Luke 19

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The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

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The text above is from the story Zacchaeus, the little man from Jericho who climbed a tree to see Jesus. It’s a good story and you may remember the children’s song based on the incident; “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he”, etc. 

Zacchaeus was a rich man as a result of his legalized plundering of the people. He was a tax agent of the hated Romans and despised by his fellow Jews. His name must have seemed to them the ultimate irony. In Hebrew Zacchaeus means ‘pure and righteous one.’

As Jesus made His way through Jericho, accompanied by the good citizens of the city, he came upon the little man in the tree. Without hesitation Jesus invited Himself to lunch at the home of Zacchaeus. This would have been a bit like your pastor sitting down to lunch with a member of the mafia. You just don’t associate with these people, let alone break bread with them.

Years ago, when I first came to Newport Beach, my guitar and I showed up every week at a local roadhouse for a blues jam. I played there off and on for a couple of years until the place closed down. One Sunday morning I was approached by a member of my congregation (who has since gone to the Lord) who expressed grave concern that I would inhabit such a place. It didn’t look good and it didn’t reflect well on the congregation, I was told. On the contrary, I replied. What better reputation could you possibly have than the very reputation your Lord acquired? 

Jesus got Himself into all kinds of trouble because He worked the margins. Read the gospels. See for yourself.  He sought out all kinds of disreputable, grungy people who were easy for the respectable folks to forget. It was scandalous that a man who claimed to speak for God inhabited the lives of sinners with such ease. It is important, even crucial to notice that the marginalized and despised ones were the very ones who responded most eagerly to Jesus. All they had known from the ‘religious’ among them was scorn and rejection. In Jesus they found a friend and a love that made possible an authentic renewal of life.

 

Postscript: On one of my last visits to the roadhouse two of us were sitting at a table nursing a beer and talking about how much we were going to miss the place. My new friend, who I had been jamming with off and on for months said, “You know, if I had known you were a pastor before we had played together a few times, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you.”  Then, for the next hour or so I listened as he spoke of an abusive childhood, run ins with the law, two failed marriages and a young daughter who he had never seen. For my part, I told him about Jesus. How he never gives up on us no matter how busted up our lives may be and that we may always begin again. As we left that night we embraced. Tears were in his eyes.

About six months later I received a note in the mail. My friend had moved to be near his child, was working at a good job and for the first time in his life, was attending a church. He had also found a local blues bar where he and one of the associate pastors were playing regularly…and taking every opportunity to speak with others about Jesus. You gotta love it!

 

“May the peace of Gods that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

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From Pastor Mark’s blog.

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Thank you, Pastor Mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Luther still matters

From Pastor Mark Anderson’s blog on Tuesday Oct. 31, 2012

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On this day in 1517, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  The theses that Luther penned and posted that day set in motion events that reverberate into our own time. It is not an overstatement to say that Martin Luther has been among the most influencial historical figures of the last 500 years. There was a time when throughout the western world  the Bible was the only book read more widely than Luther’s writings. Think about that.

Luther used the door of the Wittenberg church to post his theses along with an invitation to debate because it was a well-known community bulletin board.  Wittenberg was also full of pilgrims that day who were gathering for the All Saints Day observances and a monk posting a notice would have been unremarkable. As he came and went it is likely that he went largely unnoticed. Unfortunately, unnoticed can also describe Luther in our time.

 

Fast forward.

 

The year was 1988. I had just arrived at a Lutheran congregation here in California to begin my work as associate pastor for youth and parish education. On the first day of 7th grade confirmation class I distributed a brief, one page set of questions to the kids in order to get a sense of their knowledge of the Bible and their Lutheran faith. One of the questions was, ‘Who was Martin Luther?’ Well over half the class identified Martin Luther as a black man who was killed or had something to do with civil rights. A number of the kids answered that they did not know. Of that group of over twenty kids, three were able to identify Luther as the reformer.

At about the same time I was asked to address a Sunday morning adult class of over 50 people on the subject of Luther. To begin I described the theology of the cross and the theology of glory and asked the group for a show of hands regarding which they thought represented Martin Luther’s theology. Nearly every person went with the theology of glory. Wrong. No wonder the kids were clueless. I went home that morning in a blue funk. Not because I was surprised but precisely because after having already served three congregations in two other states, I had come to expect this.

Now, I am all for dusting off the 16th century once in a while and re-visiting the events of Luther’s life and time. It is important to do so. At the same time, I am more concerned that people today who inhabit the corridors of Lutheran churches, or any church for that matter, have some inkling as to why Luther matters. Because he does.

 

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Thank you, Pastor Mark Anderson.

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And he matters not because Martin Luther got everything right but because he points us to what is essential, he points us to the Cross, to Christ where our true salvation is found. Luther read his Bible and there discovered that we have no right or need to say anything or do anything for our salvation. As far as God is concerned, we have nothing to offer. Rather, as beggars in the bread line we can do no other than hold out our empty hands and receive the salvation that God gives on His terms, by grace alone, in the crucified and risen Jesus.