Sunday Gathered Worship, October 30, 2016
By Elizabeth Dede
Things happen fast in this story.
Jesus plans to pass through Jericho. He’s not going to stop for a sermon, or do some healing. He’s got another destination in mind.
Zaccheus gets wind of Jesus’ trip through town, and because he is small, he runs ahead to climb up in a tree to see the Lord. I remember when I was a little kid, we had a big tree in our backyard, and I could climb up to the top and look all the way across the tops of the houses to the next neighborhood over the highway. It was exciting to be up that high. Now I’m afraid of heights. I get sick just watching movies about mountain climbing. But Zaccheus didn’t have any fear of heights. He ran ahead and climbed up that tree.
I don’t much care for sycamore trees. They’re kind of trashy. They have big leaves, and they’re the last to get their leaves in the spring. In the fall, they are the first to turn brown and drop their big old leaves. They make a mess. But I’m thankful for sycamore trees because we might not have this story without them. What if there hadn’t been a tree for Zaccheus to climb? He would have stood up on his toes, stretching and straining, but he wouldn’t have seen the Lord.
The interns and I did some reading about the South African term Ubuntu, which means I see you, and I am seen by you. This was used after apartheid in the Truth and Reconciliation to help people find the humanity in each other, even after terrible atrocities had been committed.
Zaccheus climbs up in the sycamore tree, and he sees Jesus, but the story doesn’t end there. He is also seen by Jesus. Jesus tells him to come down quickly. The pace of the story is rapid. Zaccheus doesn’t take his time. He quickly comes down. He must have wondered why Jesus singled him out. After all, the only thing that made him unique was how despised he was. He was a tax collector. He must have had a “Who me?” and a “Why me?” moment.
I hope Zaccheus had his house in order because Jesus tells him that he must stay with him. You never know when you might have guests.
And so, off they go to Zaccheus’ house. He is joyful. You can feel his excitement in this story. But as happens in all stories, there are other characters who don’t share the joy. They grumble and complain. You’d think by this time that they would have figured out that Jesus came for people like Zaccheus. He isn’t your everyday, run-of- the-mill preacher.
Zaccheus isn’t afraid, or cowed, by these grouches. He is moved by Jesus’ acceptance of him and seeks reconciliation with all those whom he has wronged. And since he was a tax collector, that was probably a lot of people. It makes you wonder if he had anything left by the time he had paid off all those people. But I don’t think he would have cared. He found the Lord. He had been in a hurry, and he found what made for Justice and Peace in his life.
It seems that perhaps because of Zaccheus’ enthusiasm, Jesus welcomes him into the family. He is no longer the outcast. Salvation comes to him. He is a son of Abraham.
So let us be in a hurry to see Jesus. And as we are welcomed into the family, let us also be in a hurry to seek reconciliation, to make it right, to find peace and joy in our lives.
Gathered Worship, Sunday, October 23, 2016
Reflection on Luke 18:9-14
By Elizabeth Dede
Jesus’ teaching here is a hard one. It seems simple, but who really wants to be humbled?
I looked up the verb in the dictionary. To Humble means to humiliate, to put to shame, to disgrace. We’re not taught to do these things. I guess we’re pretty clear that we shouldn’t exult ourselves either, but to humiliate ourselves? That seems a bit much.
I have a struggle with this because I don’t know how to value myself. Once when I was a kid I told a friend of the family that I went to two schools. One was for gifted kids. My mom was mortified. I guess you could say she was humiliated. She took me aside and told me that I shouldn’t brag about myself that way. Then I was humiliated. I thought I was just telling the simple truth, but apparently I was being proud.
After that experience I had a hard time with being smart. School was easy for me, but that embarrassed me.
So who wants to be humiliated? I say, “Not me.”
Actually, it seems like this is a situation where telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is called for. The tax collector told the truth about himself. He was a sinner. The Pharisee left out that crucial description. He saw himself as perfect. He did all the right things, and he was happy to catalogue that for God.
The tax collector knew that he was far from perfect. He told God about that too, and asked for mercy.
So we all need to rely on God’s mercy, whether we feel like we’re doing the right thing, or whether we are readily aware of our sins.
My sister helped me with this. I struggled all of my life to be perfect. Of course you can’t attain perfection. For Christmas one year she gave me a necklace that spelled perfect, except that the T was crooked.
That’s about the way we all are. God has made us close to perfect, almost like the angels. But we’ve also got a taste of sin—a crooked T.
That’s not something we want to be proud of. Rather we need to acknowledge it, to recognize our need for God’s mercy.
That recognition will be like an invitation to Jesus to enter into our hearts because he ate with tax collectors and sinners.
So let us humble ourselves, not so that we will be ashamed, but so that Jesus will be with us. Amen.
Monday, December 5, 2016, Morning Chapel
By Elizabeth Dede
I think we sort of overuse this word “incredible.” After all, it means unbelievable. What is it that we don’t believe when we say, “That’s incredible?”
For instance, if we were part of this Gospel scene, we might very well say that the people who went up on the roof with their paralyzed friend, took off the roof tiles, and lowered him down to Jesus, were incredible. It’s hard for us to imagine getting up on a roof, much less carrying a paralyzed friend. So we might say, “That’s incredible!” But back in Jesus’ day people spent their evenings and nights up on the roof, so it’s not so unbelievable after all that they went up on the roof.
But they must have gone prepared. After all, where would they find ropes to tie onto the stretcher, to lower their friend down? And imagine how strong they would have to be to accomplish that feat. We might very well say, that’s incredible!
Then think of the faith these people had. They believed that Jesus could, and would, heal their friend. They went through all that work to get the paralyzed man in front of Jesus. They must have heard about his healing power, and then they had to believe. Was that so incredible?
Which is harder to believe, that Jesus can heal a paralyzed man, or that he can forgive sins? Apparently, the scribes and Pharisees thought it was pretty incredible that Jesus would acknowledge the faith of these men, and then forgive their sins. Do we find it hard to believe that Jesus can forgive our sins? Do we say, “That’s incredible?” Do we believe that our sins are so terrible that no one can forgive them?
Jesus can, and does, even in the midst of unbelief.
And then to prove that he has authority, Jesus does the most incredible thing, he tells the paralyzed man to rise, take up his bed, and walk. And guess what? The man does just that. Now I know a little bit about paralysis. My sister Jocelyn had a terrible accident many years ago. She fell down the stairs at home and broke her neck. She can’t use her legs and doesn’t have much use of her arms. Her boys were three-years-old and two at the time of the accident. If I could, I would take her up on the roof and lower her down to Jesus. That would be incredible!
We know that Jesus can heal. Perhaps some day there will be a medical miracle—some surgery, or some stem cell procedure, and my sister will walk again.
But what we do believe now is that Jesus forgives our sins, that Jesus even increases our faith. I hope the scribes and Pharisees were able to have faith, too.
During this Advent, may Jesus come into our hearts, forgive us, fill us with faith, help us to rise up and walk in the light. Now that’s not so incredible!
Sunday Gathered Worship Lesson, January 8, 2017
By Elizabeth Dede
When I lived at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, we practiced Liberation Theology, studied the Bible from the point of view of the poor, and saw Jesus in the homeless and imprisoned among us.
One of our favorite stories came from the early days of the Sojourners Community, which Jim Wallis tells: “One of our first activities was to find every verse of scripture about the poor, wealth and poverty, and social justice. We found more than 2,000 texts that we then cut out of an old Bible. We were left with a Bible full of holes, [a hole-ly Bible], which I used to take out with me to preach.”
One evening, Ed Loring and Ron Jackson went to a speaking engagement in Buckhead, a well-to-do neighborhood of Atlanta. They were speaking to a rather wealthy group about seeing Jesus in the poor, when Ron proclaimed, “You won’t find Jesus in Buckhead.” Of course, this disturbed the group. Isn’t Jesus among all of his believers, even those who have access to goods?
In addition, the Open Door, and so many other non-profits, including Koinonia Farm, depend on those very people to survive in this world and to do our ministry.
Nevertheless, we do know of God’s preferential option for the poor. Mary sings it in her song: “He has put down the mighty from their throne and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
However, today’s Gospel lesson helps us to understand that Jesus came for everyone, even the rich. You see, these wise men from afar were not poor. They came with expensive gifts. Traditionally, we call them kings, although they probably weren’t. Also, they were not part of God’s chosen family. They were not the children of Israel, yet this star of wonder appeared to them, and they came to bow down to Jesus.
The invitation is made to everyone—the poor shepherds, the rich kings, even King Herod is told of the baby Jesus.
And so this message also comes to us. We live a blessed life here at Koinonia with more than enough to share. Let us offer our thanks and praise to God for the gift of Jesus. Let us offer our thanks and praise to Jesus for the gift of his salvation that comes to all of us—rich and poor alike. Let us offer our thanks and praise for the gift of life together, full of so many good blessings.
Sunday Gathered Worship, January 15, 2017
Grace to You and Peace
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
By Elizabeth Dede
I grew up a Lutheran pastor’s kid. My dad, who is now 85 years old, is also a Lutheran pastor’s kid. His mom and dad grew up speaking German, so they always went to German church. My dad grew up speaking English, so he always went to English church.
My dad is by far the youngest in his family. His two older brothers were old enough to be his father, and his sister and next brother were gone from home by the time my dad was going to school. So he grew up like an only child, which meant he went to church on his own. In order to make sure that my dad actually went to church, his dad always quizzed him on the sermon at Sunday evening dinner.
My dad followed the same practice with us kids, even though we all went to church together. And we were not allowed to say, “That was a good sermon, Dad.” We had to be prepared to give some examples from the sermon to show that we really were paying attention.
Well, it’s been years now since I heard my dad preach, but I still remember that every sermon began this way, “My dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So hearing those words, over and over again, makes me wonder, “What do they really mean?”
Grace, I learned as a good Lutheran kid, is what saves us: “By grace you have been saved, and this is not your own doing, but a gift of God, lest anyone should boast.” Grace is that gift from God that we don’t deserve, that we cannot earn. Grace is the vast lovingkindness of God. Grace fills us with hope. The darkness of the world around us is changed into the light of Christ by grace.
Peace is also a word that I heard many times in church growing up. Several times throughout worship, my dad would say, “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” and we would chant back, “And with thy spirit.” Peace is not just the absence of war and violence, it is a state in which all is made whole, where there is justice, where all relationships are reconciled. Here at Koinonia, peace is part of our vision statement: we look for “peace through reconciliation.” So we try to be at peace with all of God’s creation. If we have wronged a person, we go to them to seek forgiveness. If we feel wronged, we go to the person to speak directly to them in love. We try to be at peace with our environment—grazing our cattle on fresh grass, letting our chickens roam, and treating our pecans and fruits and vegetables biologically rather than with chemicals.
“Grace to you and peace.” These are gifts that we have to offer to each other. We hope to live our lives in a way that demonstrates these gifts. We pray that Koinonia is a place full of grace and peace. We ask God that our whole world be filled with grace and peace so that the goodwill promised by the angels will reign here and now.
So, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.