Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Dishonest Manager - Luke 16

No, this is not about AIG - although, come to think of it, maybe they could learn something from this story!

The story of the dishonest manager is a puzzling one. Jesus is apparently commending this crook - who cheated his boss, then when discovered and fired, cleverly cheated him some more in order to save his skin. What should we make of it?

Remember that Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. He has been telling stories that indicate what happening - the true owner has shown up and is calling the stewards to account. He has just invited them to join the party - to welcome the "younger brothers" who have been lost, but now are found. The leaders have lost their jobs as stewards - but now they have the opportunity to demonstrate grace to the other debtors. The "sinners" still think that the teachers have an "in" with God. If the teachers join Jesus in forgiving debts, they show off the generosity of the owner. (Generosity was a prized quality in the middle eastern culture.) They make the owner look good and make friends for themselves at the same time. There is still time for them to come to the party, to find grace for themselves, and grace for their fellow debtors.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rejoice With Me - Luke 15

Make sure to read verses 1,2 carefully - they are the key to this passage!

In each of the stories, something lost is found - and there is an invitation to rejoice. In the parable of the lost son there are really two lost sons. Both essentially wish their father dead so they can have his stuff. They don't want him.

But the father in the story is persistent. The story ends with uncertainty - the father "came out and entreated him" to join him in welcoming his brother back, to rejoice with him. And the story does not say whether the older brother does or not.

The story echoes what is happening at the moment: Jesus is welcoming back the lost, the "younger brother." The "older brothers", sure that they are the ones who deserve to inherit everything, stand back. Will they come in to the party? Will they respond to the invitation to "rejoice with me!"

Tim Keller has a great book out on this parable, called Prodigal God (as well as a sermon series available on Redeemer Presbyterian Church website.) It is one of the best explanations of the gospel I have ever read. Don't miss it - and get one to give away.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tensions - Luke 13,14

Kristen said last week about Luke 11 and 12: " He sounds mad!" There is more of that tension in these chapters!

In the news today, everyone is incensed over the bonuses paid with taxpayer's money to the executives who made such a mess of things. Makes people mad! They were meant to be good stewards of what belongs to someone else.

That is what is going on these chapters. This is a critical moment in the whole salvation story. The Word and the kingdom had been entrusted to one people. Now the master has shown up - and they are put to the test: will they recognize the rightful master, or resist? These chapters are full of warnings. They come at a critical moment: Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, where prophets are killed. This is the moment to respond. Jesus is asked: "Will the number of those saved be few?" He responds with a answer, not about numbers, but about timing: the door is still open, but it won't be for long. (Remember that the warnings about the consequences of rejection of Jesus and his message came true within a generation, when the Romans overran Jerusalem in 70 AD, the temple was destroyed, and the people scattered.)

God always intended that His kingdom was for all nations - not just one. They were meant to be lights to the world. Jesus' rejection and death opened the way for all people - the poor and undeserving (all of us!) - to come in to the great banquet. We come in by the narrow door - Jesus himself.

The section is full of serious teaching for the disciples. They - we - are the ones entrusted with representing the kingdom. May Jesus, by his Spirit, keep us from neglecting the important things: justice, the love of God, the love and healing of our neighbor - and the presence of the Master, Jesus himself, .

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friends - More on Luke 11

In our Book Group we talked about prayer, and the story Jesus told about the friend going to get some bread in the middle of the night. Everything Jesus says here about prayer is about relationships - Father, children, friends. Relationship is central to prayer. It is not a matter of technique or getting the words right - it is a child asking her father for what she needs, a friend going to get food for another friend.

When I was coming back from Boston, delayed by snow, I was thinking about who I could call to come to get me at the shuttle at midnight. There aren't too many you would ask to do that - but the ones you would ask, you know that they will do it if they can - because of friendship, or because they are family. It is all based on the relationship.

When Dan and Rachel were here getting together a team of ministry partners, they made some friends. When they left, someone told them: "When we first met you we didn't think we could be one of your ministry partners. But now we have to - we are your friends."

Jesus said in John 15 "No longer do I call you servants because the servant doesn't know what the master is doing. But I have called you friends..." Jesus brings us into partnership with God, into the family business, so to speak, giving us his own Spirit. We have taken His aims as ours. So we ask for what we need, for what our friends need. And we trust that he is not asleep, not indifferent- but is doing what we both want done.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kingdom Imagination

We have been talking a lot about the Kingdom of God (maybe because Luke uses the term 51 times in his gospel, 27 times in this section we are now reading!). Here is a quote from Eugene Peterson's new book Tell It Slant to add to our growing understanding:
"'Kingdom of God'" is the term Jesus used frequently as a metaphor for the all-inclusive work of God's rule, God's dominion that Jesus is both proclaiming and enacting.... Kingdom is what is going on all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. But it is Jesus' intent to make us aware of it. Kingdom requires a total renovation of our imagination so that we are able to see what our eyes do not see, so that we are capable of participating in what will not be reported in tomorrow morning's newspaper."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Father Has Chosen to Give You the Kingdom - Luke 11, 12

Jesus has been announcing and demonstrating the message of the kingdom: “God is God, Jesus is Lord, the power of evil has been defeated, God’s new world has begun…. All people everywhere are invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God’s future, and a vocation for the present.” (N.T. Wright)

Last week we saw that Jesus designated a new people of God and has begun to instruct and train them in representing the Kingdom of God. In these chapters we begin to see what it means that “the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom.” There is a lot of material here - we can sum it up in three pictures:

The Persistent Friend (11:1-23)
Jesus is entrusting his followers with his own authority. Jesus acted in loyalty to the Father – therefore the Father entrusted him with all power and authority. He gives His followers His Spirit – so that they too can be the Father’s representatives, doorways and windows for his love, blessing and provision to break into this world. The kingdom comes through those who say yes to the King, who welcome his rule. Jesus is the “stronger man” who breaks into the “strong man’s” realm and sets his captives free. In prayer we are given the same responsibility and authority.

The Lighted Lamp (11:24- 12:3)
“Something greater” than the miracle of Jonah or the wisdom of Solomon is here, Jesus says. It is something much more radical. Representing the reign of God isn’t just a matter of conforming on the outside - washing the outside of the cup - but of radical transformation from within. It’s no good just to send the demons out – the Spirit of God must be at home in the house.

The Wise Manager (12:4-48)
It is the owner’s job to give the steward the authority he needs to represent the owner, and also to provide for whatever the steward needs to do his job. The steward’s job is to represent the interests of the manager – not his own interests. God entrusted his plan for the rescue of the world he created to his Son – the Son has entrusted it to his people. It is a serious responsibility.