Post Presbyterian Church
August 12, 2007
Through the schedule of scripture readings found on the back of our bulletins this summer we have been in conversation with the Gospel of Luke and the community of Christians to whom he wrote. In the book, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, Thomas Talley explains that “even after Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire and the New Testament scriptures had been decided, evidence suggests that some of those early Christian congregations clung tenaciously to their favorite gospels. Scholars have found that churches in the western part of the Roman Empire seem to have preferred Matthew, while churches in the eastern part of the empire seem to have favored Mark and John. No scholar has yet found evidence of a similar fondness for the Gospel of Luke.”
While there is no scholarly explanation of why Christian congregations prefer the other Gospels, it may be because Luke’s telling of the Gospel story pushes us to think outside our comfort zones more than the others. J. Frederick Holper, Professor of Preaching and Worship at McCormick Theological Seminary says, “Luke’s Gospel cuts a little too close to the bone and Luke always seems to go from preachin’ to meddlin’.” In a sermon Dr. Holper preached at the 4th Presbyterian Church in Chicago (August 8, 2004) entitled, “God’s Good Pleasure,” he said that “what ties together the sayings in our reading for today is Luke’s vision of what will be in the Kingdom of God. In Luke’s Gospel, what will be is not measured by the aspirations of the world’s movers and shakers but by God’s passion for the moved and the shaken. Luke’s understanding of God’s passion for the poor arises from a community where those who have more share their wealth with those who have less. In Luke’s vision, the proper way to make use of one’s possessions is to give them away, to share them with others, or to sell them so that those who have very little will have enough to live. ‘Live simply,’ Luke seems to be arguing, ‘so that others may simply live.’”
The late Henri Nouwen begins his book, With Open Hands by telling the story of a woman suffering from a nervous breakdown who is brought to a mental hospital for treatment. The intake process requires that she be relieved of everything she has brought with her: clothes, purse, jewelry, etc. The attendant takes everything from her and inventories it. But then he notices that the woman’s fists are clinched tightly, as though she is hiding something. The attendant asks her to open her hand, but the woman refuses. The attendant then tries to pry her fingers open, but she resists with every ounce of strength.
Finally, the attendant calls upon a team of orderlies to hold the woman still so that her hand can be pried open. And when he finally does so, all he finds in her palm is a single, thin dime. It isn’t much. In fact it isn’t even the most expensive thing she had had taken from her. But to this woman, that dime represented the last vestige of her hope that she could control her future on her own. So long as she had that dime, she believed, she could at least make a phone call to the outside world.
Henri Nouwen says that this incident was the key to her recovery. Once the dime had been taken from her, she no longer had any reason to keep her fists clenched. And once she opened up her hands, once she relinquished the notion that everything was up to her, she was able to receive the gifts of others. (As told by J. Frederick Holper)
In his sermon, “God’s Good Pleasure,” the Rev. Holper says, “we all have treasures we fear losing: for some it’s our looks, for others our authority, for some it’s our minds, for others our reputations. What matters, is not which treasure we have, but whether our treasures are shared. When treasures are shared, the master suddenly starts serving the workers. When treasures are shared, hungry people find their way to a feast. (When treasures are shared, people are given hope and everyone’s life becomes rich and meaningful. When treasures are shared, the differences between us fade in importance.) When treasures are shared, the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Our scripture reading from Luke begins with a promise, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” God wants us to enjoy the life made possible by God’s kingdom here on earth and he tells us not to be afraid. If we are afraid, God says, maybe it’s not because of what we don’t have, but because of all that we do have. Thinking about the good life in this way is not a normal perspective for any of us.
Most of us worry about the future and we are often afraid that we have not saved enough for our children’s education or for our retirement. My husband has a great life insurance policy if he was to die soon, but what would I do if he were simply disabled and unable to work? When I get scared and feel vulnerable and threatened and begin to think that I am here to take care of my own, and therefore, I must be more practical and squander my gifts, possessions and resources for my own gain then I lose sight of how I am supposed to be living God’s good pleasure now.
When I mistakenly think that everything is up to me and I get too consumed with worry about tomorrow or if I will ever have enough, all I have to do is visit one of our dying patients who is receiving the services of Hospice of Lubbock and I am reminded quickly that I may not have tomorrow and that I need to simply live faithfully and fully today. And what living faithfully and fully today in God’s good pleasure looks like for me is when I use my gifts, talents, money, time and passions in the service of others and when I remember that it is not all up to me nor is it supposed to be all about me and my worries and my obsessions and my petty concerns. As one writer put it, “We are no better than the magnitude of our compassion.”
In the profound book, Saving Milly, the national, political pundit, Morton Kondracke writes about how his wife’s struggle with Parkinson’s has made him a better person. He said, “For most of my self-focused life I viewed every human contact as a public relations challenge. Will I impress? Where will I rank? What does this person have to offer to me? Now, because of how Milly’s disease has changed me, I think I view human contact as an opportunity to connect and to help.”
In his moving account of how he cared for his dear Milly as Parkinson’s disease eventually took everything from her, Morton Kondracke states that caring for her provided him the opportunity to go beyond the self-absorption and petty jealousy that had consumed much of his life. He writes, “In taking care of Milly, I’ve become a different and better person---someone I never expected to be. I have put someone else’s happiness above my own. And I’ve become dedicated to causes greater than my own advancement---those of conquering Parkinson’s disease and increasing support of all disease research. I am not a saint, but I am certain that all of this is God’s work.”
A story I heard on the NBC Nightly News on May 11th, is a beautiful reminder of how God will provide for us and how God uses us to provide for others. During his 12 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl champion, Leroy Butler delighted and inspired hundreds of thousands of fans with his talents as an elite pro football player. But what ultimately inspired Butler was one female fan with breast cancer who almost lost her home and her car becaue she did have the money to make her payments and pay for her medicine. When Butler found out about the plight of Kym Lindau and other desperate and hopeless women fighting breast cancer, he established a fund that has so far enabled 400 women to keep their houses, their cars, and pay for necessary medicines to sustain their lives. Leroy Butler said that restoring hope, touching lives and helping these dear women has enriched his life in ways that being a Super Bowl Champion never provided.
As Morton Kondracke and Leroy Butler so powerfully remind us, life is a gift, a gift to be shared and a gift to be treasured. When disease, age, tragedy and other forces beyond our control strip from us that which we love and cherish the most, we learn that our true security and identity lie not in our misplaced allegiance to our possessions, ambitions or wealth but in our humble and assured place in God’s unfolding kingdom in our midst. “The gospel as gift and demand is clear: God wants to provide for us and God will provide for us and through us God will provide for others.” (From The Christian Century, July 24, 2007, p. 21)
I referenced and excerpted the sermon preached at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago on August 8, 2004 by Dr. J. Frederick Holper entitled, “God’s Good Pleasure.”
The web site for the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago is www.fourthchurch.org
Loving and Holy God, we gather on this beautiful summer day in this place hoping to experience a sense of your presence that will enliven us and encourage us to be more open to your gifts of grace, mercy, hope and promise in our midst. Life can be messy and difficult and very stormy and we sometimes find ourselves in the midst of chaos and darkness by the illness and death of a loved one, by the loss of a relationship, a job, or our fragile health, or by times of uncertainty and discomfort when we are at a loss of what to do next. We pray on this day for the faith and the perspective to not only survive the storms of life that batter and bruise and change us forever but to be able to trust you O Lord in the midst of them that we will be given the people, strength and resources we need to be whole and well again someday.
In all that we say and do, help us to remember always that life is a gift, a gift to be shared and a gift to be treasured. When disease, age, tragedy and other forces beyond our control strip from us that which we love and cherish the most, we learn again that our true security and identity lie not in our misplaced allegiance to our possessions, ambitions or wealth but in our humble and assured place in your unfolding kingdom in our midst. We are thankful, O Lord, that you want to provide for us, that you will provide for us, and that through us you will provide for others.
We pray on this day for continued healing in Mary, Nelda, and Sandee and we pray for the lives of all affected by illness, loss and grief. Give us the gift of endurance to weather the difficulties and tragedies that come our way and then enable us to see with our eyes of faith the healing, the hope and the promptings of new life that will eventually give us promise and peace once again. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us now pray together...