Thursday, December 05, 2019


Isaiah 2:1-4, Titus 2:11-14[1]
The Christian faith has had its share of critics throughout the ages. One of the most strident of those was a German philosopher named Friedrich Nietzsche. Like many others, he called out the Christians of his day for their hypocrisy. Unfortunately, Christians of all eras have been good at doing “lip service” to the faith without actually putting it into practice in their lives. And sadly, that is as true today as it ever was. Nietzsche had a lot to say about this, but one of his more memorable lines was that for him to believe in the Christian Savior, “his disciples would have to look more redeemed!”[2]
I think this sentiment challenges us most deeply at this time of the year. Family gatherings can be wonderful, but they can also be exhausting. Then there’s the fact that it gets dark so early this time of year. Add to that the “hustle and bustle” of getting everything done and getting everywhere we’re supposed to go. And the sad truth is that the “holidays” can be “the most difficult time of the year” for many of us. All of this put together can rob us of the joy that we’re “supposed” to be celebrating in the midst of everything we have going on. It can be especially hard to “look redeemed.”
I think that’s one of the reasons light plays such an important role for us at this time of year. We light up the Christmas tree, and we light up our houses. The lights can help to relieve the rather oppressive feeling the darkness can bring on us. For a while. As much as decorating can help, I don’t think it’s a real solution to our problem. For our faith to show in our lives and on our faces as authentic joy, we have to takes steps that have deeper and more lasting effects than just decorating our homes and stringing lights. If we want our lives to be “radiant” with the joy of our faith, we have to find a hope that cannot be shaken.
I think that was what the prophet Isaiah was trying to do for his people. Despite the fact that they lived at a dangerous crossroads between continents and empires, and despite the fact that even their leaders had seemingly abandoned their faith, Isaiah held out a hope that God was not finished with them. Rather, he believed in the vision that God was working to make all things new. And the specific way in which he expresses that hope in our lesson for today is that through the people of Israel, one day all the nations of the earth would be drawn to the light of God’s truth, God’s peace, and God’s justice.
Isaiah’s vision of salvation was one in which all the different peoples of the world—even those who had been enemies of Judah—would “stream” to Jerusalem as the “mountain of the Lord” (Isa. 2:2). And the reason they would come was “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Isa. 2:3). Isaiah explains that the reason for this attraction is that Jerusalem would be a place where the word of the Lord would enlighten all the nations to “walk in his ways.” And the result would be peace; not just peace as the absence of conflict, but peace as that which transforms people so that they can truly live with joy a life that could be called “radiant.”
This vision of the destiny of the human family is an ideal that has inspired and fired the imaginations of people of faith throughout the generations. Isaiah’s vision was that when God’s truth becomes the light by which we all order our lives, then “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:4).  It is one of the more powerful visions of the destiny of humankind, and it has inspired people throughout history to find hope and joy even in the midst of some of the most challenging times of life. This hope can transform us into people who look “redeemed” because our lives are radiant with joy.
It’s fine, however, to think of the great promises that inspire in us hope for the future. But many of us would like to know what we have to help us find joy here and now. I think the lesson from Titus can help us here. It summarizes in a nutshell the good news that we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas: “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Titus 2:11). Although that might seem self-evident, I’m afraid the language of grace and salvation isn’t all that obvious. Grace here refers to God’s goodness, kindness, and generosity by which he gives us the gift of love that we don’t have to earn and we can’t forfeit. And while salvation can refer to several aspects of our hope, I think that promise of a love that is unconditional and irrevocable hits the spot for most of us. We can be radiant with hope and joy here and now because of this amazing love God has given us.
Most of us have times in our lives when we don’t look very “redeemed.” What better time than Advent for us to prepare our hearts and lives to truly celebrate the coming of our Savior to bring us hope and joy. Interestingly, both our lessons speak of that hope and joy as training us how to live. In Isaiah it’s about learning God’s ways and walking in his paths. In Titus it’s about God’s grace teaching us to “live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” (Titus 2:12). In other words, the love that is the essence of who God is defines how we live, so that we now “take on a God-filled, God-honoring life” (Titus 2:12, The Message). I think this is a change that is deep and lasting, and one that can truly enable us to “look more redeemed” because we are radiant with the hope and joy of God’s love.

[1] © 2019 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 12/1/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Modern Library Edition, 92.

A Mighty Savior

A Mighty Savior
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79; Colossians 2:11-20[1]
  One of the age-old human desires is for someone to come and rescue us from the brokenness of our lives. At times have looked to our “God” to be the one to save us from the pain and suffering that seems to define our existence. At times that desire has been focused on a specific person—a “hero” who would throw off the yoke of oppressors, or a leader who would step up and set things right, or a spiritual figure who would come and save us. At times, the disappointments of life have driven us to look for our own solutions—some good, some not. But when push comes to shove, we tend to look to God to save us.
  In ancient times, this desire was directed toward the promise of a Messiah. That idea originated because, as Jeremiah declares, those who were supposed to care for the people had failed to do so. More than that, they had taken advantage of the people, “destroying” and “scattering” God’s flock. In response, God promised to send one who would be a true shepherd. This one would enact true justice, rather than exploiting the people for the sake of power and wealth. This one would bring true peace that enabled them to thrive, not just the richest of the rich. This one would be called “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6, NRSV), or “God-Who-Puts-Everything-Right” (The Message)! Jeremiah was looking for a mighty savior!
  So was Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. In Luke’s Gospel we hear his song of praise at the birth of his son. He took that to be a sign that God was in the process of fulfilling ancient promises. Promises to save the people from their enemies and from the hand of those who oppressed them. Promises that God had made to Abraham and David about the days when the people would be able to serve God freely. Promises that light would come to those living in darkness, and peace would come to those who were troubled by violence, or cruelty, or want of common necessities, or simply a place to call home. And Zechariah believed God was going to do this by raising up “a mighty savior” (Lk. 1:69).
  After raising their hopes through the many amazing things he did, Jesus dashed those hopes by going to the cross. “Mighty Saviors” don’t get publicly humiliated by a brutal execution. In the minds of the Jewish people that just couldn’t happen. A truly mighty savior would have the power to overthrow even the Roman Empire, who kept the Jewish people firmly under the heels of their army. A truly mighty savior would bring back the days when the Jewish people were a world power. When Jesus died on a Roman cross, the hopes of those who followed him died as well.
  But that was not the end of the story. By raising Jesus from the dead, God demonstrated that he was indeed doing something “mighty” through Jesus. I think it took the first Christians a while to understand all that meant. It meant that God was doing something much bigger than just freeing the Jewish people. Through Jesus the mighty savior, God was going to free all people. And he was going to free us not just from the political and economic powers in this world, but from all the evil, hatred, injustice, and brokenness that burdens us in this life. Because he defeated death itself, the first Christians began to recognize that there was no victory that Jesus, our mighty savior, could not win.
  As a result, they began to see Jesus’ work as something that would involve a much bigger picture that simply the fate of nations. In Colossians, Jesus’ work as our mighty savior includes nothing less than creating all things in the beginning and restoring all things in the end. Because of Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God, Jesus’ role as our savior was much bigger than anyone had imagined. As the “firstborn of all creation,” he was the one “through whom and for whom” all things were created by God. We may not understand all that means, but as our mighty savior, Jesus participated with God in the creation of all things.
  Beyond that, Jesus’ work as our mighty savior includes restoring “all things” in the end. Now, in the Greek language “all things” is worded in such a way as to point to the whole created order. It refers to “all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe” (Col. 1:20, The Message). I think that’s going way beyond what most of us can imagine, let alone understand. Somehow, the Scripture says that Jesus reigns as our mighty Savior over the whole universe. And he will carry out his reign “with wisdom, power, and love” by making all things right—throughout the whole cosmos!
  I think our desire for a Savior tends to be focused on ourselves. We tend to want our Savior to help us out of our difficulties. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, of course. But we can’t stop there. According to the New Testament, our mighty savior is engaged in a work that will make all things right again, just the way they were at the very beginning. I don’t think, however, that because Jesus is the Savior of the universe that somehow means that our concerns are too small for him. Rather, I would say that when we turn to him with our burdens, we can do so in the confidence that our mighty savior is the one who is working to restore the whole universe and everyone in it! Surely that means not only that he can help us, but also that he will!

[1] © 2019 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/24/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

Hold On

Hold On!
Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 21:5-19[1]
  These days it doesn’t seem that many of us have much of an interest in questions about our final destiny. The present day offers more challenges than most of us feel we can handle! But even if someone were to be curious to know what our faith teaches about the end of all things, I’m afraid the chances are high they would wind up confused. There are those who speak of the “end of the world” in terms of the vast majority of humanity “left behind” to face whatever painful tribulations an angry God is going to unleash upon them for their unbelief. Then there are those who speak of the final victory of God’s saving love in a world where all people have the joy of sharing a life of peace and freedom together. These two views can be found not only in sermons and theology, but also in Scripture.
  Our lessons for today illustrate this problem. Just from a quick reading, they seem contradictory. The one from the prophet Isaiah holds out a beautiful hope of a new heaven and a new earth. Isaiah describes the destiny he saw as the ultimate outcome of God’s saving purpose in this way: “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain” (Isa. 65:25).  It is a vision of children thriving, and of people living full and fulfilling lives. It is a vision of houses built, and vineyards planted. It is a vision that includes even natural enemies in the animal kingdom living together in harmony. Isaiah virtually breaks into song over the awe-inspiring destiny God has in store.
  Isaiah’s vision is filled with the language of freedom, new life, and hope. In a setting where conquerors continually displaced the people, taking their children away from them, throwing them out of their homes and off their own lands, Isaiah envisions a people returned from exile to live in their own land free from fear. But Isaiah’s vision doesn’t just concern Israel; their restoration leads to the restoration of the whole world. Beyond that, this vision of restoration and renewal extends to all creation—even the animal kingdom is to be transformed when God fulfills the promises and liberates the people. Isaiah’s vision is that what God will do at the end of all things will be consistent with what God did at the beginning: create a world full of beauty and love.
  On the contrary, in the lesson from Luke’s Gospel Jesus seems to warn his disciples that the end of all things will be gloom and doom. Rather than being spared from the “tribulations” of the end time, it seems that Jesus was saying his followers would be also be right in the middle of it all.  He said they would be arrested and persecuted (Lk. 21:12), that they would be betrayed even by members of their own family (Lk. 21:16), and that they would be “hated by all because of my name” (Lk. 21:17). It’s pretty clear that Jesus envisioned Christians enduring whatever painful hardships and trials the future holds along with everyone else.  
  Unfortunately, his warnings are easy to misread. For one thing, some of what he says seems to refer to events that would happen in their lifetimes: the Jewish people falling by the sword and Jerusalem being trampled by the Gentiles (Lk. 21:23-24). In fact, about 40 years later the Jewish people fought and lost a war to free themselves from their Roman conquerors. And many of the people got caught up in the violence—Jewish people and Christian alike. But some of this points to a time in the distant future when the nations would see “‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory” (Lk. 21:27).
  So it’s hard to know if Jesus was warning his disciples about hardships of the near future or associated with the end times. I think the answer is that he was talking about both. He knew that the Jewish war would be just as devastating for Christians, and he used that catastrophic event to warn them about the hardships that they would face until the final turmoil associated his return. In the face of this, Jesus urged them to “be alert,” praying for strength, so that they wouldn’t be caught off guard when the day of his return actually would come (Lk. 21:34-36). And he urged them to hold on until the end, promising that the final outcome of all of the trials and hardships they might go through would not be their destruction but their salvation (Lk. 21:28)!
  I think the best answer to the question of our final destiny is one that includes both hardships and the promise of final victory. I’ve spent 40 years studying the Bible, and I even taught the class on Revelation when I was a seminary Professor. And my studied belief is that God isn’t some cruel bully just waiting for the chance to torment the vast majority of humankind, and the natural world along with it. I would say that the torments we have to deal with in this life come from the evil intentions of powerful people. And the more closely we align ourselves with God’s purposes, the more we expose ourselves to the spiteful revenge of those power mongers.
  But when it comes to God’s final purpose for us, I think we’re talking about something very different. We’re talking about the God who showed us what he was like by creating a beautiful world for us all to enjoy. And the Scripture promises that one day he will renew the world so that we can all truly enjoy it. We’re also talking about the God who showed us what he was like by coming as one of us to heal our brokenness and suffering by taking it on himself. And the Scripture promises that one day that work of restoring all things will be complete. And so we can hold on, trusting that God has promised that his good and loving plans for the human family will ultimately win out over all the evil that may be present among us now.

[1] © 2019 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/17/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

People of the Future

People of the Future
Luke 20:27-38[1]
We are creatures whose lives are defined to a significant extent by time. That is a fact of life. We all have a past, and we have to find a way to be able to accept the past we have, not the past we’d like to have. We also have to find a way to live in the present, because we really don’t have any other time in which to truly live. At the same time, we need some sense of hope for the future. Having hope gives us direction in life. All three—past, present, and future, define our lives, and we have to find a healthy way of relating to them.
These days, it would seem that many people try to ignore the past and the future. There is such a strong emphasis on staying in the present moment, it would seem that we want to act as if the past and the future don’t really matter. While I agree that staying in the present moment is a good way to live, that doesn’t somehow magically make our past disappear. Nor does it erase the fact that we need a positive sense of the future in order to be able to live fully in the present. Without hope for the future, perhaps the skeptics are right: in the words of Lord Macbeth, life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”[2] If this is true, death is the true reality of life, and there is no hope for any of us!
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus was responding to this kind of pessimism about life. In the context, he had been answering questions from various groups of Jewish leaders, each one intent on embarrassing him in front of the people. The particular question posed in this setting came from the Sadducees. They the priests and high priests. Their base of power was the Temple. They were also the ones who primarily represented the Roman empire. And they were not above bribing the Roman governor for the privilege of serving as the High Priest, the chief religious leader of the Jewish people.
As Luke tells us, the Sadducees did not believe in “resurrection.” They believed that this life was all there is. They believed only what the past had to teach them through the books of Moses. And they used the books of Moses as rules that strictly defined what they would and would not believe in. In a very real sense, they were people without any sense of a future. They operated within a closed system, in which life was of necessity defined by the past. They were the guardians of the past, and they used their power to maintain their view as the final word on life in the present.
And so they came to Jesus and posed a question to him that they believed would embarrass him. It is a question about the practice of a man marrying his brother’s widow. The idea was that the first child would be the descendant of the dead brother, and that would ensure that he would continue to live on through his offspring. This was the Sadducee’s view of the future: they continued to live on through their children. But they posed a question to Jesus: suppose seven brothers in turn married the same woman. “In the resurrection … whose wife will the woman be?” (Lk. 20:33). I don’t think they were really looking for an answer. They simply posed the question in order to make the idea of a “resurrection” look ridiculous. And Jesus with it.
But Jesus “corrected” them, and he did so by quoting Moses right back at them. He recalled the instance where Moses met God at the burning bush. There, God spoke of himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod. 3:6). When Moses had this encounter, the patriarchs had been dead for centuries. Jesus drew the inference that this proves that the dead are raised, for he said that God is “God not of the dead, but of the living” (Lk. 20:38). In light of that fundamental truth about God, Jesus went on to explain that in the next life there would be no need for practices designed to ensure descendants for a dead man, because they would all be “children of the resurrection,” no longer subject to death (Lk. 20:35-36). In other words, their question was irrelevant.
I think one of the most important points Jesus was trying to make here is that you cannot limit God’s work to the past. If God is the God of life, he is also the God of the living. And that means that our future is not one that is defined by death, but rather by life. God does not operate within a closed system, but rather he is at work creating his Kingdom, which is “everlasting kingdom” that “endures throughout all generations” (Ps. 145:13). This kingdom where life and peace and justice and freedom reign is the future toward which God is working, and it is already here pointing us to our true future. When we align our lives with God’s truth, we become people of the future.
I think that how we choose to look at all this can makes a profound difference in our attitude toward stewardship. If we think that our best is back there somewhere in the past, I doubt that we’re going to be interesting in risking anything for God’s Kingdom. But if we can live our lives on the basis of the faith that the “God of the living” is continually at work around us and among us to make everything new, then maybe we can have the courage to stake our lives on God’s future. From that perspective, we have no idea what God can do in and through our lives, in and through this congregation, and in and through this community. When we embrace God’s future as our own, we can not only live more fully in the present moment, but we can also invest ourselves in what God will accomplish through us. Then we truly become people of the future.

[1] ©2019 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/10/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] William Shakespeare, “Macbeth,” Act 5, Scene 5.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019


Luke 19:1-10[1]
I’m fascinated by the way we use language. Specifically, the way the same word can mean something completely different in different times or different settings. For example, I’m sure some of the women would find it rather funny if I were to say that back in the day I used to wear thongs. Of course, those “thongs” were for your feet. We call them “flip-flops” now. And, back in the day, one’s “cell” number referred to the part of a prison where you served your jail time. In those days, if you asked someone for their “cell” number, they might take great offense, as if you were assuming they were a criminal! Of course, now it is just a common part of life to ask for a “cell” number.
The word notorious is one of those flexible words. For many people, “notorious” has meant the worst of the worst law-breakers. These days, it can mean that someone is famous. This was true even back in the day. Some of the worst law-breakers were not only notorious because they committed monstrous crimes. They were also notorious in that they were folk heroes, celebrated and even idolized by many. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker carried out one of the most vicious crime sprees of the 1930’s. Yet thousands of people attended their funerals to mourn them! In their case, the fact that they were “notorious” meant that they were “worshipped” as heroes.
Our Scripture lesson for today involves some bending of words. This story, of course, is not about the Zacchaeus of the children’s song, a lovable “wee little man” who loves Jesus. Rather, it’s about a man who had become obscenely wealthy by cheating his own people. Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector; he was a “chief tax collector.” He would have been one of those who bid for the contract to collect taxes in Jericho. Obviously, he expected to make a lot of money off of it. And the way he was going to make that money was by forcing his own people to pay every last cent he could get from them. Zacchaeus was not lovable; he was a “notorious sinner.”
That’s what the people who witnessed this interaction between Jesus and Zacchaeus said: they “grumbled” that Jesus had gone to be the guest of a “notorious sinner” (Lk. 19:7, NLT). Now, we’ve seen before in Luke’s Gospel that the Jewish leaders grumbled about Jesus being the friend of tax collectors and sinners. And we’ve seen that Jesus told parables to make it clear that the proper response to the “lost” who find their lives restored is to celebrate, not grumble. But here, it’s not just the Jewish leaders who grumble about Jesus. It’s the crowd! Apparently associating with one so “notorious” as Zacchaeus was going too far even for the people who were drawn to Jesus! Even they were beginning to view Jesus as “notorious” for breaking their sacred taboos!
 There are other twists in this passage as well. We just talked about the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector going to the Temple to pray. In that passage, Jesus says, “all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Lk. 18:14). In our lesson for today, we have perhaps one of the richest men in Judea climbing up a tree to get a look at Jesus. That was something a rich man didn’t do! I’m sure a fair number of the crowd got a laugh out of that. But Zacchaeus was intent on seeing Jesus—perhaps more so than anyone there. And he was willing to humble himself to do so! Once again, an outcast shows the religious people how to respond to Jesus!
The previous chapter of Luke’s Gospel also contains the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich ruler who would not give his fortune to the poor. On that occasion, Jesus said, “how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Lk. 18:24). In fact, he compared it to a camel going through the eye of a needle—in other words, something impossible. The “ruler” in that story was very likely a religious leader for the Jewish people. But here we have the story of a “notorious” tax collector who probably had a greater fortune eagerly giving half of it away to the poor! While it may be difficult for those with wealth to find their salvation in God (and not their riches), Zacchaeus shows that “what is impossible for mortals is possible for God” (Lk. 18:26).
In a very real sense, this passage summarizes all that Luke wants to convey to us about Jesus and the way he embraced outcasts.[2] That was where Luke’s story of Jesus began: with his announcement at the synagogue in Nazareth that the promise of Isaiah had been fulfilled: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Lk. 4:18). The poor, the blind, and the captives were all included in God’s salvation. The despised as well—Samaritans, tax collectors, and all who were considered “unclean” for any reason. Jesus as the “Son of Man” came “to seek out and to save” every one of them (Lk. 19:10).
In order to carry out God’s purpose “to seek out and to save the lost,” Jesus embraced with God’s love those who had been written off as beyond help. In the process, Jesus crossed lines and violated traditions that offended not only the Jewish religious leaders, but also the crowds who followed him! In the end, they came to view Jesus as “notorious.” I think at least part of the message for us is that if we follow Jesus in trying to fulfill God’s purpose “to seek out and to save the lost,” crossing lines and violating traditions, we too will be viewed as “notorious.”

[1] ©2019 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/3/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX:357, 359.

We Trust in Whom?

We Trust in Whom?
Luke 18:9-14[1]
There is a slogan that’s been going around for a while. The slogan is “In Cops We Trust.” Now, I get the point of it: in a time when police officers are under fire, people are trying to express their support for members of the law enforcement community. I think what troubles me about this is that the “original” version of this slogan is “In God We Trust”! This motto has been a part of our national conscience since Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem. It has appeared on coins since the 1860’s, and it has been our official “national motto” since 1956. While I support those who serve to keep our communities safe, I find it disturbing that there are those who see nothing wrong with revising “In God We Trust” so casually.
But then the question of the true basis for our faith is one that predates our national motto. We human beings seem to want to be able to trust in something more “real” than a God whom we cannot physically see or hear or touch. And for many of us, what we really trust in is our own ability to see things through. As the old saying goes, “If you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself.” That betrays some fairly obvious presumptions: that we know the “right” way to do something, and that we have the ability to do it. When push comes to shove, I’m afraid that many of us really trust in ourselves, not in God.
Our Gospel lesson for today addresses the question of where we place our trust. The parable tells the story of two very different men who went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, who would have been widely respected for devoting his life to studying and obeying God’s word. The other was a Tax Collector, a man who would have been widely despised as a traitor to his people as well as a thief. At the outset, it would have been easy to assume that the “hero” of the story was the one who had devoted his life to God. But as is often the case, Luke gives us a clue to what’s going on in this the parable with his introduction: Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt” (Luke 18:9).
The problem with the Pharisee in this parable was not his apparent devotion to keeping God’s word in every aspect of his life. Rather it was the fact that he “trusted” in himself that he was “righteous” before God. I like the way Gene Peterson puts it in The Message: people like him were “pleased with themselves over their moral performance” (Lk. 18:9). Judging from his prayer, this fellow was very pleased with himself. It’s hard not to think that he was bragging about himself to God! But perhaps more importantly, “Those who trust in their own righteousness will regard others with contempt, and those who regard others with contempt cannot bring themselves to rely on God’s grace.”[2] This kind of self-righteousness leaves little room for trusting in God.
The tax collector is the opposite: he would have been despised by more than just the Pharisee. In the ancient world, a conquering power like Rome gave the right to collect taxes to whomever was the highest bidder. As long as he collected what he promised to pay, he could keep anything else he could extract from people. And so he would hire a whole team of people who would work under him, each collecting a portion of the taxes. And as long as they paid their quota, each one could keep whatever they collected. So it’s not hard to see why this man would have been despised by most people as a thief and a traitor.
Two very different men came to the temple to pray. But they were not so different in that each was a “self-made” man. The Pharisee had become a respected leader of his community by following the letter of the law. The Tax Collector had taken a fast-track to getting rich, regardless of the fact that it meant compounding the poverty and the oppression his people endured. And yet, there was a difference between them. One of them was thoroughly satisfied with himself. He was quite convinced that his life was right and even pleasing to God. The other one came to the temple not satisfied, or pleased, but broken. He was so broken that all he could do was to cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk. 18:13). 
While the people to whom Jesus told this story would have expected him to say what a good man the Pharisee was and what a rotten scoundrel the tax collector was, he shocked them. He said that the tax collector “went down to his home justified” (Lk 18:14) rather than the Pharisee. But Jesus wasn’t just trying to shock them; he was making a fundamental point about faith. If we place our trust in anything or anyone other than God, that trust will be disappointed. Even and especially if we place our trust in our own efforts to be right before God. On the other hand, when we place our trust in the unfailing mercy of God, that faith will be sustained by the one who has promised never to fail us or forsake us.
When we encounter a parable like this, it’s easy to assume that it doesn’t apply to us. We automatically see the Pharisee as the one in the wrong, and so we may overlook the lesson of the parable. But the truth of the matter is that we are always vulnerable to the kind of self-righteous arrogance this Pharisee represents. We all are prone to place our trust in ourselves and our own abilities, regardless of the pious words we may recite. So I would say this parable has a message for all of us. That message is the call for us to continually place our faith in God’s mercy rather than our own efforts.

[1] ©2019 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 10/27/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX: 343.

God's Care

God’s Care
Luke 18:1-8[1]
There is a question that has haunted the human family since the beginning. We have wondered from ancient times whether there is a God, and whether that God cares at all about us. When science and the church taught that the earth was at the very center of the universe, it might have been a bit easier to believe in a God who cares for us. When we began to finally understand how small the earth is compared to the rest of creation, I think it became more difficult. Even before that, there have always been catastrophes and tragedies that made us question whether there is a God, and whether that God cares at all about us.
It’s a dilemma that has been expressed in the centuries-old question: If God is both loving and all-powerful, how can there be evil in the world? The presence of tragedy in our lives suggests that God loves us but he’s not powerful enough to stop these things from happening. Or it suggests that God is powerful enough to stop them, but since he doesn’t he must not be loving. This question was addressed in the Bible in various ways, most notably the book of Job. It’s a question that allows no rational explanation, because the only answer to the tragedies of life is to find a way to trust that God does indeed care about us.
That’s one aspect of our Gospel lesson for today. In it, Jesus tells a parable that Luke says was meant to encourage us “to pray and not to lose heart” (Lk. 18:1). The parable is about a woman who was a widow, very likely in danger of losing her livelihood because women could not inherit property. This is an important matter because in the Bible widows were to be the objects of special care and were to be protected from their oppressors. Unfortunately, not everyone who was a leader in Israel was motivated by the desire to follow God’s ways of compassion and true justice.
That is in fact the case in this parable. The woman is at the mercy of a corrupt judge, who had no interest in protecting her. According to the Bible, one who served in the role of a judge was to exercise their authority with fairness and compassion in imitation of God’s character. But this man is the opposite of what any judge was supposed to be. He doesn’t care about God, and he doesn’t care about people, either. Apparently, like many in his day, he had acquired this position by “pulling strings” or by bribing someone, or perhaps both. It seems clear that the only reason he was a judge was to enrich himself.
But this is no ordinary widow. She’s called the “importunate” widow in the title that’s traditionally assigned to this parable. That’s a word most of us don’t use, but it means “persistent,” “demanding” “unrelenting,” and even “annoying.” And that’s precisely what she was. She persisted relentlessly in demanding that this judge grant her what was rightfully hers, and she kept doing so until she annoyed him! He confessed, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming” (Lk. 18:4-5)! She simply would not give up until he made things right.
At this point Jesus contrasts the unjust judge with the God whom he has taught clearly is gracious, loving, and caring. Jesus asks a question: “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?” (Lk. 18:7). Jesus answers his own question: “I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them” (Lk. 18:8).  The point of the parable is a contrast: if a godless, inhumane judge will finally give in to a powerless widow’s unceasing requests for justice, how much more will our merciful and loving God “grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night.” God will make things right, ultimately if not immediately.
But that’s precisely wherein lies the rub! We have lots of affirmations in the Bible that God cares about us and will take care of us. We have promises that God will set things right. But life doesn’t always confirm those promises. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. Sometimes bad people do bad things to good people. And when that happens we can wonder where God is. In fact, in the parable, instead of asking the question “Will he delay long?” some translate that verse as a concession: “even if he delays long”! That might just make more sense in the context. The problem with “praying and not losing heart” is when we do that and it seems like God “delays long,” or perhaps turns a deaf ear altogether! When life comes crashing down around us, we come back to the age-old question whether there is a God, and whether that God cares at all about us.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid that at times like those, our perspective can get quite narrow. All we can see is the hardship or tragedy we’re dealing with. And all we can ask is, “Why?” or, “How long?” stuck in our pain and our fears. But in this parable, I think Jesus wants to help us focus our attention elsewhere. He wants to remind us that we believe in a God who is a loving Father who knows what we need, who wants what is best for us, and who is working constantly for our good. And he does all of this despite our inability to understand our circumstances. There are simply some questions we may never be able to answer. But in this passage, Jesus redirects our questioning. He reminds us that the crucial question is, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” In this way, Jesus points us to what really matters: finding the faith to entrust ourselves to God’s care in all the circumstances of our lives.

[1] ©2019 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 10/20/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

In the Power of God

In the Power of God
2 Timothy 1:1-14[1]
  One of the great challenges of life is what to do when it feels like your values are under attack. For most of my life, I have heard people say that the Christian faith is under attack in our country. I’m not so sure I would agree with that sentiment. I know that there are some who speak against religion in general. Ironically, I would say Jesus echoed some of their criticisms of religion. In our day, it seems to me that the greater problem is that the Christian faith has become irrelevant. I don’t think that’s the fault of the faith, mind you. I think that’s because of the way “church people” like us represent the Christian faith. Or perhaps it would be better to say that we fail to represent the faith.
  Unfortunately, part of what happens when we think of ourselves as under attack is that we go into a “defensive” mode. When we see ourselves as the victims of attack, it’s easy to see threats where none exist. When we go into this “defensive” mode, one thing we do is pull back from engaging people who are “other.” We retreat to the safety of our “own” group. And we have certain “litmus tests” to be able to make sure someone really is a part of our group. Whether it’s a list of beliefs, or certain stances on social issues, or sheer tribalism (where we trust only those of our own race, creed, and nation), this kind of stance makes it hard to live out our faith in the world.
  That was the situation to which 2 Timothy was addressed. Timothy and the believers in his care were discouraged. It would seem that they found themselves in a setting where the challenge of living the Christian life was getting them down. As a result, they were retreating into a mode of “guarding” themselves, of “avoiding” those who were perceived to be a threat, and of drawing lines to keep out those who were on the “outside.” It’s hard to understand why they turned in on themselves this way, but it would seem that the underlying problem was that they were struggling with a sense of being ashamed of their faith (2 Tim. 1:8).
  This may seem strange to us. Apparently Timothy and the band of struggling believers he was serving were feeling ashamed because they were losing out to competitors preaching a different gospel. We don’t know all that these “impostors” stood for, but what we do know is that they imposed strict demands on their converts’ behavior, while indulging their own desires to do whatever they pleased. They wormed their way into congregations, and then milked the people for money. It would seem Timothy and his flock felt ashamed of the gospel because these “impostors” were so successful at gaining converts, while they were struggling to survive. As a result, they had gone into a “defensive” mode.
  Unfortunately, there are aspects of 2 Timothy that seem to positively encourage this retreat into a “defensive” mode. The Scripture actually uses language that I would say only reinforced their natural inclination to withdraw from perceived threats. It advises the believers to “guard” themselves, to “avoid” and “shun” others, to mark off those who are not a part of the “chosen,” and to effectively “consign” others to their fate. Much of this language is reactive, not proactive. It doesn’t sound very much like Jesus’ challenge to courageous discipleship!
  But there are other ideas here that are more helpful. First, Timothy is encouraged to “rekindle the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6). The image here is of fanning the embers of a fire that is no longer burning. There is still heat in the coals, but they have to be coaxed into actively burning again. In the face of discouragement, Timothy was challenged to “tend the fire” of his calling and gifts. I think at least a part of that meant for him to remind himself who it was who called and gifted him in the first place.
  Second, Timothy is reminded that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). This is one of those passages where I think the King James translators got it right: the spirit God has given us is one of “power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” In other words, the charge to Timothy was to recognize that it was the Spirit of God who gave him the power and love and good sense to be able to face the challenges that came his way. He didn’t face these hardships alone, but rather the way for him to fulfill his life and his service was by “relying on the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8).
  I think that this advice to Timothy can help us as well. The Bible tells us that each and every one of us has been given a “gift of God” with which to serve others. That means that living a life of faith and service is not a “self-help” project. Rather, we live and serve through the gifts God has given us. And sometimes we have to “tend the fire” of our calling and gifts. More than that, however, we do not fulfill the life of discipleship to Christ in our own strength alone. Rather, the Scriptures make it clear that we have all received the Spirit of God, who gives us more than enough power and love and good sense to be able to follow the path of faith no matter what we may face along the way.
  While I don’t believe it’s helpful for us to think of ourselves as “under attack,” it’s clearly the case that striving to live the Christian life and to give of ourselves in service to Christ is a path that can be discouraging at times. It can feel as if we’re constantly swimming against the stream, and we can grow weary with fatigue. But the Scriptures continually remind us that we don’t serve in our own strength alone. We serve with the power and love and good sense that God gives us. We fulfill our calling to live for Christ and to serve others by “relying on the power of God.”

[1] © 2019 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 10/6/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Finding Lazarus

Finding Lazarus
Luke 16:19-31[1]
  There are many ways in this life for us to forfeit our humanity. We are so complex and vulnerable, and life can threaten us where we least expect it. I would have to say that our comfortable lifestyle encourages a complacency that can lead us to forfeit our humanity. It’s one of the most dangerous temptations of having all the “stuff” we have: it can leave us blind to the people in need and deaf to God’s call to help them. Being able to see a person living in poverty and hunger as a fellow human being is an important part of our humanity. So is being able to hear God’s call to put compassion and mercy into practice
  I think that’s why Jesus told this parable: to shock all who have become blind to the needy and deaf to the call to compassion. In fact, I would say that Jesus told this parable to address the fact that the religious leaders of his day were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). Their love affair with their own wealth blinded them to the real needs of the people around them. Not only did they love their money, they also “justified” themselves for it (cf. Lk. 16:15). They considered their wealth to be a sign of God’s favor. Unfortunately, the combination of their love of money and their self-justification robbed them of the ability to show compassion to fellow human beings.
  I believe this is the point of Jesus’ parable about a rich man and Lazarus. For those of us who have enough it can be so easy to ignore those who are in need. And when we do so, we lose a part of our humanity. What we have to understand about the rich man is that he is not only rich, he’s very rich. He wears clothing that only kings could afford. He eats all he wants of the finest and richest foods. And what is obvious from the parable is that Lazarus is not only poor, he’s completely destitute. He is so hungry he just wants the scraps from the rich man’s table. And he’s so weak that he can’t even fend off the starving dogs that gather around him!
  In the story, their situations are radically reversed. Both men die, and fate of the rich man, who was very likely a “pillar” of the community and a leader of the local synagogue, is shocking in the extreme. Instead of being rewarded in the afterlife, he finds himself in torment. On the other hand, Lazarus, who would have been despised as a “sinner” getting what he deserved, winds up in paradise, in the “bosom of Abraham.” I’m not sure we could imagine a more radical reversal of fortunes. It is a dramatic illustration of the first becoming last and the last becoming first.
  It seems to me, however, that one of the main points of this parable is the fact that this man who had incredible wealth ignored Lazarus, who suffered terribly right at the very gate to his household. I find myself wondering how many times the rich man ignored Lazarus. It’s hard to say. Did the rich man ever find himself in a position of actually stepping over Lazarus? I would say that’s very likely. Did the rich man ever once actually looked Lazarus in the eyes? I doubt it. The rich man had become so complacent with his wealth and his comfortable life that he could no longer even see Lazarus. And in the process, he lost a very important part of his own humanity: the capacity to show compassion to others. 
  After the dramatic reversal of the two men’s fortunes, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, to warn them not to make the same mistake he had made. Abraham’s reply is simple and to the point: “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them” (Lk. 16:29). The Scriptures have all the warning they need to learn what it means to put God’s mercy into practice toward others. But the rich man’s response is equally simple and blunt, “No, father Abraham” (Lk. 16:30). The rich man knew that they wouldn’t pay any more attention to Moses and the prophets than he had. And I think this is another of Jesus’ lessons in this parable. This man would have been respected by his community. And yet, in reality, his great wealth made him deaf to the clear and repeated call of the Scriptures to share what we have generously—especially with those who are poor, or hurting, or vulnerable, or in any kind of need.
  We still have Moses and the prophets, but I’m not sure we do any better job hearing them than the rich man or his brothers. We also have Jesus and the apostles, but I think it’s easy for us to ignore them as well. So what do we have, or perhaps better, whom do we have who can teach us to share what we have generously? We have Lazarus. In fact, we have many Lazaruses all around us. But the question we face is whether our humanity is still intact enough that they can help us. In the parable from our Gospel lesson, in spite of the fact that the rich man begged for Abraham to “send Lazarus” to help him, Abraham explained that he could not help. We might say that the rich man already had his chance to learn from Lazarus, and he ignored the lesson. But we still have a chance to learn from the Lazaruses of our world. 
  So how can the poor, the hurting, and those who have been cast out in our world teach us how to share ourselves generously?  They are our prophets and apostles because they teach us that the life that is truly worth living always has been and always will be characterized by compassion and generosity. Although Lazarus could not help the rich man who ignored his plight, I think perhaps he might help us. I think he can point us to the Lazaruses all around us, poor and oppressed and outcast people who represent opportunities for us to share our mercy and compassion. When we take the time to notice them and do something to help them, we have the chance to be converted to a life of sharing with those in need. When we “find Lazarus” in the least and the lost and the left out among us, we have the chance to recovery our own humanity.

[1] © Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/29/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

Living Intentionally

Living Intentionally
Luke 16:1-13[1]
There is a lot of talk these days about living “intentionally.” Unfortunately, as is the case with other fads, the sheer amount of “talk” can render a topic like this to be virtually meaningless. It means everything, and it means nothing. But if you sift through all the noise, there is something to living intentionally. As I’ve observed before, we live in a culture that is designed to distract us. From our cars to our meals to our exercise habits to our fun, we seem to want to be constantly distracted. We don’t just “watch” a sporting event, we watch it, while we talk on the phone and comment on social media (and comment on others’ comments!). We seem to have lost the art of simply being in the moment.
I would venture to say that part of this love of distraction is that many of us simply are not “comfortable in our skin.” We’ve never really learned to just be who we are, and to be okay with that. The voice in our head that tells us that, no matter what we do, it’s never enough and it’s certainly never good enough defines our lives. With that kind of message constantly playing in the background of whatever we do, it’s no wonder we prefer the many distractions available to us. Until we can make peace with who we are, we will find it difficult to live intentionally.
Believe it or not, I think that our lesson from Luke’s Gospel for today is about just that: living intentionally. People have always found something to distract them from the somewhat challenging call to love God with all their hearts and love their neighbors sincerely. Jesus addresses the distraction that wealth poses, but that’s simply one of the more powerful distractions that we all face. For those who want to try to dodge the issue, Jesus speaks plainly: “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13). Translated into our terms, I think Jesus was saying that if you choose wealth as your master, it will take such a hold on your heart that you will not even be able to serve God!
Apparently, many of the religious leaders of his day had fallen into that trap. In order to address that problem, Jesus tells a rather confusing parable about the choice between living intentionally and being distracted. What makes this parable so confusing is that on the surface of things, it seems that Jesus is commending the dishonest use of wealth as a means of gaining eternal life! Given not only Jesus’ teaching about money, but the whole biblical witness, it’s clear that Jesus would not have made such bizarre statement. A little background might help us with the confusion. A “steward” was a household slave who was in charge of the master’s estate. He would manage all the affairs related to the operations, the personnel, and the finances. So the “steward” was the one who was entrusted with the master’s wealth.
This particular steward had been caught being dishonest, and it’s clear that the master was going to dismiss him. What the steward did next may seem shocking to us. He called in those who owed debts to the estate, gave them back the original IOU, and had them write out another one with a reduced debt. This might seem like outright theft. But it is likely that in fact the amount by which the steward reduced the debts was actually excessive interest that he had been charging (and probably pocketing). It would seem that in fact he was simply foregoing his dishonest “commission.”[2] 
We might wonder how this would do him any good. Again, some background might help. In that day and time, “debts” of honor were taken very seriously. With this plan, the steward was placing people in his debt by doing them huge favors. And when he came calling to “cash in” his favors, they would dishonor themselves in the eyes of the community if they did not welcome him as a guest in their homes. This explains the strange way the master commended the steward (Lk. 16:8). It seems confusing at first, but the master simply recognized the fact that the steward had come up with a very shrewd plan to avoid poverty when he was forced to leave his position.
It’s at this point that Jesus begins his confusing comments. He seems to commend the dishonest steward for being shrewder than Jesus’ own followers. He goes on to say, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (Lk. 16:9). Does Jesus want us to be dishonest and self-serving like the steward? I don’t believe so. While it sounds like Jesus was advising us to use money to gain some kind of eternal benefit, I don’t think that’s the point. I think Jesus wants us to be as shrewd about our discipleship as the steward was about his future. Jesus wants his disciples to live intentionally for the sake of God’s kingdom, and that includes how we use our wealth. [3]
It seems that the more prosperous we grow as a society, the more ways there are for us to distract ourselves from the calling to love God with all our hearts and to love others genuinely. I think that was one of the main reasons why Jesus consistently warned his disciples about the dangers of wealth. Of course, there are other ways we can distract ourselves from the challenge of living for God wholeheartedly. But I would say that wealth and prosperity underlie most of them. As St. Paul could say, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). If we truly want to take seriously Jesus’ call to follow him by living intentionally for God’s kingdom, we will have to put money and all it can buy in its place.

[1] © 2019 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/22/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2]Cf. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Gospel According to Luke X–XXIV, 1101; Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51–24:53, 1330, 1341.
[3] Cf. Jennifer E. Copeland, “Shrewd Investment,” The Christian Century (Sept. 7, 2004): 21, where she observes that the steward “used all the means at his disposal to adapt to his new reality. We should be no less shrewd in adapting to God's reality.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Luke 15:1-10[1]
We are a people with plenty of boundaries. We find all kinds of ways of drawing lines that let in only those who look like us, who talk like us, who live like us, and excluding anyone who is “different” in any way. Whether it’s the fences we build, or the neighborhoods we choose to live in, or the lines we draw to keep “undesirable” children out of our schools, we find a way to keep company only with those who are like us. Even on the internet, observers note that we tend to filter out messages from those who represent a way of thinking we may find offensive. Instead, we only want to hear from those who endorse the same ideas we do.
Although the Christian faith is intended to be radically inclusive, the way we as a people tend to practice our faith can fall into the same kind of exclusion. Bill Moyers, a journalist who was known for his PBS documentaries in the last Century, used to say that religion has a healing side, but it also has a killing side. Now, we’re not the kind of people to commit a terrorist act in the name of God, but there are other ways to carry out the “killing side” of religion. One of those is by rejecting the people we consider to be “less than,” or “undesirable,” or even “sinful”—the very people Jesus welcomed in the name of a loving God. We may not actually “kill” in the name of God, but we have other weapons that can rob a person of life just as effectively.
It might come as a surprise to hear these comments in connection with the parables of rejoicing over finding that which was lost in our Gospel lesson for today. The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son are probably some of our favorites. They remind us that God never stops seeking us out until he finds us and brings us home. They reassure us that even when we wander astray, God never gives up on us. And when that which was lost is found the proper way to celebrate it is to throw a party!
I’m not sure we fully appreciate this side of Jesus. We can take ourselves and our faith so seriously, that we can miss the fact that Jesus was known among the “religious people” of his day as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:34). Apparently, Jesus’ ability to celebrate the joy that comes from knowing God’s love and seeing that love transform those who were “lost” earned him a “reputation” among the good, upstanding people of the day. They were so busy obsessing about their religious “obligations” that they missed the whole point of it all: living in the joy of God’s unconditional love, and sharing that love with others—all others!
That was the reason why Jesus told these parables in the first place. Again, Luke clues us into that with the way he introduces the chapter. He describes the setting this way: “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:1-2). Now, there are some things we need to understand about this. First, “tax collectors and sinners” was something of shorthand in that context. It was a phrase that included everyone who was considered “undesirable,” whether they were actually immoral or just consigned to the category of human “trash” by the good, upstanding people.[2]
It’s easy for us to overlook this dimension to the parables because we tend to identify with Jesus’ point of view when we read the Bible. I think that’s a natural response to Scripture: we would like to think that we’re the kind of people who hear and obey. Therefore, we assume that we’re “on God’s side.” But of course, it’s that assumption that allows us to fall into the trap of the “killing side of religion” by rejecting others and setting up boundaries to keep them separated from us.
The irony in this situation is the fact that those who were consigned to the category of human “trash” were the very ones who responded to Jesus and his message of God’s all-inclusive kingdom![3] In the Gospels they are the examples for us to follow regarding how to respond to Jesus. By contrast the “religious” people kept their distance. Or if they did “stoop” to associate with Jesus, it was only to confirm their assumption that he was misguided at best and dangerous at worst. Despite their narrowness, Jesus continued to reach out to the “religious” people, inviting them to join in the celebration of new life. The parables in this chapter leave it open as to whether they would accept his invitation, or continue to cling to relative safety of their grumbling.
We face the same choice today. We can choose to assume that we are justified in writing off those we exclude as “trash.” If so, we will have forgotten that though we have all gone astray, we want God to be merciful to us, but we’re asking him to withhold that mercy from those we reject![4] Instead of assuming that posture of judging others, we can admit that Jesus has something to say in these parables that we desperately need to hear as much as anyone![5] If we have the ability to hear him, perhaps then we can leave our grumbling behind, and join with him and “all heaven” in rejoicing when anyone from any walk of life who was lost is transformed by God’s love.

[1] © 2019 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/15/2019 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, 1073.
[3] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, 570.
[4] Cf. R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX:298: he says that we want God to be merciful to us by giving us more than we deserve, but we want those we view as “undesirable” to get no more than they deserve.
[5] Fred Craddock, Luke, 184.