Pastor's Sermons

Pass on it or Pass it on?  Pastor Sigi Helgeson
 
      At the Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans this summer, we stayed in really nice hotels near the French quarter, and on several occasions dined in some great restaurants. It was one night after having dinner together, and feasting sumptuously on some fine Louisiana cuisine that our Synod delegation from SWWA walked back to our hotels, it was evening and we passed a park, where many of the cities homeless where bedding down for the night, and we almost had to walk over and skirt pass them as we traveled back to our comfortable beds in the hotel down the street. .. we did nothing as we walked by and none of us really talked about it.. (there is more to the story but I want to pause here.) 
I’ve read and re-read the gospel lesson several times this week with different groups of folks and after reading it I have come to the conclusion.. “I’m going to hell!”  if I don’t do anything for the poor at my gate .. right? I mean, if the rich guy goes to hell because he doesn’t do anything for the poor beggar Lazarus who sits at his gate.. I have to ask myself  the question.. “am I that guy”?  Because you see, like many of you, I have a nice home, I have a nice couch that I sit upon and watch my big screen TV and on it watch images of suffering, around the world, more and more people who flee their countries in search of refuge.. I watch from my comfortable couch the suffering and violence in our own nation, I drive in my comfortable car and drive by the homeless person on the side of the road.  I wonder what to do?  
 
 What does this parable of Jesus have to teach us and what does it have to do with our faith.. ?  That is our question today.. as we continue in our 50 days of faith journey..
 Looking at this parable again, I am reminded of something I heard, not sure who said it, that Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.    I think that is true of this parable.  If you are suffering now in this world this would bring some comfort that there will be comfort and rest in the next.  If you are comfortable in this world then the parable would imply you will suffer in the next..   The negro spiritual- “Rock a my soul in the bosom of Abraham” came out of this parable and brought comfort to the black slaves as they sang it while in shackles and suffering under slavery.  On the contrary, to those who were slave owners this parable would not be so comforting.  This parable along with the parable from last week about the shrewd steward seem to deliver a “one –two punch” to make the Pharisees, who were overhearing Jesus parable, and as Luke says, were “lovers of money”, to become very uncomfortable and realize that Jesus message was a dangerous one.  Jesus threatened their power and authority and eventually it would get him killed.  Many have interpreted the parable as a window into the afterlife, about heaven and hell but more recently that interpretation has been challenged. This is a parable ,a story told by Jesus to make a point, not a theological explanation of what happens after we die. It is more like the story of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens classic a “Christmas Carol”, who is visited by three ghosts in a dream and sees his miserly life and love of money as a waste, and repents and changes his ways becoming exceedingly generous overnight!  His eyes are opened as he wakes up to see the “Tiny Tims” of the world who have been lying at his gate.
Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, the rich man in Jesus parable doesn’t seem to show repentance. The rich man having ignored the need of his neighbor Lazarus who was there lying at his gate, whom he did not see during his life now sees him clearly in the after life lying next to Abraham,  in comfort while he, the Rich man is being tormented.   He calls out to Abraham and wants him to send Lazarus to come and serve him, “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”  He doesn’t address Lazarus directly but expects that he will come to bring comfort to him.  The rich man still thinks he is calling the shots.  But Father Abraham explains that there is a great chasm separating us.  Perhaps the chasm reflects the divide of rich and poor during his lifetime.  The rich man then turns to his own family and concern for his brothers to at least give them a warning.  Again, Father Abraham explains that they have the law and the prophets to listen to and if they aren’t convinced by them neither will be they convinced if someone rises from the dead, (perhaps a reference to Jesus rising from the dead).  The rich man who passed up the opportunity during his lifetime to care for his neighbor, wants to pass on a warning to his family but it is too late.  The message – Don’t let his happen to you! It is a wake up call! Like the ghosts in Scrooge’s dream this parable jars one from the comfortable couch to action.  To not pass on the opportunity to serve the neighbor but instead pass on- the love of God to the neighbor in need to the Lazarus at our gate. 
     Who is the Lazarus at my gate?
  I received a Magazine from Lutheran World relief, just this week with the convicting words- Global Hunger: Progress achieved, challenges remain.  Between 1990-92 and ’2012-’14 42% reduction in hungry people in developing countries.good news but there are still challenges according to the United Nations there are still 793 million people in the world are chronically malnourished..
1 in 4 in sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished, Still,a daunting challenge remains as hunger remains widespread in the developing world. 
     “You can’t build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery.- Dr. Norman Borlaug- 1970 Peace Prize Laureate.
  So what are we to do with such overwhelming statistics?  How can one person make a difference?  Perhaps that was the thought of the rich man in Jesus parable? Perhaps like him we are tempted to turn off the news, put aside the magazine, and make a sandwich.   But this parable disturbs me and will not let me off the hook so easy.  I have means and I live comfortably – how do I live faithfully and respond to help those who are at my gate, instead of passing them by?  How do I pass it on instead of passing up the opportunity?  Sometimes I believe we grow the most in our faith when we are challenged.  If Jesus only spoke comforting words and never challenged his disciples, they would never have grown in their faith and become the missionaries who passed on the faith.  We grow the most when we are uncomfortable and trust God through the discomfort.  Nothing does that better than going on a mission trip.
   This past week I came across a letter from my youngest son Patrick, to raise money for going on a mission trip- we went with Vinland and several churches some of you remember that trip.
     Mission trips give one the opportunity for growth in faith. I appreciate Pastor Chuck for his planning the mission trips to Mexico as it helped to pass on the faith to our youth and we all grew in the process. It opened our eyes to see those at our “gate” in a new and different way not as those who had nothing but as those who had much,  love, family, community, they were rich in ways that we could learn from.  Having no home, we built a home for them, but they showed us how to trust in God despite having so many challenges, they showed us generosity and the importance of family and helping one another. The Amor of God was spread and we received so much more than we gave.  It helped us to see each other differently and we were changed, our hearts were changed.
   David Lose writes in his devotion in Lutheran World Relief magazine- commenting on another Jesus parable of Jesus which ends- “Truly I tell you just as you did it o one of the least of these who are member of my family, you did it to me.”  Matthew 25:45.. “ This parable read as promise, rather than threat reminds me that each time I reach out to help others I am actually the one receiving a blessing as I come into contact with Jesus and live into the person he has called me to be.”  -David Lose
  Perhaps that is what the take away is from the parable. It is not because he is rich that the man in the parable is condemned, but because he has failed to act on the opportunity before him, failed to see, failed to open his heart to the Amor/ God’s love.
     The challenge for us is not to shut our eyes, close our hearts and become immune to the suffering around us, nor to be overwhelmed by it and throw up our hands thinking we can do nothing but  rather to respond with God’s Amor and ask for our eyes to be opened and our hearts transformed.  In helping another we may see our Lord and be blessed. 
     Finishing the story from New Orleans that I began with.  The next day at our churchwide assembly as we  heard about what Lutheran World Relief is doing around the world, the youth delegation requested that anyone who wanted to donate their Assembly bags and fill them with food for the homeless to please leave them at the end of the assembly next day and they would go and distribute to the homeless. What a great idea, ofcourse, the youth would lead us, many whom had been on mission trips and  done service projects.  I was all ready to bring my bag and then forgot to do it.  So after the assembly and before we had to catch our plane, Dave and I along with another couple went out to lunch and I brought my bag and intended to fill it with food, which I did, adding our leftovers at the restaurant along with a loaf of bread.  I asked my friend Debra if she wanted to go with me to find a homeless person to give it to while the guys paid the bill.  We were in a time crunch so hurried to find someone to give the bag to as we walked back to the hotel. We didn’t see anyone, and I began to pray for God to help us see someone and sure enough, there was a man along a busy street sitting on the sidewalk.   I intended to drop the bag and go but as I started to explain to the man that I wanted to give him the bag, I looked him in the eye and I said, “God loves you” and asked him his name, “George” he said and he took my hand and he began to cry. I thought “oh no what have I done?” but he thanked me and said, no one had ever done that for him and I asked if we could pray and we prayed together.  It touched me, I still remember George and pray for him. 
   So we are going to try something here at Vinland and invite you to consider creating your own Lazarus bag.  You have the information in your bulletin and plastic bag to use to collect items and then give them out to someone you see who is in need.  The idea is that you have something ready to give when you see the opportunity and instead of passing by or looking the other way or simply not seeing the person on the street that you stop and look the person in the eye, and maybe exchange a few words and then say a prayer for them, give them the bag and share the Amor of God.  This is for them but it is also for you, mostly for you to grow in faith as your heart is opened wider.  See what effect it might have and if you want to bring more items to church so we can make bags together and bless them and send them out it can be an ongoing ministry of this church along with mission trips and the many other ways this church is serving in the community, and the world. 
   In the song we are about to sing- “Here I am Lord, there is the phrase.. “I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone.”  May that be our prayer, as we have received the word of God today, we feast upon it as Luther says, we have the risen Christ  one who has come back from the grave to bring us the good news and emboldens us , fills us with His spirit to spread that good news and share the Amor of God.  Amen. 


In God we Trust?   Pastor Sigi Helgeson
 
Three pastors walk into a coffee house on a Sat...One says to the other two, so what are you going to preach on tomorrow?  This gospel lesson is really a challenge, I’m not sure what it even means?  - said the first pastor,  The second pastor said, well I’m preaching that what this means is that you really should give more to the church.. it’s a great stewardship emphasis,  (Pastor Chuck)  the third pastor said,  You know I think I’m just going to preach on the Old Testament lesson.. Well that is definitely the way I felt looking at the gospel lesson for today.. Parts of it are confusing and seem inconsistent with Jesus teachings..  How is someone who is dishonest to be praised and set up as an example?  And what does it mean to be shrewd? why is this parable in the Bible?  What does it have to do with faith?. that’s our question today.. What does He mean when Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters.  For you  will hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other you cannot serve both God and money?”  - Luke 16:13 NLT
 Before we start.. let’s pray..
God sometimes it’s hard to hear your word, especially when it’s difficult to interpret what you mean, and we really struggle with the subject.. help us this morning to hear from your word that which you want us to hear, we pray this morning for open hearts, open minds and teachable spirits.. in Jesus name we pray. Amen.
 
   You may have heard of or seen the movie- “The Big Short”  it’s a movie about the savings and loan companies whose practice was to give out loans with “liberal” lending to individuals who wanted to buy homes but could not afford it..which basically led to the housing market crash and recession. Did you realize that 8 million jobs and 6 million homes were lost leading to a market crash of global proportions.  While it shows the greed of those involved, it also shows the “shrewdness” of the 4 investors who bet against the market, realizing ahead of time what was about to take place, that no one else was paying attention to.  It’s an eye opening film based on a true story written by Michael Lewis.
 
   This movie came to mind when I read Jesus parable about the “shrewd steward”. Some commentators believe that what the steward who worked for the bank- (the master) was doing was actually legal permitted by law.. he was allowed to charge interest on what was loaned.. the problem this created is that many could not afford the exorbitant interest and so would default and lose their land, making them basically slaves to the landowner/lender.  So the steward who was caught in the Master’s audit,  charging more than what was owed and taking more for himself, he quickly changed his practice and began to “forgive” debts by up to %50 thus forgiving the interest and probably his own cut, to ingratiate himself with the one’s who owed the landowner/bank.   This is what Jesus is calling “shrewd” .. but is it dishonest?  Jesus says it is.. although he is actually helping and correcting a dishonest practice.  Perhaps that is what Jesus is commending?  But what is the point?  Are we to be like the shrewd steward? 
    Perhaps the opposite is true.. as Jesus says-  “I tell you , use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends.  In this way, your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven.”  Luke 16:9 NLT
He goes on to say- “Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won’t be faithful in large ones. “ Luke 16:10 NLT  You cannot serve two masters either you will love one and hate the other..you cannot serve God and mammon.. Have you ever tried to do two things at once?  Text and drive..play pokemon go?  ..how about doing two jobs ..many people have to do that to make ends meet.. working parents.. full-time job as parent and then work too?  It’s hard, difficult.. complicated.. where do we invest our time and resources?
 
In looking at this parable I think it’s important to know the context and to whom Jesus is speaking to either directly or indirectly.  As we read the beginning of the text, it says that Jesus is talking directly to the disciples but at the end in vs. 14 we realize the one’s he is speaking to indirectly are the Pharisees.  At the conclusion of Jesus parable Luke writes- “ The Pharisees who dearly loved their money, naturally scoffed at all this.”  Luke 16:14 NLT
 
     Perhaps Jesus parable is to shock and open the eyes of the Pharisees and warn them about their practices, and raise questions about  they are serving?..  Sometimes that is the point.. to get us to think about what is our practice and why?  How am I being faithful to what I believe, my values in how I spend, steward, money and other resources in my life?  I think that Jesus parable today is actually a great way to start off our 50 days of faith.. because it asks the question  ultimately, where do I place my trust.. what and whom do I have faith in?   God or mammon?  - slide of dollar bill.. we have “In God We Trust”  imprinted on our money..
 
That word- “mammon “is often translated money.. but actually the word can mean more than just money.. really it is anything we idolize or value. 
 
Martin Luther in explaining the word mammon said- “‘Many a person thinks he has God and everything he needs when he has money and property, in them he trusts and of them he boasts so stubbornly and securely that he cares for no one. Surely such a man also has a god -- mammon by name, that is, money and possessions -- on which he fixes his whole heart. It is the most common idol on earth."
 
   Good Old Martin Luther you can always count on him to tell it like it is. I think mammon in our culture could be disguised as success…
Wealthy, good career, happy family… just look at Money magazine or Fortune 500.. and you get the picture of success.. and it’s not a bad thing.. this parable doesn’t single out the rich.. but instead asks the question.. how do we use our wealth, our resources.. ? It’s not money or posessions that are the problem.. but the love of them.. over God. Trust in these idols over trusting in God..
Jesus sort of turns things on their head... he hangs out with the poor, the lowly, the sinner, the sick, the least of these. 
     Success in the eyes of God, is much different than success in the eyes of the world.
Instead of amassing a Fortune for oneself, it looks more like faithfulness..  Service to God and others rather than Serve us. It looks more like a Mother Teresa than … you fill in the blanks; you can not serve God and mammon. 
I’ve heard it said that St. Augustine asserted that God gave us people to love and things to use, and original sin manifests itself in our penchant to confuse those two.. loving thing and using people. 
So perhaps being faithful in little is about loving people and not things..
Story this past week of our youth serving.. God’s work our hands.. helping one of our members get prepared to move.. and taking the cards for our first responders to the Police station .. that’s faithfulness, that’s service.. infact, this church member had come to church to pray.. trusting in God and she received an immediate answer.. the youth group to help her!
 
     I don’t think Jesus is saying here you must give up everything you have to be faithful.. just put him first..  I think Jesus is really getting at what do we worship, where do we place our trust, and whom do we serve?  “ You can not serve both God and mammon.”  True statement.. and that is our struggle.. we are as Luther said, both saint and sinner.. and so we struggle and wrestle with idols, making an idol even of something good.. and so Jesus shocks us, with his parables and cracks open our hearts.. because he wants to be there.. he wants to not only be included in our lives.. but wants to live there with us.. and through us make a difference in the world in which we live.  
 
So I invite us to think this morning about “where do we place our trust?… whom do we serve? How do we live faithfully?”
 
     This past week I was humbled by listening to our new pastoral candidates- who were approved to become Lutheran pastors.  Two of the candidates we listened to were Korean pastors who came from a tradition other than Lutheran and were serving in new start mission congregations to Korean speaking communities. They have few members and not a lot of resources.  One of the pastors’ when I asked what his biggest challenge – He said, money..need more.   “what if Vinland decided to invest in the mission of the Korean churches?  Relationships that would build.. they have so much to teach us.. The other pastor Song Soo Kim shared with us how he cares for himself when things get tough.. he goes on a rollercoaster with his wife and they scream!  With all of the struggle we ask why he wanted to be a Lutheran pastor.  There are not many Lutherans in Korea and the Lutheran church is not well known in the Korean community.  Their church has been through a lot of struggle over the years he has been there, especially among the Korean church community because they are suspect of this unknown denomination and many of the Korean churches come out of more of an Assembly of God type theology.  Prosperity gospel.. vs. theology of the cross and  of grace.  So he explained that in the Korean church you are saved by grace..99% but there is still the expectation that you are responsible for that 1 % in some way.. so you better work in some way to be holy and in a right relationship with God.  He said, in the Lutheran church he has found that it is 100% grace.. and that is why he became a Lutheran.  You know sometimes I think it’s easy to forget how precious that grace of God is.. and despite my messing up and not keeping everything in balance and not always serving God but serving self.. that even through that God still loves you and me.. and it’s 100% grace.. and that is something I can put my trust in.. that is a God who I can trust my life with.. that Jesus is someone whom I can trust my salvation with.. and someone I want to be in relationship with and follow.. and be faithful to and faith filled.. not because of what I do… but because of what he has done and continues to do in my life. 
 
    Ultimately that’s what it’s about isn’t it?  Where do I place my trust?  Who do I trust my life with?   Money will come and go, it’s not something I want to depend my life on ..Friendships will come and go,..  Jesus will never leave you or desert you.. Success- one minute you can be up the next you can be down.. so how do you measure it.. at the end of our lives what’s really going to matter? How much money we have, friends, success?  Maybe.. but ultimately what really matters is how did I spend my life, me resources, time, money, talents in service for God and others..
 
Visit with Ersle Gregerson in the hospital.. awaiting surgery, postponed, she said, the Dr. asked her why are you taking this so well.. and she said, well it’s because of my faith!  Her faith has sustained her, knowing that you, her church are praying for her has lifted her spirits, and she is at peace with whatever the outcome may be. 
Faithful in a little.. will be faithful in much..Perhaps that is what Jesus is saying.. When we live our lives in such a way that our faith is engaged in the little things.. when it comes time when we really need to depend on our faith .. it will be there for the bigger moments.. the much more faith that we need. 
 
50 Days of Faith:
Invitation to go further to take a FAITH step.. fill out the card in your bulletin.. invitation to grow in your faith during the next 50 days.. maybe you are here for the first time and don’t know this church or anyone in it.. that’s ok.  You are invited on this journey .. maybe you’ve been at this church all your life or a good portion of it and you have never done anything like this.. that’s ok you are invited on this journey.  Maybe…you are in a good place right now.. that’s great you are invited too, and you can maybe help to mentor someone else,  maybe you are in a not so great place right now and are really struggling with faith or maybe you don’t even know if you believe .. this 50 days of faith is for you!  So please for the next 50 days consider taking one step..
 
Prayer
God stir up faith in us, grow your seeds of faith and trust in you.. help us to be faithful in the small things, and to know that you are always faithful to us…  Be with all of the folks here and the faith steps that have been made.  Bless each one here.. as they have made a commitment.. during these next 50 days may we  grow closer to you and one another, as we are rooted in our faith in you.  Amen