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Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Psalm 1 ;Luke 14:25-33

I am often puzzled by things. Somethings just don’t make sense. How does a microwave work? Why does the Publix at 95th and Biscayne always feel like a zoo? Why do we keep believing that this is the year that the Dolphins have figured out their quarterback situation?

But one thing that has often puzzled me about the Jesus’ ministry is the seeming contradiction between two of these foundational statements: From Matthew Chapter 11: ““Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

And our reading for today: “whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Is following Jesus something to give us rest? Or is there as, been famously said, a cost to discipleship?

I believe that the answer is both, but with some nuance and reframing.

As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, Jesus’ call to lay our burdens down is an important one. Some Christians are fond of the phrase, “Giving things up to God”, recognizing that certain situations are outside of our control, or that worrying about them will not add to them.

Unfortunately, this has sometimes been read as a call for an abrogation of responsibility, and I don’t believe it is. If there’s anything we have an inclination toward, it’s to maintain control over everything we can. To give up control over something we hold dear is hard. Everyone who has seen a child move toward adulthood knows that to relax control over something is as hard- or harder- than asserting control over something.

So what burdens are we called to give up to God? Much of what we are called to give up is in the realm of the spiritual/emotional; we ought to give up the burden of sin; our uncontrolled anger, our egos, our selfishness, our greed. We are called to give our desire to absolutely control our future. We are called to give up our sense of surety that we are the ultimate authority in our lives.

Yet this might not be all that we are called to give up. Our Gospel reading ends with a call to give our material wealth- “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

What are we to make of this? Surely we see this among the apostles; they leave their fishing boats and farm tools behind to follow Jesus.

Yet not everyone who is counted as faithful does so. There are numerous others counted as faithful followers of Jesus who do not do this. We know this through our gospels, the letters of Paul and the history of the early church.

Yet we should not give up so easily on this idea. We know that one the great sins of the church throughout history has been the wealth that it has horded for itself, often at the expense of others, often the poor that Jesus told us to give and serve.

There’s some evidence that monasticism – monasteries and people living as monks and nuns- started as a counter cultural movement in its earliest days to follow these words of Jesus- one of the vows monks and nuns take is a vow of poverty. Unfortunately, monasteries themselves would eventually become centers of horded wealth, with some of the most egregious examples owning slaves or being partners to genocide, especially of Native Americans and Africans.

Our tradition doesn’t really do monks and monasteries all that much; the catholic church does, and its big in the orthodox church. You might not know that the episcopal church has monasteries. A good note is that some have become more explicitly ecumenical, welcoming into community, though often not the full experience, people from different traditions. If you want to find out more about that, talk to Brad- one of his happy places is a monastery up in Wisconsin.

But what about the rest of us; those that can’t, or won’t, because of our obligations- to our families, our communities, heck, just because we aren’t spiritually ready for it?

If we cannot fulfill the entirety of Jesus’s command to the letter, at least we can fulfill its spirit. We can have healthier relationships with our money, our possessions and wealth, especially those of us who have more. Even if we can’t give up all our possessions, we can give up our love of money and desire for ever more of it. Although we cannot be perfect in this life, this is no excuse not to strive for it.

But what of the flip side of this? What of the crosses we are called to bear? Those who first heard this message must have been puzzled and troubled by the language of crosses being the burden to bear.

I will note here that the burden of the crosses we bear is going to be categorically different from the burden of Jesus’ cross; The crucifixion and resurrection were singular events, good enough for the redemption and reconciliation of humanity. I do not believe this is a call for martyrdom, physical or metaphorical. It is not our duty to bear the sins of humanity or whatever else you believe happened on the cross.

But I also believe this is a call to responsibility toward one another; although we do not need to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders, like Atlas of old, we are called to be there for one another; to recognize that we are, against all odds and whether we like it or not, one body in Christ. We are, in fact, our brother’s keepers. When one part of the body is suffering, the whole body suffers.

Our lives are interconnected with one another- we have a common origin and share a common destiny. This is not just for those we hold most dear. Last week, we were reminded that we called to widening circles of concern; those close to us, the strangers in our midst and nearby, and to remember prisoners and those being tortured as though we were being tortured.

So yes, we are called to lay down our burdens- our anxieties, our sins, our greed and egos and all those things that tear us apart from one another. And we are called to bear new crosses, new responsibilities; toward one another, caring for each other and for the world we inhabit. Let us do things in hope, in faith, and most of all, in love with one another and with our God. Let us contemplate these things in a moment of silent prayer and meditation.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Who has seen or encountered an angel? What was that like?

I have. I see them at least every week, and I’m pretty sure you do to. Let’s take a step back to explain:

What is an angel? Our English word angel comes from the Greek Angelos, which means messenger, diplomat, or envoy. In the context of the Bible- both old and new testaments, as the Hebrew word that’s used- Malak, also means angel- this means one of two things. The most common definition is a spiritual being that is a member of the heavenly court that surrounds God. Some of them are known only by titles and fantastic descriptions: wheels within wheels These are the figures you’re probably familiar: Most famous is Gabriel, the messenger who told Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus. You’ve probably also heard of Michael, the archangel who does battles with the forces of evil.

The other is for human messengers of God: prophets, pastors, all those who carry messages from God.

This is a use that seems odd when we first hear it, but does appear in our every day use of the word angel. How many of us have called a nurse an angel for the excellent care they provided? Or a teacher for providing an education to a hellraiser of a child? Did they not carry the message of God’s healing, God’s unconditional love for us? Were they not a sign pointing toward God, even when they were not aware of it?

But I believe the more important question for us to ask is: How many angels have we missed in our midst because they didn’t fit our vision of an angel looks like?

Before we think we’re too capable of recognizing God’s messengers, let us take a more obvious example. Joshua Bell is one of the world’s finest and most famous violinists; indeed, if you’ve heard of a modern violinist, it’s probably him. He was in Washington DC for a sold out concert, back in 2007 with tickets going for well over $100- which, 15 years ago for a classical music concert, was pretty high. He was asked by a journalist to do some busking during the morning rush hour; he made a total of $37 plus one $20 bill from the one person who recognized him.

One person!

This is what I meant when I said I encountered angels every week; people who point to or embody God’s love in some way. At my best, I recognize them. Often I don’t. But I try.

I believe our readings today give us a good opportunity to reflect on noticing the angels around us; in our church, our community, and in our world, especially those that we might not recognize at first. I believe these are best exemplified by the words openness, empathy, assuming good intentions, and humility. Our first reading talks about the first three, while our gospel reading focuses on humility.

Our first reading continues from our past few weeks in the Book of Hebrews- the sermon is nearly done, and this is the application and exhortation section, where the pastor with all the dignity they can muster, begs everyone to please be cool, just for a while.

Remember to be kind to each other is the first piece of advice that our preacher gives, but it is quickly superseded by his next one, a favorite of mine: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” This is, of course, the basis of why we’re talking about angels in the first place.

This is a callback to the story of Abraham and Sarah, who are visited by 3 guests that they give hospitality to that appear human but that they later figure out to be angels.

Yes, good vibes inside the community are essential, but that cannot come at the expense of becoming insular or isolated from the strangers in our midst, our neighbors, or the injustices of the world.

Indeed, what we read in the first part of this exhortation is an expanding circle of care: known members of our community, the strangers in our midst, and those who are suffering, in this example, prisoners and those who are being tortured.

But the way we are reminded to care for them deserves special notice: it is not out of sympathy, feelings of sadness- but rather, “as though you were in prison with them, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” This is a call to empathy – to imagine and feel as though we were there and eventually solidarity; to act as though we were not separate interests groups, but one body of Christ. This is another way of saying, if one part of the body is suffering, the whole body is suffering. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The other pieces of this paragraph are best practices for keeping a community together. The two things that can tear apart a group of people faster than any other are sex and greed. All of us know some community- either a church, a theater, a university, that has been torn apart by either sexual abuse or other misconduct. All of us know a person, place or organization that has been torn apart by greed.

Indeed, greed and lust are two of the biggest hurdles that we face in seeing the humanity of others and especially the divine message that they might carry to us. They reduce people to objects or numbers; neither of which is conducive to recognizing the angels in our midst.

And yes, continuing on in the exhortation, please pray for our church’s leadership; we need it. I need it. Life is hard. There are tough decisions to be made. Know that we are trying our best; often when we mess up or make the wrong decision, there were good reasons for what we do. This is a congregational church- I don’t expect everyone to get in line, but I do hope that we can all assume good intentions from each other. Assuming good intentions allows us to better see the good, the angelic, the love in our midst.

This brings us to our Gospel reading: While eating at the home of one of his fellow rabbis, Jesus tells a story about humility and links it to hospitality.

The context of this story is that in the Greco-roman world, there were upper class parties called symposium, if that word rings a bell. At those parties, mostly men would talk about the big ideas of philosophy, religion and politics and get very drunk on diluted red wine. There would be a u shaped table with the host at the center of the “u”, and the most prestigious spot would be next to the host, with guests arranged according to social position down the sides of the table.

Thus the analogy- better, purely from self-interest- to have humility in this situation, and not be embarrassed by any change of seating downward.

This applies to many areas of life; on Friday night I watched close to an hour of youtube videos of people who showboated during boxing fights and got knocked out for it. We all love seeing someone humbled. We just hate it when it happens to us.

But there’s something interesting about humility for our purposes; Humility that is not mere obsequiousness requires great awareness. It requires an ability to know others and oneself. That awareness, baked into humility, also allows us to see the good, the angelic that people around us do. Sometimes it’s very small things that end up having such a great impact. The more aware we are, the more likely we are to notice the everyday angels.

Openness, empathy, assuming good intentions, and humility. Four qualities for us to cultivate in order to notice the good and angelic in our lives. With the small side effect of making us a little more angelic too.

Because you’ll never know when you’ll be the angel someone needs in their life.


Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

Who has encountered God? What was it like?

Mine was in my first communion, done not as a baby or as an elementary school age child, but as a 25 year old. I encountered God through the words and hands of a young woman experiencing homelessness, who after being kicked out of her house for being gay, came to worship. At a time of testimony, she told her story about she hoped that the story of the prodigal son would become her story, that she would be able to reconcile with her family one day. It was then that I had the realization that the stories in the Bible were not just bronze age fairy tales, but powerful and alive as we are. But I encountered God when during our communion in the round, with one person serving another, she offered me the cup.

That night, in March of 2013, changed my life. Encounters with God often change our lives. It’s inevitable when you catch a glimpse, however brief, behind the curtain of the workings of life, the universe, and everything that how we see the world changes. Divine encounters snap our heads around as much as a sudden cold wind does, causing us to refocus from whatever was distracting us. They reveal truth that we had not seen, and sometimes, that we wish we had not seen.

Our readings today are both about encountering God. Our Hebrews Reading is about the majesty of God as cosmic creator, the God of blazing fire, of smoke clouds and trumpet, whose voice is enough to overwhelm us. God the inescapable, God and the angels of the heavenly host, I am who I am, the ground of being. God is the consuming fire.

Our reading from the Gospel of Luke is also about an encounter with God, and although there are no flames or trumpets in this story, it is as full of God’s glory and majesty as any divine encounter in the Bible.

Let us remember that the gospels tell us that these healing stories are in there not just to make us go, oh wow look at that Jesus guy, isn’t he just great, but they also serve a didactic, that is, a teaching purpose. This story is a bit more explicit about its lessons then some others.

The first lesson we should consider is the explicit one, about the Sabbath. It is hard for us to understate, or even really understand, just how important Sabbath was and is for many Jewish people. Actually it’s easier for us to understand in Miami than in many other places; people who have Orthodox Jewish friends, family, or coworkers or who have been in those neighborhoods know just how serious that community takes the Sabbath.

This extends to understandings of the Jewish portion of the Bible, the Old Testament as well; my understanding is that for Rabbis, most important part of the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis isn’t Original Sin or creation vs evolution debates, but the creation of the Sabbath, when God rested on the seventh day.

So Jesus’s teaching here about the Sabbath would not have been obscure in any way to his audience in the synagogue, nor would it have been obscure to the people who first read Luke back in the first century. It would have been a debate that everyone would have been familiar with. The argument that Jesus uses, one commenter notes, was a common one- if this idea is true on a lesser principle than it should be true on a greater principle- if you would save and care for a farm animal, surely you would do so for a human.

But I believe that this is the less interesting teaching that is happening in this healing story. The more interesting one is embodied in the woman Jesus heals, and how Jesus speaks about her.

This woman is hunched over, so severely that she cannot look ahead. This is something I’ve seen before; it physically happens with people with severe arthritis and other pain.

But we can, on top of that image of physical distress, imagine people who are so bound by pain and strife and trauma that they psychologically, mentally, spiritually cannot see the way in front of them. That even the very idea of hope has been denied to them. Perhaps we are or have been those people, who see no future ahead of them, no horizon beckoning them onward. It is not that she is a sinner and this pain is divine punishment; she is captive to evil forces beyond her, oppressed by chronic pain.

And in addition to her healing her physical issues, Jesus liberates her from the forces of desperation and isolation binding her. Metaphorically and physically she can now see ahead, see the horizon calling her forward. Her isolation from the community is of course not her fault, and to fix that Jesus reminds her community- not her, because she already knows it, but her community- that she is a fellow daughter of Abraham, and had always been, even in the most difficult times of her infirmity, an integral part of the community.

Her life is changed by this encounter. This happens when anyone encounters God.

What about our own encounters?

In Pentecostal churches, encounters with God- usually the Spirit, happen all the time. Indeed, in many of these churches, it’s not really worship until the Holy Spirit shows up. People will shout, dance and sing as the music builds, and as the spirit catches them. You may have seen videos of people getting slain in the spirit, shaking or falling down while dancing to the music. Many worship services are half day or all day affairs. The worship and praise time at many Pentecostal and charismatic churches is longer than our whole worship service.

That’s not how we tend to encounter God in churches like ours. That’s just not really our thing- it might be cultural or theological but maybe if a song is really good we’ll applaud quietly at the end. We have our deep breaths and still yet compassionate prayers. Many of us also encounter God through nature and through human kindness. Sometimes a song we sing or the words of the sermon are exactly what we need to hear. We love that verse about the Hebrew prophet Elijah encountering God not through the fire or the earthquake, but through the still small voice.

Yet both are valid ways to encounter God. Indeed, I believe that God’s vastness and ultimately, incomprehensibility, mean that any time we try to limit who or how or when people encounter God, that usually says more about us than it does about God.

Whether it’s through flame and earthquake, dancing and singing, word of God rightly preached or the silence and breath of meditative prayer, I hope you encounter God, and it sets you free.


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