarchy of values than we do. Those who follow Jesus will need to take his concerns and ideals into consideration.

Frankly, the Lord Jesus was often a troublemaker who continually agitated for change. And, what is more, he warned us about trouble in the world. It is not that Jesus was intentionally pressing everyone’s buttons; he was just being himself, and that sent a whole lot of people gnashing their teeth at him. Our Lord Christ got all up into people’s grill and confronted them with bold assertions about justice and righteousness taken at God’s terms, not ours.

Therefore, as Christ’s followers, we can expect opposition and trouble. We need to anticipate we are going to sometimes disrupt and upset relatives, co-workers, neighbors, and those around us. Please understand this is not about being intentionally obnoxious or callously abusive. In fact, what personally drives me batty are Christians who take stupidly stubborn stands on the wrong hills of life, thus hurting others and damaging the cause of Christ. We really must be vigilant if someone’s hackles are raised that it is not because of our own foolish words and actions based in notions which Jesus never espoused.

The model of our Lord Jesus is that he was simply himself – advocating for the lost, the least, and the lonely – challenging systems which kept people burdened, oppressed, and lacking justice. This is the kind of stuff God has always done throughout history. Those with power and privilege discern quickly that advocacy and agitation for systemic change is a threat to them. Thus, we find ourselves like little lambs in a den of wolves. By simply loving Jesus and seeking to follow him we are, at times, going to upset people – and that is okay. Facing trouble is not the worst thing to be experienced – to be separated from God is.

It is okay to rock the boat, shake the tree, upset the fruit basket, stir the pot, and make waves if you are doing it because you value the ethics and methods of Jesus. So, count the cost. Give your life away. In doing so, you will find it.

Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it: a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect; a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love. Give us the inspiration and courage to build it.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land] that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Exodus 3:1-12 – God of the Impossible

Burning Bush by Yoram Raanan
The Burning Bush by Yoram Raanan

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So, Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (NIV)

The burning bush is one of those iconic objects and stories in Holy Scripture. The experience of Moses changed both his life and the lives of all the Israelites then and now. Having spent the first forty years of his life as a darling in the Egyptian court, then the next forty years far from that life on the backside of the desert with a bunch of sheep, it is an understatement to say Moses did not expect or ever envision encountering God in a burning bush.

The impossible has no possibility. Or, does it?

That incredible encounter engaged the senses of Moses: the paradoxical sight of seeing fire in a bush that isn’t burning up; the smells of sheep, the outdoors, and perhaps, even of fire; hearing the call of God from within the bush; spiritually and emotionally tasting the attentive justice of God; and, removing the sandals to touch and feel the grounding of sacred space.

The story comments on the senses of God, as well. Even though God is Spirit and is worshiped as such, God is alive with his own sensations: seeing the approach of Moses, and the misery of the Israelites; the smell of injustice wafting into God’s nostrils with a stench that brought a strong divine reaction; hearing the cries of suffering; anticipating the savory taste of showing mercy and justice together; touching Moses in such a profound way that he and the Israelites would never be the same.

Through it all, the close identification between God and God’s people is expressed. The Lord feels the humiliation and pain of the Israelites and vows to uproot them from the Egyptian factory farm of slavery and plant them firmly into rich Promised Land soil.

And what God promises to do, God has the authority and power to make good on.

An impossible situation, Moses thinks. How can hundreds of years of backbreaking bondage to a national force so mighty that nothing can be done about it be broken? Who am I, Moses, to face such odds? Ah, but God specializes in systems of oppression and miserable people. It is the Lord’s abilities which conquer the mightiest of foes and can extend mercy to the lowest and the least powerful. The entire situation is ripe for divine intervention and supernatural wonders to occur.

God will make a way where there seems to be no way. God works in ways which transcend our senses. Where we are blind, God gives sight. Where we are deaf, God opens our ears with the sound of justice. When our taste buds are shot with the gruel of poverty, God causes our tongues to dance with the zest of mercy. When our nerve endings are raw from cruel bondage, God touches us with freedom. Where our nostrils have become accustomed to the smell of death, God’s aroma of life awakens us to new hope.

My friend, I believe with all my heart that:

You already intuitively know deep in your spirit that the impossible is possible with God.

It is never a question of God’s ability, but of God’s timing. God is able – and the Lord works the impossible in its proper time so that justice and mercy will have their full effect.

God of the impossible: I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

God of mercy: I receive. Help me in my denial.

God of justice: I accept. Help me in my rejection.

God of all time: I endure. Help me in my impatience.

God of All: I submit. Help me in my rebellion.

God of power and of might: I trust. Help me in my distrust.

God of our Lord Jesus Christ: I follow. Help me in my wandering.

God of the nations: Yes, you know that I love you. Yes, Lord, you know I love you. Lord, you know all things, and you know that I love you. So, yes, I will answer your call to go. Help me in my sending. Amen.

Click God Will Make a Way by Don Moen as we believe together.

Psalm 146 – “Underdog”

d046c-underdog

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
     who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

I admit that I am a classic cartoon connoisseur.  I was told when I was a kid that I would outgrow watching them – I’m still waiting for that day.  One of the cartoons I enjoyed (and still do!) watching is “Underdog.”  There is something deep within the human psyche that cheers for the underdog.  Wally Cox was the perfect voice for the mild-mannered shoe-shine boy to take his underdog super energy pill and fly through the sky to rescue Sweet Polly Purebread.

That “something” within us which identifies with the underdog is the justice of God.  It is important to understand that when the term “justice” is used, it isn’t meant primarily in punitive terms, as we might typically think of it.  Justice is providing people with what they need to survive, thrive, and flourish in life.  Withholding things from individuals or groups of people, or folks not possessing the things they need to function as humans in this world is an “injustice.”

Today’s psalm from the Revised Common Lectionary lets us know that God cares about the underdog – the one for whom may be lacking in basic material and spiritual provisions for living.  There ought to be no doubt that God is deeply concerned for those who are powerless, defenseless, and on the margins of society.  The psalmist identifies such persons: those who are hungry; the prisoners; the blind; those bowed down; the orphan; and, the widow.  All these people represent individuals without the ability to be movers and shakers in their society.  In short, they need God; they deserve justice.

And God delights to use his power to champion them and lift them up.  What is more, truth be told, it turns out that all of us are underdogs.  We all need God.  We all are meant to both receive and provide justice.  Every altruistic decision we make and just action we take is really God’s gracious empowerment to do it.  We owe it all to God.  Thus, the logical and reasonable response to such a God is praise – to declare our hallelujahs to the One who reigns forever and always sees humanity’s great need.  How will you praise God today for who he is and for what he has done?  Let such praise shape your soul and lift your spirit as you intentionally connect with the merciful God who gives the underdog what they need.

Eternal God, you reign forever and ever.  I praise you for as long as I live.  I put my trust in you, and not in those in who wield their apparent power and influence for personal gain.  Let them wallow in their delusions while I declare the mighty Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.