Archive for October, 2010

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 19:1-10

1. Way In

Let’s talk about Procrastination. To tell you the truth, I’d rather talk about it later, but we better do it now

New Yorker 10/11/10, article: “Later” by James Surowieki

Procrastination: an interesting subject because of its irrationality

Nobel Prize winning economist living in India

packages of things a friend visiting from the US left behind

economist put it off week after week

knew it would be a hassle, probably take most of the day

8 months later a colleague shipped a package to the US

economist threw his friends stuff in that package

moral: even Nobel Prize winners procrastinate

P., just a bad habit or does it reveal something about the limits of rational thinking?

each year Americans waste hundreds of millions of dollars because they don’t file their taxes on time

workers forego lots of money on matching 401-k plans because they never got around to signing up for retirement plan

Philosophers say P. is an example of what the ancient Greek philosophers called akrasia – doing something against your better judgment

willfully deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off

although P. involves putting off unpleasant tasks, indulging in P. doesn’t make you happier

65% of students surveyed before they started working on a term paper said they would like to avoid procrastinating – they knew both:

they wouldn’t do the work on time, and …

the delay would make them unhappy

so why do we put it off?

Are we (the procrastinators) just stupid and lazy?

if we act against our best interests, does that mean we don’t know what’s right?

are we unable to rightly plan how long something is going to take?

we don’t always put something off and do something fun instead

in fact some of us will do anything as long as it’s not the thing we’re putting off

author even cites Gen. George McClellan who led the Army of the Potomac

missed a chance to take Richmond in 1862

convinced there were hordes of Confederate troops

did the same thing later at Antietam

McClellan never felt that he had enough troops, well enough trained or equipped

another Union general said McClellan had an immobility that exceeds all that anyone can think of

Lack of confidence, unrealistic dreams of heroic success often leads to procrastination – self handicapping

rather than risk failure, P. prefer to create conditions that make success impossible

sometimes seen in excessive planning

another thing Gen. McClellan was accused of

P. coming from perfectionism

article goes on to evaluate other psychological/emotional issues that drive procrastination

i.e. weakness, ambition, inner conflict

offers tools for overcoming P.

not necessarily something you can beat by just trying harder

suggest to employ techniques to help the parts of ourselves that want to work

In Homer’s Odyssey, Ulysses tells his crew to bind him to the mast of his ship

he knows he will be too weak to resist the song of the Sirens

and want to steer into the rocks to pursue them

the business traveler who is willing to pay extra for a hotel room with no TV

divide the task into smaller, well-defined chunks

these are easier to accomplish than open-ended tasks with distant deadlines

P. is partly driven by the gap between effort (required now) and reward (comes in the future, if ever)

There are times that P. arises from a sense that there is too much to do, and it truly is time to ease off a little

May be useful to think in terms of 2 kinds of P.


telling yourself that what you’re supposed to be doing has no real point

the procrastinator’s job is to figure out which is which


Spent a lot of time on this before talking about the gospel lesson today

I want you to be thinking about procrastination – the akratic kind (putting something off in spite of your better judgment)

especially as you notice Jesus’ urgency

Read the text now

2. Tell The Story

Luke tells us that Jesus was passing through Jericho

There was a man named Zaccheus there

a chief tax collector

And he was rich

Z. was “trying to see who Jesus was,” but he was having trouble

could not see on account of the crowd around Jesus

and because he was short

So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree “to get a better look”

already a sense of urgency

When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up

told Z. to hurry up and come down

because I must stay at your house today

So Z. hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus

The crowd started to grumble

Jesus has gone home with this sinner

Then Z. promised Jesus that …

I will give half of my possessions to the poor

If I have defrauded anybody, I will pay them back 4 times over

And Jesus said

Today salvation has come to this house …

Because this one is also a son of Abraham

The son of man came to seek out and save the lost

3. So What?

A lot to preach on here

redemption, restitution, salvation

save these for another day

Today – I want to think with you about … Today

Zaccheus – what an unlikely disciple

tax collector, outcast

made his living by overtaxing the people

remember, he got to keep all the extra he taxed

if a person owed 10%

Z. could collect 20%, send 10% to Rome and keep 10%

probably jacked it up even more since he offered to pay back 400%

but on this day – he wanted to see Jesus

made a great effort

Jesus recognized Z.

was probably expecting to see Z.

already knew which tree to look in to find him

And Jesus knew all about Z.

just like the Syrophoenician woman at the well

the one he met and told her her whole story

Jesus knew about Z.’s tax collecting, and his extortions

J. knew what the people thought of Z.

Today was the day for Zaccheus

Jesus didn’t ask Z. to come talk to him sometime

he told him to hurry down and take him to his house today

he didn’t tell Z. to go make everything right – then come back …

didn’t tell him to go return all the money he extorted – then come see him

he told him to hurry down and take him to his house today

Jesus didn’t say, “we’ll have to get together sometime when your whole family’s at home. Call me.”

he told him to hurry down and take him to his house today

Jesus didn’t say, “Hey Z., I know you’re job’s really tough right now, but if we get that new emperor, then maybe you can get a better job. Then be sure to call me and we’ll get together.”

he told him to hurry down and take him to his house today

Jesus didn’t say, “I know tonight’s the new season of CSI – 24 – Monday Night – So You Think You Can – Dance With The – Jersey Girls – Glee; but when that’s over, you’ll have to give me a call.”

he told him to hurry down and take him to his house today

And Jesus calls us – Today – and this is not the time to procrastinate. This is not one of those times like the New Yorker article about procrastinating being a warning against doing something not worth the time. This is Jesus calling, this is our discipleship calling – and he calls us today

Like with Zaccheus, Jesus doesn’t say to us:

wait until you get it all together …

get past that busy schedule for _______

You get over being mad at _______

or when _______ isn’t mad at you anymore

you get over that thing that happened at church

Jesus is saying – come down out of that tree today

because it’s not about us

it’s about transforming the world – starting where we are

even up in our own tree, about our own stuff

Jesus calls us down – today

to be about being the Kingdom of Heaven

take our place in the beloved community

being about the work Jesus calls us to

clothing the naked

feeding the hungry

reconciling with our brothers and sisters

being the church of Jesus Christ, today

What’s our excuse?


Read Full Post »

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 18:1-8

Pray Always and don’t Lose Heart


Way In

Do you have a problem with prayer?

I don’t mean do you think it’s alright to do it …

But are you satisfied with prayer?

Are you comfortable praying?

Are you satisfied that it does any good?

But what good is prayer, anyway?

Does God always hear me?

Does God always hear you?

Funny that when I find myself in certain situations, I miss the prayer.

As a minister, I’m used to being called on to pray.

… I’m used to opening up a meeting or event with prayer

I notice when I attend a non-church meeting or event

…well, first I notice when nobody asks me to open with prayer

Then I remember, “Oh yeah, this is a room parent meeting

or book reading at the library or a book store


Sometimes I feel surprised to be praying

like once when I was participating in a march in Atlanta about healthcare for the poor

One of the organizers handed me the bullhorn and said, “Here Joe, open us with prayer.”

But as a minister, I feel more and more urgings just to go ahead and pray

There was a Presby. minister in Birmingham, AL called Brother Bryan

he was pastor of a parish in the city in the early 1900s

with iron workers, firemen, policemen

Brother Bryan was always praying with and for people

when he met them in the street, or at their job

on the telephone and on the radio

if you visit Birmingham today you will see a statue of Brother Bryan

at 5 Points – on the southside of the city

kneeling in prayer with his hands folded and his face reaching earnestly towards God

But I fall short of Brother Bryan’s earnestness and eagerness to pray

Sometimes I feel like I start out okay

but I start to ramble, or lose my place

I had a friend in seminary who kept a journal of what she prayed for

more like a record

Because she would go back to God and say, “Hey, remember back on 9/17 when I prayed for ___ ?”

sometimes, Heaven forbid!, I fall asleep

that’s why it’s good to pray out loud or with others

Do you ever wonder like me what happens when we …

Pray for healing and don’t get well?

Pray for peace and the war doesn’t stop?

pray for “this” and “that” happens


Jesus tells a parable in today’s gospel lesson about problems with prayer

See? It’s not a new problem

And Jesus seems to get at the questions we have

when prayer doesn’t turn out like we want it to

Tell the Story

Today’s reading from Luke’s gospel gets off to a unique start. This is one of the few parables that begins with an explicit comment stating what the following parable is about. “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart,” but he ends it with a question about faith

There are two characters in the parable

mean judge

has no respect for God and no respect for people

poor widow

who was persistent in coming to the judge for justice against her opponent

the woman persists, she is always in this judges’ court with the same demand for justice

Judge relents

“even though I have no fear of God…

or anybody else,

I will grant this woman her justice”

because she’s driving me crazy

This is Jesus’ teachable moment:

“Now God is not like that unjust judge…

God will grant justice to those who cry to him day and night

and he will grant it quickly

Then he ends the parable with a twist – a challenge

“Yet when the Son of Man comes. will he find faith on earth?”


The widow had nothing

no husband, no money, no power, no standing, no authority

she was insignificant

one commentator said she probably couldn’t find justice in a good judge’s court, much less this one

she owned nothing, but she had the dignity of a child of God which nobody can take away

so she stood in her dignity before the judge demanding justice

probably followed him home, or went to where he had lunch … she stayed after him

her persistence finally wore the judge down

So What?

“How does the parable teach us to pray always and not lose heart? And why does Jesus add the question at the end about whether the Son of Man (himself) will find faith on earth?”

“Pray always and don’t lose heart”

even though things seem hopeless (even though this judge was awful) … PRAY ALWAYS

Because God’s righteousness will prevail…

light will overcome darkness

good will overcome evil

love will always prevail against hate

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God (John 4:16)

“Don’t lose heart”

don’t be discouraged, don’t give up hope

One of Pauly’s videos about a kid’s baseball team has that message

a kid who has sat on the bench all year keeps asking the coach to put him in.

the coach keeps saying that maybe the next game will be the time…

the coach tells the boy, “Don’t give up hope.”

and sure enough, the very next game the kid gets to play

But the message is not just, “Don’t lose heart.” Jesus says, “Pray always and don’t lose heart.”

one preacher tells about Mother Theresa visiting a wealthy executive to ask for a donation to her work with the poor

the man had already decided not to make a donation, but he decided to hear her appeal, then make a gracious exit

he said Mother was like a little sparrow sitting at the edge of his grand desk – and when she made her appeal

the powerful man told her that he was touched by her work, but his answer was “No.”

Mother Theresa said, “Let us pray.” Then she went back over the same appeal and asked for the money again.

Again he said, “No.” And again Mother Theresa responded the same way – “Let us pray.”

She made the same appeal again, and again the man said, “No.”

Again, she said, “Let us pray.”

then as she got into the same appeal, the man said, “Oh for God’s sake, let me get my checkbook.”

So it goes beyond being hopeful

Pray always

be persistent like the widow

let us “bang on the doors of heaven” with our prayers

claiming our inheritance of God’s covenant

and proclaiming through our words and presence that we stand for and claim a better world than the one we see at present

Bring it Home

This is no trite, simplistic message to keep up hope

there’s no gospel (good news) in saying, “Just hope for the best, and don’t lose heart.”

It’s an exhortation to “Pray always, and don’t lose heart.”

To claim and proclaim that …

God hears the prayers of the people

and as we pray, we articulate for ourselves – before God, that we believe in a better reality than what the present situation may indicate

we believe and proclaim that good will prevail against evil

… that love is more powerful than hate

… a friend (Zenie Miller) had a note taped over her kitchen table. It said, “God, there’s not going to be any problems today that me and you can’t handle together.”

we always prayed like that

now the question Jesus asks in the last verse , “Will the Son of Man find faith on earth?”

In praying always and not losing hope

we are claiming and proclaiming that we trust in the good news of the gospel, the kingdom of heaven …

that following the Living God is trusting in a better reality, and committing ourselves to working for the sake of the good news

and that bears out the definition of faith we find in Hebrews, chapt. 11

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible … But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (1-3, 16)

So yes, when there are people praying always and not giving up hope…

there will be the ones who are trusting in the assurance of things hoped for, convicted of even what they cannot see, desiring a better reality

in other words, those having faith as described in the Book of Hebrews.

Pray always, and don’t lose heart.

For in this we have the living of our faith.

Trusting in and proclaiming a better reality than the one we see now.

So may it be with us. Amen

Read Full Post »

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7


Life and death

It’s a cycle we all go through

Like the cycle of seasons we talked about in Children’s sermon

But there are some ways in which we must mark a death before we can live.


Reading a while back in Fast Company magazine, I saved an article that I was sure would be of interest one day. And that’s the one that came to mind for today’s Jeremiah text.

Kenny Moore worked for the Brooklyn Union Gas Company during the time of deregulation in the gas business. Kenny worked in human resources and the president of Brooklyn Gas assigned him as corporate ombudsman. Kenny was to serve as intermediary between the president of the company and the workers.

At a time when the company was going through some major changes in the way they did business and serviced their accounts. The president had the foresight to be interested in how his employees were doing with all that.

Kenny Moore had an idea to help them make the move from a gas monopoly to an energy company that had to compete in the marketplace for their business. Kenny called on some skills he learned in his previous job to help with this. I read an article about this project in a business magazine called Fast Company. Some of his prior training taught him about connecting what was happening with the change in his company with the spiritual connectedness of the work force and management of Brooklyn Gas.

In his previous job, before coming to work for the gas company, Kenny Moore was known as Father Kenny. He served in a monastic order in New Jersey ministering to the sick and poor. After 15 years as a monk, Father Kenny left the order, and moved back to Queens where he lived for a time with his mother. That was when he met somebody at Brooklyn Union Gas who recognized that the skills Kenny refined while he was a monk would be useful in the business world. That, and an appreciation for life he gained through a lymphoma diagnosis followed by radiation treatments and chemotherapy. Kenny said his lymphoma was incurable, at the same time, he said it saved him.

The former Father Kenny said he knew very little about business when he started with the gas company, but he knew he could help people. The changes in the way the gas company did business meant having difficult conversations. People were concerned about losing their job, and they were concerned about new ways of doing things.

Kenny figured out that the changes from Brooklyn Union Gas to KeySpan Corp. were really starting with an ending rather than a beginning. So Kenny decided to have a funeral. He invited about 70 people from the company to a hall he rented where he conducted the service in his priestly vestments. He played a tape of Gregorian chants to put them in the mood.

“Dearly beloved,” He began, “We are gathered here to day to bid a fond farewell to the Brooklyn Union Gas of old.” He asked people to write on index cards what was over for them – what was dead. People wrote things like “lifetime employment” and “monopoly” and put them in an urn Kenny had placed up front by a tombstone. Then he blessed the urn, and acknowledged the passing of these things, that these were the things that had to die before the new company could live.

Then he directed them to another corner where he had placed a steamer trunk for the things they needed to keep as their journey continued. On a second card, he asked people to write down the things they needed to carry into this new life. People wrote things like “great people” and “dedication to the community.” They put these cards in the trunk.

Then he directed their attention to his third prop, a stork from a Valentine’s display he found somewhere. This was a symbol for them of new birth, the arrival of the new company – KeySpan. He asked the people to draw a picture of what the new company might look like with crayons on poster paper.

Like he said, Kenny may not have known much about business, but he knew about helping people. The ones who participated in the service were overwhelmed afterwards. It was as if their eyes had been opened and the way made clear for a whole new way of being. Kenny knew that:

  • People are dying to be connected, invited, involved.
  • They don’t like having things shoved down their throat, but they have energy and commitment when they can be players and influence the outcome of the game.


So this is offered as a contemporary interpretation of the radical change the people of Israel were going through in Babylon. They had made a captive journey from the familiar to the strange, from traditions to change.

Their old life was dead. And while we must never totally lose the memory of the dead, we must, if we are to live, get past the point where deep grief and sorrow keep us from living ourselves.

For some Israelites, the sorrowful refrains from Psalm 137 – “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” just would not stop. They just could not release the old ways, and the old days.

Jeremiah called them to remember what God had promised, and to “Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat what they produce, take wives for your sons, give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters, multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

God is saying that their old life is dead; their new life is to be found in Babylon. So you might as well get used to it. Get ready to live, stop preparing to die.

This is our challenge, too. Our communities are changing. Our towns and cities are changing. Our country is changing, the world is changing. And I believe that God is calling us to realize that there are some things about the way we used to live that have just passed away. Our challenge is to find peace in a time of anxiety, and to build homes and raise families in what may now seem like a strange and foreign land.

God did not tell Israel to pray for Jerusalem, their old home. It had been destroyed by the Babylonians. The temple was gone, destroyed like their farms and homes, like their king. These were monumental losses; certainly there must be a time to mourn their passing. But God calls Israel not to be so consumed with that loss as to lose themselves…to let themselves be destroyed despite their survival.

Let these things die, and carry with you the things you need to live. Even in captivity in Babylon, there were the other survivors, the remnant, and there was the promise of fertility, of family and food, of well-being…and there was the promise that God was still among them. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons learned was that God traveled with them even from the holy city of Jerusalem, that God was not locked up in the temple there. See how they had already fortgotten that it was God who led them out of Egypt in the beginning.

All of these blessings will be possible, even in a new land, a foreign land, even an enemy land. Pray for this land, God says, because your well-being is connected with its well-being.


Is this all that different from what’s happening in our community, world, even in our church? Do you see this church trying to move from a survival mode into a mission mode? Do you feel a move from striving to survive, to striving to thrive? As new possibilities for growth and mission come, do you notice the survival instinct that yearns for how we used to do it? Does it seem that for the church to count as successful, the ways we used to do it must be preserved?

This is perfectly natural, we cling to what’s familiar when new ways of being and doing scare us. When things “out there” seem to be spinning so out of our control, there’s one thing, “By God,” that we can control. Church has happened inside of these walls for many, many years, and that “By God,” is something we can control even as our community begins to look dramatically different.

We have the choice to wallow in what has died and yearn for what simply will not come back…or rejoice in life, even in a place that seems like exile, for God has followed us here. And we can still live and thrive here.

The church has the choice of wallowing in what has simply passed away, or to choose to live in the present possibilities and dream of a future that may look entirely different, but still carries the permanent promise of the presence of God.

The key to our survival is not to curse the community around us that is changing in ways we cannot control, but to pray to God on behalf of the community…for in its welfare we will find our welfare.

May we open our eyes and hearts to the truth that this is the place God has placed us, and God has placed others here, too.

Our welfare is in the welfare of the community, as you read the scriptures, you will see more and more that God is concerned with building up the community. The good that God seeks is that the community is provided for, when individuals come together in something bigger than themselves; the community that is made is one where people share what they have to build up the greater good.

May we learn to share what we have and to accept the things that others bring to the table. We may just find that when we can accept that, we know God’s greatest gift as community is made, even from a place that seems exilic.


Take the card you received with your bulletin

Side 1. What has died?

What is over and done with?

Side 2. What are you going to take with you on the new journey?

What treasures do we take ahead?


There are some things that have to die so we can live.

May we continue to treasure the memory of that which has gone before as we embrace the living new possibility of the community of God’s people that is gathered in this place. So let it be with us. Amen.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: