A few words from Jesus, CEO

October 27, 2013

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Proper 25 – Year C RCL

Joel 2:23-32, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Luke 18:9-14

As many of you know, before attending seminary, I spent twenty years in the banking industry. During my last job there, I was the Business Manager for the Commercial Middle Market of the Southwest Region, working closely with the CEO of that Market. About once a quarter we’d carve out a week or two to travel to each city in our region to touch base. Each day we’d hop on a Southwest Airlines flight (“the company plane”) and head to San Antonio, or Dallas, or El Paso… you get the picture.

David, my boss, liked to use every minute possible to prepare for these meetings. He wanted them to be productive, personal and motivating. So after boarding the plane each morning around 7:00 a.m., David, the finance guy, and I would sit together, pull out a stack of spreadsheets, and begin identifying the talking points for that day’s discussion.

Since most people on the plane just want to get one more hour of sleep before reaching their destination, it’s not surprising that we were greeted with scowls from nearby passengers, but David was oblivious to that. He had a message to deliver, and he wanted to be ready. The comfort of those around him was of no concern.

During those trips, day after day over the course of the week or two, David would share his vision for the business, adding market-specific nuance to fit their needs, but the overall theme was consistent.

I think the writer of Luke’s gospel would have fit well into this corporate communication model. There’s a repetitious theme that runs through the stories, with slight variations based on the audience, not unlike David’s market visits. As I started thinking more about this, I wondered what it might look like if Jesus had crafted and delivered his message in a similar way.

First, my guess is that Jesus would expect us to travel light as we boarded the airplane – Saints & Angels Airline, Flight 1-2-0. Like the seventy that were sent out ahead of Jesus in Luke 10, we’d take no bags, no extra clothes, no iPhones. We are enough – just as we are, perfectly made to do God’s work. Our possessions just become something that keep us fixed in the now, and have the potential to distract us from this work. One benefit of traveling light – no baggage fees!

And, even if we were able to get priority boarding passes, Jesus would remind us, not unlike those who were invited to the wedding banquet in Luke 14, not to take the place of honor, but instead, “go and sit down at the lowest place”. So, even though we arrived early, and had no bags, we’d make our way down the aisle to the back of the plane – the last row, right in front of the bathroom – and Jesus would insist on taking the middle seat – the lowest of the low.

Then, having humbled ourselves, when the captain of the plane saw where we were seated, we would be invited to move up to first class! Very nice!

Now that we’re comfortably seated on the plane, Jesus begins to outline his message to the Gentiles… the audience of Luke’s Gospel.

While the Jewish people have a track-record of God being there for them, this new broader audience doesn’t have that same perspective. Consequently, the first key message that Jesus must convey is that God is trustworthy.

First, God will not abandon us, as seen in the image of the shepherd, who while tending the flock notices that one sheep has wandered off. The shepherd will go and find the lost sheep, bring it back into the fold and rejoice with the community in celebration of its return.

Secondly, God welcomes everyone – ALL are invited, even those who had previously been seen as outsiders. God also welcomes those who feel inadequate and unworthy; even the tax collectors and adulterers; those who fall short… we all fall short… all are welcome to come to the God’s table and participate in the great feast.

Next, God heals our woundedness. Remember the woman who was bent over for eighteen years and was healed by Jesus on the Sabbath. The religious rule-followers wanted this healing to be postponed to another day… but the woman didn’t have to wait even one more day to be released from her affliction. Rules of the Sabbath were trumped by God’s healing grace.

And God is responsive to us – when we pray to God, it isn’t like the woman last week who had to keep pestering the unjust judge – who finally helped her only to get her off his back. No, God responds quickly to our petitions. That response doesn’t always take the form that we hope – that is, we might not get what we ask for – but we will have God’s presence with us – that’s what prayer is all about – bringing us in connection with God.

So, point one of Jesus’ message is that God is Trustworthy.

The next key message that Jesus wants to emphasize is that we are to be faithful to God.

First, God is in charge – so our faithfulness requires us to let God be God. The Pharisee in today’s parable deemed himself to be righteous, while the tax collector let God decide. The tax collector took a place of humility, admitting to his own inadequacies, and with heavy heart asked for God’s mercy.

The Pharisee, by contrast, used his time of prayer to thank God that he was better than others, putting others down to exalt himself. This is what SELF-righteousness looks like – and it is not being faithful to God. So, even though the Pharisee fasted and gave money, upholding the letter of the religious law, it was done to exalt himself, a personal motivation. The spirit of the law is grounded in keeping our attention on God and giving our gifts for the care of others. 

Secondly, God created us with all that we need – we are enough. Possessions and wealth aren’t the measure of success, instead it is the value of ourselves and our relationship with God that matters. It is this relationship that we share when we spread the Good News, and God sustains us in this endeavor. 

Next, faithfulness the size of a mustard seed is enough to make good things happen! Those who are faithful with just a little can be trusted with much! But our faithfulness may mean that we have to step away from what is comfortable. 

Being faithful to God centers on seeking God’s direction for our life and following where we are asked to go – even if we are asked to be vulnerable – like the seventy sent out to unfamiliar towns with nothing. To move outside the comfort of the rules we grew up with – in their case, to eat whatever was given to them, even if it didn’t match their religious dietary laws. Jesus’ message is that what is most important is to be in relationship with others – to love our neighbors – all of them, no exceptions. 

So, Faithfulness to God is the second point in Jesus’ three-point vision.

Like any good business plan, the last key message is meant to motivate us. And, I contend that this message is to keep moving forward… 

At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem… Jesus is about to be taken into custody and endure the most painful death imaginable, death on the cross – a shameful death by all standards of his time. Yet even knowing this, he kept moving forward.

We must do likewise, even if it means we must endure things that are difficult. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:62) 

There’s a cost-benefit analysis of discipleship. Are we willing to trust God enough… 

  • 10% of my income is a lot to turn over to the God’s ministry through the church.
  • What if they don’t use it how I want them to?
  • Can I give up that kind of control?
  • Can I give that much of my life to God?
  • Can I give 10% of my life to God??

Well, Jesus asks for all of it. He gave all, and gained more – a resurrected life!

In the chapter just before today’s reading, “Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed… For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk 17:20-21 NRSV)

Our resurrected life starts when we embrace the kingdom of God within us and let it flow out of us to others. We must continue to move forward in the world with that conviction at our core; in our heart, and to be willing to proclaim God’s message for all who will hear it.

So, as the wheels of the airplane touch-down and we prepare to disembark, the key themes for the day are:

  • God is Trustworthy,
  • Be Faithful to God and
  • Keep Moving Forward

While these themes in Luke’s gospel may seem repetitious, any communication specialist worth their salt knows that a message must be repeated over and over again – as many of seven or more times – before people actually hear it.

Perhaps this is one reason we are called to continually read scripture and to reflect on God’s message to us. We are meant to hear it over and over; to inwardly digest it; to take it to heart. Through it the Holy Spirit continues to reveal new things to us – keeping God’s revelation moving us forward. Through this practice we are strengthened by God’s presence in our daily lives and with Jesus by our side, we keep his vision always in view.

We have now arrived at our destination. On behalf of Saints & Angels Airline, it has been a pleasure having you on board and I’m grateful to serve you.

It is now safe to take off your seatbelts and move out into the world – sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ’s vision with everyone you meet!

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Some peanuts from the flight…

luke18v9to14_2004

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