Sunday After Christmas Sermon

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December 29, 2019

First Sunday after Christmas Indian Hill Church Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 63:7-9

Psalm 148

Matthew 2:13-23

2:13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” 19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Let us pray: Light of life, you came in flesh, born into human pain and joy, and gave us power to be your children. Grant us faith,0                   Christ, to see your presence among us, so that all of creation may sing new songs of gladness and walk in the way of peace. Amen.

Can’t  we  linger  a  little longer  with  the Christmas cheer?    Can’t we keep the happiness and joy just a little bit longer?

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How quickly we have moved from the sweet baby in a manger to the horror of this text, this depressing text about King Herod murdering all the little babies?

I read a commentary on this on this hard Matthew passage that really struck me. It is not all bad to have this text the Sunday after Christmas. He says:

“But perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps we need to be reminded that joy and suffering exist right beside each other. Perhaps we need to be reminded that even as we celebrate, that others grieve, and our celebration is empty unless we also work to create a reason for the least and most vulnerable among us to celebrate. Perhaps it’s good for us to go directly from “Peace on earth and good will to all” to the reality of violence, death and suffering, so we have a better understanding of the Christmas message in the light ofthe pain in our

world.”1

Madison Avenue and Hollywood portray Christmas as a time of peace and love and happiness. All the Christmas cards and commercials show pictures of happy families sitting around a fire watching snow falling outside. We have dreams of families reuniting and enemies forgiving enemies and children having all their wishes come true. There is nothing wrong with these dreams and yes, sometimes they do come true. But there is much more to the Christmas story than hallmark cards portray.

If you think about it, that first Christmas was not an easy, or a frivolous time.

1 Sacridese on Text this week, Dec. 26, 2010

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It was messy and hard and painful. Mary gave birth in a barn with no doctors or nurses and certainly no clean freshly laundered blankets to wrap her bundle o fjoy in. We might prefer to stick with the Gospel of Luke’s version of the Christmas story where the shepherds depart “praising God for all they had seen and heard” and then the very next event recorded by Luke is Joseph talcing Jesus to be circumcised

and being blessed by Simeon. It is a much sweeter story. But while we might prefer

that story, we can’t deny Matthew’s story. For in Matthew there is no visit in the temple, there is only exile and threat and fear.

King Herod was no dummy. He ruled for nearly a generation. He was ruthless. He murdered one of his wives and three of his own sons. So, when he sensed a threat from this new baby boy born in Bethlehem, he knew what he must do to end any threat to his power. Just to make sure he got rid of the correct baby he would kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem. IN fact, any baby boy under the age of two would have to die just to be on the safe side.

But an angel, thank goodness for angels, an angel had warned Joseph to flee and to take Mary and the baby and get away. Joseph was a quick learner and he knew to trust the angel when the angel speaks. He had already had one visit from an angel, so his ears are primed to listen and obey. Joseph, being faithful and strong didn’t waste any time. He went to Egypt and stayed there for many years until Herod

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has died. It had to be Egypt, because Egypt had so much meaning to Joseph and his people. No doubt Joseph remembered that God had saved his people, the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God had brought hope out ofa hopeless situation. That must have given Joseph hope. It must have sustained Joseph for the journey and the years in Egypt.

And Joseph was right. God did save them. God did bring Joseph and his family back home. They did not stay in exile forever. They went back to Nazareth just as God told them to do.

So why this story at Christmas time? Because it is real life. Sometimes, lots of times, we can’t stay in the joy of holiday spirit. Sometimes peace and goodwill just don’t last.  Sometimes we find ourselves in far off places and lands like Egypt, in exile wondering what went wrong, why me? We make grand plans, but life just does not turn out that way. We lose the job, the stock market crashes, the housing market dries up, the marriage unravels, the child makes choices we would not like them to make, the cancer returns, death comes calling. Sometimes, it seems that the peace and goodwill of Christmas are overshadowed by the violence and wars of the world. People use violence again and again to squash any sort of threats. Just like Herod did. These are the facts of life, even in this joyous Christmas season.

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So, we read a text like this, where even Jesus found himself in exile, away from the comforts of home, running for his life. But he had a father and a mother who trusted and believed and put one foot in front of the other and survived.

Matthew’s stocy reminds us that even in this Christmas season we are surrounded by evil and violence and death. The church will not let us hide behind our Christmas cheer. As Christians we do not live in a fantasy world where children have all their dreams come true and there is no suffering and death. We live in a broken world. Even when Jesus was born, the light ofthe world, he was surrounded by violence and death. Ultimately it is the reason for Jesus, to save us from all this. This loving and forgiving God will carry us out of exile back home. This light of the world will save us from the Herods who cannot destroy God’s gift of eternal life.

We might not like this Christmas stocy from Matthew. We might like the angels rejoicing and the shepherds praising and the wise men bearing gifts a lot better, but we might just need this stocy from Matthew even more. For if God was unwilling to come to us in Egypt, in our own exiles, then we would not much want him or need him. If God is really going to save us then we need a God who will come to us wherever we are, whether that be in a stable in Bethlehem or in exile in Egypt. The stocy of Matthew assures us that God does come to us, even in our pain,

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perhaps most in our pain and fear. God comes to us and saves us and takes us back home.

Will Willimon, the former dean of Duke Chapel tells the story of one Christmas season having a conversation with one of his students. The boy told him how his girlfriend who he loved dearly had broken up with him right before Christmas and he was devastated. He thought she was the one. The boy said, “If it’s love why does it have to hurt so much? Love ought not to be that way.”

Dean Willimon listened but, in his heart, he was thinking, “Love, real love, is always that way. If there is to be love, there must be risk and if there is risk there is the possibility of pain. If love, God’s love is to come down to us, there is going to be some pain.”2 The good news is that God does come to us, no matter where we are and saves us. It is not always pretty and happy and easy, but in the end, it is real, and it is hopeful.

We need this story. We even need Herod in the story to remind us that Jesus did not enter the world in a pretty Christmas card picture. Jesus entered a world of real pain, of serious problems and brokenness. Jesus came into the world to save the lost, the downtrodden, the hurting.

2 Reverend Will Willimon, 12-27-98

‘ .

Of course, Matthew’s take on Christmas is the perfect prelude to the ending, the end of Jesus’ life. For in the end, Jesus takes on the powers and principalities, the kings and kingdoms and there is pain and violence and death. All in the name of love. All for us. The story that began in a barn ends on a cross. It is not a story of weakness, No. It is a story of strength and love and goodness, that God will come wherever we are and then call us back home. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Unfailing Light

December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 9:2–7

Luke 2:1–14

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

2: 1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see— I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Let us pray: O Holy One, heavenly angels spoke to earthly shepherds and eternity entered time in the child of Bethlehem. Through the telling of the Christmas story, let our temporal lives be caught up in the eternal in that same child, that we might join shepherds and all the heavenly host in praising the coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

It has been almost 21 years now and I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was our first Advent and Christmas Eve as parents to be. The waiting for yet unknown Baby Caine to be born. When we first found out that we were going to have a baby, the reading of this story was very different that year and every year since.  Thinking about the wonder of parenthood, the fear, the excitement, the terror of not knowing what to do and Monnie and I were in our early thirties so we were seasoned adults, well as seasoned as one can be. As a seasoned adult I was a long way from my teenage years, as Mary was.

The world was so much different back then…that Advent and Christmas Eve 21 years ago.   No one had heard of the Denver suburb of Columbine, the High School where 12 students and teachers where murdered by their classmates.  The twin towers of the World Trade Center were standing tall and proud, beacons of capitalism and power because September 11, 2001 had not yet become a day of infamy. Where terrorists turned highjacked commercial airliners into weapons of mass destruction and murdered nearly 3000 people and changed our way of life. I remember thinking two weeks after our first child was born as I watched on CNN the horror of Columbine, what kind of world have we brought our child into? It was a dark world that day. 

I wonder if Mary and Joseph wondered what they had done bringing a child into the world?  It was a dark world back then as well.

Tonight, we read Luke’s version on the birth of Jesus.  It is a messier and much less poetic version of the birth of Jesus than say the Gospel of John with its soaring language and poetic verse. Luke is a dose of reality. It’s full of the mundane, the ordinary. For example, Luke tells us, there is a census that requires people to return to their own hometown. The census is related to one of the messiest aspects of human life, taxes. The census “a register of persons liable to taxation.”  Rome wanted a census because they wanted to tax and conscript people.”  So, the roads and the streets of the cities and towns of Palestine are crowded. And here among the teaming masses is Mary, a young, pregnant woman who isn’t married yet. With her is Joseph, the man who shows incredible understanding and faith, given the circumstances. Luke says he stays by her.  It’s complicated and it is messy, but Joseph is all in.[1]   

They make their way to Joseph’s ancestral home in Bethlehem and Mary gives birth and must lay her child in a manger among animals. It was typical in that time in humble homes to gather the animals inside for protection from robbers and to provide warmth to those who lived in the house.  It was a messy place.  If you have ever been in a barn or stable where animals are kept you know the smell, and it’s not just of sweet, fresh cut hay.  This on top of the messiness of giving birth. 

It was a dark world back then as well, underlying Luke’s version of the birth of Jesus was his existential wrestling with the power of Roman Empire and how they controlled the people of Israel with great force and fear.

It was a dark world back then as well unless you were a leader in the Roman Empire, then it was all good.  It was the golden age of Caesar Augustus, filled with increasingly oppressive and brutal imperial power.  The Roman legions besieged Jerusalem, burned the temple, and decimated the population, faithful Jewish groups throughout the empire wondered how they would survive in a Roman Empire that wanted to tax them even more and crush their spirits into submission.   First-century hearers would notice the political implications inherent in this acknowledgement of the governor of Syria and the ruler of the Empire.  The census, itself a penetrating symbol of Roman power, serves as a reminder of the subordination required of Israel as a conquered people.  More than an imposed inconvenience, the census signifies the alien rule compromising fidelity to Yahweh.  Joseph and Mary, along with the others who traveled that season were not participants in an inflated economy on a shopping spree. The census accounted for the people’s wealth not for the spending power of their credit limits, but the taxing of persons and property. This return to home bears the weight of tax season, not Black Friday. But Luke the historian is no less Luke the theologian.

We hear the Nativity story differently as parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents.  But births happen by the thousands every day, and each one is special, each one is miraculous, and each probably causes a mother or father to wonder about the miracle that has just taken place in their lives.

What does it mean to raise a child in a world that, according the National Academy of Science, that because of global warming, polar ice caps are melting, costal lands will be flooded, and hurricanes, storms and draughts will be more frequent and much more severe?  What does it mean to raise a child in a world where violence, war, fear and false narratives rule the day?  Where our political leaders care more about keeping their office than making the nation a better place. Where churches are not safe for children because clergy are truly wolves in parading as sheep? It is a dark world.

It was a dark world.  And that is the point.  Luke is making a strong claim that in spite of  the Roman oppression that was affecting the people of that time, despite the false sense of peace that was being promoted by the government, because Luke knew that the real bringer of peace was now present, a living and breathing baby boy.  The light of the world, the light for the world, the light that darkness will not overcome.

This gives me hope. It gives me hope for children, babies born in what seems like a dark world.  It gives me hope for all of us.  Despite what is happening in the world. No matter how dark it might seem. We have light. We have a choice now we can choose to give into the darkness, or we can follow the light. The light that gives hope, the light that never fades, the light that shines bright even in the darkest of nights.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Did you hear that?  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

Christ’s light is always shining in every corner and crevice, in every heart and soul. God towards the light and trust in the God who came to us this night, a babe in a manger.  Amen.


[1] KC Ptomey

Sermon Advent 4A 2019

The Faithfulness of Doubt

December 15, 2019

3rd Sunday of Advent

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 35:1-10

Psalm 146:5-10

Matthew 11:2-11

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine


11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:2-11, NRSV)

Let us pray: Almighty God, you have made us and all things to serve you. Come quickly to save us, so that wars and violence shall end, and your children may live in peace, honoring one another with justice and love;  through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The last time we heard from John the Baptist he was full of what an old football coach used to call “piss and vinegar.” Last week John the Baptist was full of confidence almost to the point of being angry as he proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[1] And then he went even further to say, “But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”[2] But now we hear a very different John the Baptist…a beaten man full of doubt and uncertainty.

Last week John the Baptist was knee-deep in the Jordan River, baptizing Jesus. But today we find him, sitting alone in jail cell, clearly, he is questioning his confidence and perhaps even his mission and his purpose.

Last week John seemed ready to conquer the world, confident, strong and true but today (some months later, but not too much later) he is in prison. He’s gotten crossways with Herod, and now he’s behind bars.  He’s confused.  He was once so sure about Jesus. Today not so much, as he sends a disciple to go and ask Jesus a poignant, even heartbreaking question: are you really the one who is to come, or should we look for another?

John the Baptist, of course, knew his Hebrew scriptures well.  He knew all that Isaiah had promised regarding the Messiah.  Perhaps you noticed.  I’m sure John noticed.  Jesus had been going all over the place, doing what Isaiah said the Messiah would do: preaching good news to the oppressed, healing the blind and the deaf and the lame.  But John is now in jail.  If Jesus is the Messiah, why hasn’t he, as Isaiah promised, let the prisoners go free, particularly John?’   So, John sends messengers, asking “Are you the one or not?”[3]  Jesus’ answer, as you heard, is, “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”[4] John’s bound to be confused and not a little disappointed. The one that he thought was the Messiah isn’t doing what he thought the Messiah would do.[5]

I am reading an incredibly difficult book, Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson, it is difficult because it tells the painful stories of the people he represented as their lawyer, many of them are African American, all of them poor and some of them on death row in the deep south.  He writes about trying to keep the convicts and family hopeful while being a realist in their situation.  One family in particular the family of Walter McMillian, who had been on death row for 6 years for a crime he did not commit.  His family said, “They’ve kept him for 6 years. Now it’s time they let him go.  They have to let him go.”  Stephenson responded, “I appreciated her optimism, but I worried, too. We’d been disappointed so often before. “We have to remain hopeful, Minnie.”

“I’ve always told people ‘no lie can live forever,’ and this has always been one big lie.”[6]

He continues, “I wasn’t exactly sure how to manage the family’s expectations. I felt I was supposed to be the cautionary voice that prepared family members for the worst even while I urged them to hope for the best.  It was a task that was growing in complexity as I handled more cases and saw the myriad ways that things could go wrong. But I was developing a maturing recognition of the importance of hopefulness in creating justice.”

Stephenson writes that he has grown fond of quoting Vaclav Havel, the great Czech leader who said that “‘hope’ was the one thing that people struggling in Eastern Europe needed during the era of Soviet domination.  Havel had said that people struggling for independence wanted money and recognition from other countries; they wanted more criticism of the Soviet empire from the West and more diplomatic pressure.  But Havel said that these were things they wanted; the only thing they needed was hope. Not that pie in the sky stuff, not a preference for optimism over pessimism, but rather “an orientation of the spirit.” The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong.”[7]

Having hope is especially difficult this time of year, because of all of the manufactured cheeriness of Christmas seem to make light of the pain and struggles we all face. To make matters worse if we voice them then we are left feeling like a scrooge or bah-humbug because this is the time to be happy and filled with joy.  Which is why this passage is perfect as we have grown impatient in our waiting in this Season of Advent.  It is ironic, I guess that this Sunday we light the “candle of joy.”  When we hear of John the Baptist’s doubt and it allows the reality of doubt to enter our journey to Bethlehem as we anticipate the birth of the Christ child.  The joy and happiness of this season is not unfounded because we know what the Baby in the manger symbolizes; the gift, of his life, death and resurrection promises new and eternal life…just not yet!  So, the Season of Advent is real life, because we wait, often times impatiently for a new heaven and a new earth.  The fact that we hear the doubts of John the Baptist is a bit of fresh air in this overhyped joy and happiness of the holiday season.  By sharing his doubts, we can be reassured and reminded that doubt is not the opposite of faith instead the Christian life is one full of ups and downs of doubts and questions, of anger at God and disbelief in the words and themes of faith.

          Our faith, the Christian faith follows the bible.  Which is full of stories of people who doubted.  Men and women who questioned, who questioned God.  Who needed hope.   In the end we all need to be reminded that God in Jesus did not become one of us as the victorious conqueror that we wished he would.  Rather, Jesus, as the Gospel of Matthew confesses, Jesus came as Emmanuel, God with us. Instead of eliminating all of our troubles and removing all of our obstacles he instead goes with us through them.  Doubts, questions, and disbelief are welcome here because God is big enough to take them and yet small enough to care.

You may not even notice it, but a lot of what we do in worship is calculated, calculated to provoke a sense of hope.  The music, the lighting of an additional candle each Sunday on the Advent wreath, and the way in which we begin slowly with our sanctuary decorations, adding a little something each week; these are the means of stimulating our expectation and building our anticipation.  It’s a way of encouraging us to have hope.  There is a subtlety to the reading from Isaiah this morning that provides a kick-start to faith and to hope. All is not right, right now.  There are those of us who mourn during what seems like a joyous and happy season. John the Baptist shows us that we don’t have to pretend that we are fine, and everything is ok.  You see, his doubt in a very strange way is good news because it opens the door for us to be real and honest and true.  God is in the ongoing process of redeeming and reconciling the universe to Godself and, one day, not only will the blind see, the deaf hear and the poor have good news proclaimed to them, but God will set all the prisoners free and give light to those who sit in darkness. Amen! Come, Lord, quickly![8]


[1] Matthew 3:2, NRSV

[2] Matthew 3:7, NRSV

[3] Matthew 11:4, NRSV

[4] Matthew 11:5, NRSV

[5] Reverend K. C. Ptomey, A Homily on Matthew 11:2-11, The Westminster Pulpit Sermons Preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church 3900 West End Avenue Nashville, Tennessee 37205-1899 for the Third Sunday of Advent December 12, 2004.

[6] Bryan Stephenson, “Just Mercy”, A story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson @2014 Spiegel & Grau a division of Random House, New York LLC. Page 219.

[7] Bryan Stephenson, “Just Mercy”, A story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson @2014 Spiegel & Grau a division of Random House, New York LLC. Page 219.

[8] Reverend Cory Driver, Lectionary blog: When Jesus disappoints. Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11 for the Third Sunday of Advent Dec. 15, 2019. Posted December 9, 2019. https://www.livinglutheran.org/2019/12/lectionary-blog-when-jesus-disappoints/

Sermon Advent 2A 2019

Christ the King Sunday

I don’t know about you, but I thought it was pretty cool last year, when our Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. After all, we American are rarely insiders with all the intrigue, the pomp and circumstance of royalty. Truth is, in today’s world, royalty – kings and queens are often only figureheads. The stuff of tableau newspapers. They often have no real power or authority. The ruthless warrior kings and queens, who sat on their thrones dispensing justice and military orders, who pronounced executions at the drop of a hat – Well, they are mostly figures of the past.

Today is the feast of Christ the King. We set aside this Sunday every year to proclaim Christ’s kingship. The prophet Jeremiah writes of a future king like a shepherd who will bring justice and righteousness. In place of the psalm, we said the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, proclaiming the coming of a mighty savior who will bring mercy, forgiveness, who will guide our feet into the way of peace. And finally, set against these lofty images of a king, we return to Good Friday, Jesus lifted high – not on a throne, but on a cross, the words “King of the Jews” the words, ironically posted by his adversaries.

So, then, what do we mean when we say that Christ rules?

Well, today is not only the feast of Christ the King. It is also the final day of the church year. And if this were a year-long class, today would be the final exam. The final exam on the Gospel of Luke. As some of you know, our Sunday readings are on a three-year cycle. In year A (which starts next Sunday) we hear mostly from the Gospel of Matthew. In year B it is mostly Mark, with some John thrown in, the Gospel of John being our primary focus during Holy Week and Easter. Then, year C is the Gospel of Luke. So, for the past 52 weeks (with some exceptions), we have heard from Luke.

Today is the final exam – How do you think you’d do? What have we learned from Luke? We’ve learned about a kingdom – a world, a way of being, that is something new. And today, we claim that kingdom as our own. We enthrone Jesus as king.

From the very beginning, Luke painted a picture of this kingdom. Way back last Advent, before Jesus was even born, we heard his mother’s words responding to the angel who said she would have a son.  “The almighty has done great things for me! She exclaimed.  The almighty – she sang, had cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. Already, we had a clue that this kingdom would be like no other: the lowly lifted up, the powerful cast down.

The reversals kept coming as we heard Jesus tell stories. It is in the Gospel of Luke that we have the story of the prodigal son, the story of the good Samaritan. Surprise endings, unlikely heroes. And all those parables – the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, something small that grows into something big. It’s like a woman searching for a coin. This kingdom is like no other.

The lowly are not only lifted up in Mary’s eyes, but throughout this Gospel. Luke tells the story of the rich young man, whom Jesus tells to sell all of his possessions. In Matthew, Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit. In Luke he says blessed are the poor… and woe to you who are rich.  Luke has a special eye for the poor.

Jesus embraces all people in the Gospel of Luke, dining with tax collectors and sinner. The kingdom of God is a place where all are welcome, where all are forgiven and shown mercy.

And the story culminates with Jesus pronouncing forgiveness to a thief and dying on the cross. A vulnerable, suffering king. Truly this is a kingdom like no other.

It is an upside down kingdom with an upside down king.

And it is in this kingdom that we are called to live. Like the ancient Hebrews who were delivered from slavery in Egypt into a new land of their own, so Christ delivers us into a new kingdom- free from the powers that be, from principalities and powers of this world, into a new place of freedom. For us, this is not a physical deliverance as it was for the Hebrews, but a spiritual one. Yet it is equally as life-changing, as liberating, as real. As king, Jesus offers an alternative to the ways of the world. When? NOW  We proclaim him king – and ourselves as his subjects.

A year in review. Will you pass the final exam? Have we listened to what Luke has said about this kingdom? Or, perhaps the better question is, are we living it?  My daughter is in nursing school, and much of her time is spent, not in a classroom, but in hospitals and clinics, in what they call “clinicals.” Practicing.  The kingdom of God is not a classroom, either. It’s more like a “clinical,” a practicum. We know the kingdom when we live in it. And it is when we live it that we see Christ as king.

Where do we see this kingdom breaking into the world? How will we know we are living in this kingdom, that Christ rules in our lives?

I suspect that many of the times when we live counter-culturally, when we do things that are upside down, we are living in the kingdom, allowing Christ to rule.

            In a self-serving world, we focus on serving others

            In a violent world – we proclaim a gospel of peace

            In this partisan, divided world – we seek understanding and reconciliation,

            In a frenzied and loud world – we dare to sit still and listen

            In a world that lifts up the powerful, we lift up the lowly, the vulnerable

I know that I have seen the kingdom of God breaking in here at Indian Hill Church. Last Sunday, a large group of you stayed afterwards to assemble snack packs to be given to children in food insecure households through La Soupe. Your buying Christmas gifts for families through InterParish Ministry. Those who are off at the prison regularly, ministering to inmates. And all of you and your faithful service on committees and ministries that keep this place going.

This is what subjects of this kingdom do. It is the practicum part of the course we’ve been taking for the past year, it is how we re-align our lives as citizens of this kingdom, subjects of this king.

And, Christ reigns in other parts of our lives too, not just when we’re at church – at work, at school –  any time we include the outsider, include the lonely, anytime we forgive someone who has wronged us, any time we simply sit still and celebrate the wonder of creation and how God provides for us, we are living the life of this kingdom.

Just the other night, my husband and I watched the first episode of the new season of the series The Crown (I’m still having a hard time getting used to the new cast) England – its princes and princesses, the intrigue. I guess we’ll always be outsiders in that world. But, we have our own king, and it is Christ.

A month from now we will sing Glory to the Newborn King. Let’s make sure our king is not just a symbol, a figurehead, – or a quaint story that we re-visit every year. Through Christ we are delivered into a new kingdom, a new way of doing things, of living. Let us, in Zechariah’s words, be part of that great dawn from on high breaking into the world, shining on those who dwell in darkness.. ,guiding feet into the way of peace.

God knows the world needs this light. The world needs this king. Amen.

Faithful living in changing times

November 17, 2019

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 65:17–25

Psalm 98

Luke 21:5–19

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls. (Luke 21:5-19, NRSV)

Let us pray: O God, in Christ you give us hope for a new heaven and a new earth. Grant us wisdom to interpret the signs of our times, courage to stand in the time of trial, and faith to witness to your truth and love. Amen.

Last week in her sermon Nancy talked about reading church signs, some of them were quite funny.  Then she posed a question about bagpipes in heaven and I have answer for her, yes, there will be bagpipes in heaven because it is one more sign that God is a Presbyterian.  Just kidding, sort of…. we all interpret the signs of the times differently and we all long to know the facts, when, where, and how.

This week the disciples and others were talking about the temple and how beautiful it is and Jesus buts in and says, “As for these things that you see (the temple), the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”  The crowd asks for a sign as to when this will take place.

Jesus seems to be preparing his followers for the end.  The end of the Temple, the end of the faith, the end of his life, the end of life as they know it.  As the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, says, “All this talk about the end-time is intellectually difficult and pastorally problematic. The problem is that end-time talk, which permeates the New Testament, is deeply incongruous with our intellectual world. We find such talk not only embarrassing but unconvincing.”[1]

The world seems much too solid and stable to be so ready for an ending. Besides, none of us wants to sound like a religious crazy.

And yet, for all our intellectual sophistication, our growing affluence and confidence in our technology, there is a deep, and uneasy feeling that things are really falling apart.  There is a sense of doom and fear cuts across the social, political and ideological spectrum. Even though we don’t fully understand apocalyptic literature or prophetic speech, a lot of us have a feeling or a sense that creation is on the brink of some sort of massive ending.[2]

Many of you know that I visited Scotland in mid-October, it was my first trip there and my first trip to Europe.  It was an amazing experience and I am grateful to each of you for the opportunity to go, to learn and to experience the castles, the history, the cathedrals, the highlands and the islands, the people and the weather of this unpretentious nation. One of the things that struck me was the buildings. Especially the many different cathedrals/kirks we visited.  The Glasgow Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Glasgow or St Mungo’s Cathedral, the oldest cathedral on mainland Scotland.  It survived the Protestant Reformation of 1560.  It is also the oldest building in the city Glasgow.

It is a massive limestone structure that has been darkened over time by pollution.  The Cathedral dates to around AD550 when St Mungo, also known as St Kentigern, established a church on the site.  The current structure dates to 1200’s. Walking through this medieval building and connecting it to the history of the church was a true epiphany for me.  More on Reformation history in another sermon.

What was even more fascinating was the fact that many of these ancient cathedrals were still homes to worshipping communities. Yes, some more vibrant than others.  Yet buildings, even church buildings, temples in this story, like everything else has a beginning, a middle and an end.  A birth, a life and a death. It is the cycle of life.  Some things must die so that something else can live. Some programs must cease so that others may start…

Every story has an ending, a final page, a last word trailing off into silence.  Even the Bible, our Holy Scripture stubbornly insists that the story of creation has an end.  Yes, this beautiful world will come to an end.   The sounds and stirrings in space will cease.   Histories will cease.  Colors will fade.  And the lights will go out.  Now, God may begin a new creation after ending this one, a new creation for other people, but the only creation we know is headed for an End.[3] Before you get all discouraged and depressed, remember this, things come to an end every moment. New things arise every moment as well.

I have learned from many of you about the history of Indian Hill Church.  The golden age of Luther Tucker, the glory days of Paul Long and Jim Metzger. The Church was packed back then, we had so much going on, lots of money, social justice ministries, political and intellectual engagement in Adult Forums, lots of young families and of course the pews were full.  You know the gilded age of Christendom.  Many realize that those days are over, others long for them and miss them, and some never knew them and could care less.  My point being Indian Hill Church of the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s is no more, and the Indian Hill Church of today is alive, different yes, but alive.  What will the Indian Hill Church of the future be like…talk about an unanswerable question.

We may not know what will become of our church of tomorrow, but we have a plan to help us get there.  Remember, that some things must die, come to an end so that fresh forms of faith and live can arise from the ruins.  The Indian Hill Church exists to strengthen our relationship to God and to one another by improving the spiritual journey and the quality of the lives of our congregation and our wider community.  Pretty loft goal so how and do we get there?  

You have heard it said and often quoted from the book of Proverbs, “Without a vision the people perish.”[4]We strive to share the transcending Peace of God, so it is experienced by all who participate in our church.   We welcome all people to our journey.  We are an open, tolerant, friendly, growing church offering inspiring worship, music, and education to children, youth, and adults.  We support an active outreach program to the community.  Our congregation is proud of our church and is actively engaged. Again, a lofty goal and a wide vision…how do we achieve it? 

Our roadmap for getting there is to focus on our plan, which is based on five pillars, five important areas of focus.  The Vestry Session and each committee and all of us working together can focus our time, energy, and resources to each of these aspects of our church will help us achieve our vision.  They are:

1.       Worship

2.       Christian Education

3.       Music

4.       Outreach

5.       Membership/Administration

Each pillar has action plans and goals that we wish to achieve over the next five years.  We have a plan, a vision, goals for our congregation moving forward. 

And we will continually pray for God to guide us because it is always God’s plan not just ours.  Yes, the church is not what it was in the day of the disciples, not what it was in the time of the Apostle Paul, not what it was in the time for the Reformation, nor what it was in Scotland, not what it was in the day’s of the formation of the Indian Hill Church.  But we are the church here and now and it is exciting. Not something to be anxious about.

In this passage, Jesus is speaking words of hope and encouragement to us as we face change, the future and the unknown.  Live with courage to leave the ruins of old systems and dying programs behind so that we bear new faith and the persecutions that go with it.  Edwin Robertson, in a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, tells of visiting Hanover after the war and meeting a German pastor. The man’s church building had been bombed and his congregation scattered.  The Pastor confessed:  “At last I am free—free to be a minister of Jesus Christ.  I am no longer trammeled by church building and its programs.”  For the faithful there is freedom on the far side of lost temples.[5]

Recently, I read about Coventry Cathedral also known St Michael’s Cathedral, the medieval parish that was destroyed during the Second World War. On November 14, 1940 it was bombed by the German Luftwaffe.  Today standing right next to the ruins is a new cathedral of modernist design.   Like a phoenix raising from the ruins.  It is now a global witness to peace and to resurrection.  Apparently, there is engraved in the floor near the entrance these words: “To the Glory of God this cathedral burnt.” And just outside, carved on the old burnt-out walls, is engraved a promise based on Haggai 2:9: “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former.”[6]  May it be so in our church as well.

Let us pray


[1] Reverend Dr. Walter Brueggemann

[2] Reverend Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Living by The Word, Christian Century, October21,1992

[3] Reverend Paul Duke, Kirkwood Baptist Church, Kirkwood, MO, The Christian Century, Living by the Word, November 1, 1995. Page 1011.

[4] Proverbs 29:18, NRSV

[5] Reverend Paul Duke, Kirkwood Baptist Church, Kirkwood, MO, The Christian Century, Living by the Word, November 1, 1995. Page 1011.

[6] Reverend Paul Duke, Kirkwood Baptist Church, Kirkwood, MO, The Christian Century, Living by the Word, November 1, 1995. Page 1011.

Sermon Proper 27C

Patient and Brave and True…

November 3, 2019

21st Sunday after Pentecost

(All Saints Sunday)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Daniel 7:1–3, 15–18

Psalm 149

Luke 6:20–31

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:20-31, NRSV)

Let us pray: God of unfailing light, in your kingdom the poor are blessed, the hungry filled, and every tear is wiped away. So, we pray that your kingdom will come and until it does may we be strengthened by this vision, to follow in the way of your Son who made it known in his life and death. Amen.

Today is a day set aside in the church year to remember the saints.  But not just the famous ones who have days devoted to them.  Technically this is All Saints Sunday and not just Some Saints Sunday.  To be clear, this isn’t like a cult of saints or anything…we don’t need special saints to intercede for us because God listens to them more since they were just basically better Christians than we are.  What we celebrate when we celebrate All Saints is not the superhuman faith and power of a select few but instead is God’s ability to use flawed people to do divine things.[1] 

There are certain times of the year where the differences in Protestant beliefs and ways of worshipping God is starkly different from our Catholic brothers and sisters.  All Saints Day is one of those days.  In the Catholic tradition the Saints are a big deal.  In order to be declared a saint, there is an organized, methodical list of things that must occur.

Number one the person to be considered for sainthood must be dead, for at least 5 years.

Number two the person needs to have demonstrated a life of service.  An investigation is opened into the life of the individual to see whether they lived their life with enough holiness and virtue to be considered for sainthood.

Step three is showing proof of their heroic virtue and how their life has drawn others to the faith.

Step four the person considered for sainthood must have at least one verifiable miracle attributed to them.  This final step illustrates that God has used this person to make the world a better place. Then and only then is the person elevated to sainthood.

Apparently, in the earliest days of the church each saint was assigned a day on the calendar.  Well, as you can deduce as the number of saints grew in number, the church ran out of days on the calendar!  Within the first several hundred years because there were more saints than days on the calendar.  Soon there-after the church decided to remember the many martyrs who had given their lives for the faith and other saintly people who lived and died and never received any notice, so the church designated one day a year as “Martyrs’ Day.”  It was celebrated on the Friday after Easter each year.  But by the middle of the Ninth Century the name was changed to “All Saints.”  It has been observed on the first day of November or the First Sunday of November ever since. And this, by the way is where we got Halloween.   It is celebrated on the eve of All Saints.  Halloween is a kind of party at which all the ghosts and goblins and devils have the last fling before the celebration of the saints who have conquered them.)[2]There are some traditions where people dressed up as the saints of old.  St. Francis and St. Cecilia and St. Christopher. 

Now in the protestant church, our Presbyterian way of faith, we consider this day “All Saints day.”  We celebrate all on whom God has acted in baptism, sealing them, as Ephesians says, with the mark of the promised Holy Spirit. We celebrate the fact that God creates faith in God’s people, and those people through ordinary acts of love, help to bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to Earth.  We celebrate that we have, in all who’ve gone before us, what the Apostle Paul calls such a great cloud of witnesses and that the faithful departed are as much the body of Christ as we are.

It is quite a thing, really.   That we are connected to so many.  Connected to so much faith.

As Protestants our forefathers chose not to follow the Roman and Byzantine tradition of assigning days of the year to various saints.  So, instead we follow the lead of the Apostle Paul who chose to see all followers of Jesus Christ as saints.  Indirectly that is what he calls us in his letters. No less than thirty-nine times he refers to the members of the churches he wrote to as “saints.”[3] 

We don’t often think of everyday people as saints.  Like people we all know, saints like the man who spends every day for 15 years tenderly taking care of his wife of more than 60 years, visiting her in the care facility, feeding her loving her.  Or the woman after her husband left her with four small children.  She worked three jobs, raised her four children as a single mom and they all graduated from college.  These people are saints.

Saints are people who sacrifice, who give of themselves to make life better for others, they are people who exemplify God in their lives.  While, I am all too aware of my own shortcomings and sinfulness.  I feel like the little boy that I heard about at Halloween.  A woman opened her door on Halloween and their stood a little boy wearing a Superman costume.  As he reached out his hand he said, “Trick or treat.”  The woman couldn’t resist teasing him a bit. “Where’s your bag?” she asked.  The little boy replied, “My Mom’s carrying it. It’s too heavy for me.”  The woman sneakered and said, “But you’re Superman!”  He looked down at the S on his chest and looked back at her and replied, “Not really, these are just pajamas.”[4]

Even though the Bible tells us that because we are claimed by God, we’re also saints, most of us don’t believe it.  We look down at the S on our chest and then plead with God, “Not really. I’m only human.”

          As many of you know my wife, Monnie, is a Hospice chaplain and she spends everyday with dying people and their families. She talks about how hard and emotional her work is, but she also sees so much beauty in it.  There is something beautiful about all the pretenses of life being stripped away.  When someone is lying in a hospital or a hospice bed, it really doesn’t matter whether they are rich or poor, CEO or homeless, young or old, fat or thin, black or white.  All those pretenses and ways we judge each other fall away.  And what is left is what really matters.  What is left is a person in their core.  She says what she finds amazing time and time again is seeing how God works on someone’s heart and soul.  She has seen people on their death beds saying things like “I hope I have been good enough.  I made mistakes but I hope God doesn’t hold that against me.”  And over the course of hours or days or weeks, she has witnessed those fears of not measuring up fade away.  And it is almost like she can hear Jesus talking to their hearts and saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for your is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you are hungry now, for you shall be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh

The fears pass and the need to prove oneself as worthy fades replaced with a peace, a peace which surpasses all our understanding come fills their hearts.

So, this is the great disconnect with All Saints Day.  We are of course only human, but we are also, as the Apostle Paul put it “the saints who gather” in our case at the Indian Hill Church.  We are, as the great reformer Martin Luther said, saint and sinner at the same time.  We might not go around dressed in Christian Costumes with a big haloed S on our chest, but we do have a mark.  We have been marked with an invisible cross on our foreheads put there at our baptism when the words were uttered: “Stephen Rhoads Caine, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” And Your full name, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”

Each of us has that mark on our lives, a mark that calls us to live as saints.  We are called into living into our name as “child of God,” a baptized saint.  Of course, we never quite make it.  We are aware that we always fall short, of not measuring up.

So the next time you can’t sleep at night for fear of the future, or struggle to make through the day with a pit in your stomach that comes from deep-seated insecurity, or look around at the world as it is and recognize with the pang of insight that it could and should be better.  At those moments, may our pretense fall away, and may we be aware of our need to be utterly dependent on the compassion of those around us and utterly in need of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  It is in those moments, where we are finally grateful that Jesus seeks out the lost, that he eats with sinners, and blesses the sinners and the saints of this world, you and me.

Let us pray:


[1] Reverend Nadia Bolz Weber, A sermon on Luke 6_20-31 for All Saints Sunday: Small Acts of Love,

November 4, 2013.

[2] Reverend Dr. KC Ptomey, Homily for All Saints Sunday, Year A 1999. Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton Luke 6:20-31, “For all the saints”, October 31, 2016

Sermon Proper 25C

Gratitude

October 13, 2019 (18th Sunday after Pentecost)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Psalm 66:1-12

Luke 17:11-19

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14 When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ (Luke 17:11-19, NRSV)

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing unto you. O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I don’t usually spend much time thinking about how I am going to read a scripture passage.  I mostly read the scripture passage as I spend time with it as I write a sermon.  I try to make sure I pronounce the difficult names correctly or at least act like I know how to pronounce them, but that is pretty much the extent of time I take preparing to read the text.  This week was different.

This week Jesus’ response was the real point of my struggle with the text.  I wondered if Jesus is angry: “Were not ten made clean?  Where are the others?” Or perhaps he was curious: “Were not ten made clean?  Where are the others?” Or was he being overly compassionate, or frustrated, or sad?  There were all sorts of options open to interpreting his response.

I am clearly not an actor, but I understand that how one reads something makes all the difference. Inflection here, emphasis there, changes the meaning for the text. So, how one interprets Jesus response makes all the difference in how we hear it.  For example, Jesus could have been angry, couldn’t he?  In my very humanness I would have been.  You do something nice for someone you the least you expect is a thank you.  It is common courtesy.  Always say please and thank you.  But I don’t hear anger in Jesus’ voice.  I think we are putting our own anger into the story, not Jesus’.   I believe that Jesus understood the nine lepers.  He knew what was going on with them.

Jesus is walking on his way to Jerusalem when he is confronted by ten lepers.  Ten men who are suffering from Leprosy, a horrible skin disease that had no cure.  It was painful because the affected person was covered with painful, gross sores that disfigured their bodies.  They also suffered because they were ritually unclean. That meant they were banished, outside the city walls, forced to live with other lepers and told not to go near other “clean” people.  Being ritually unclean also carried a spiritual stigma.  The unclean couldn’t participate in the Temple services and rituals at the center of their faith.  These ten men and other lepers were ostracized from the community, unable to come near their families and friends, the people they loved.  These men stood on the outside of their community, alone, abandoned, and desperate. 

These lepers realize that Jesus is coming close to them, they call out to him.  I imagine that they were calling out for all sorts of reasons, some for comfort or companionship, some pleading for someone to listen to them, and may be one or two begged for mercy and healing.

I am sure they followed the purity laws and kept their distance from Jesus. They called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  And he does.  Jesus does not touch them but instead he heals all ten of them from a distance.  Then he tells all ten of them to go to their local priest to be declared clean.  All ten of them follow Jesus command and go.  All ten of them were made clean and restored to society. All ten of them.

This is where the plot thickens.

When one of them turns back, praising God with a loud voice.  And falls at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.  Jesus sees him, hears him and asks, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”[1]

J        esus response is the crux of the story! Is he confused? Or hurt? Or disappointed?  Angry?   We don’t know for sure.  What we do know is that he shifts his attention to the one leper who returned.   He blesses him, saying, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”[2]

How we understand Jesus response all comes down to how we translate a single word, a Greek word.  That word – σωζω sozo (pronounced more like sod-zo) – can be translated as “made well,” in the sense of being healed.  But it can also be translated as “saved,” in the sense of being brought through mortal danger. And it can also be translated as “made whole,” in the sense of being completed.  The whole person God created you to be.[3]

Ten lepers were healed and made clean, but only one was saved.  Ten were healed made clean, but only one was made whole.  Ten were healed and made clean, but only one recognized it and gave thanks and, in giving thanks, became what God had intended all along.[4]

So, what did the nine healed lepers do?  The text does not tell us exactly, but surely, we know.  I bet that they were busy.  Much too busy running back to their families and friends to hug and hold them.  They were preoccupied with getting their lives back. They were overjoyed to be free.

Jesus understood this.  “Were not ten made clean?  Where are the other nine?”  Well, they are with their families celebrating their recovery.  Makes perfect sense.  Who can blame the nine lepers for scattering like the wind and putting the past in the past?  It makes sense to say that Jesus wasn’t angry.  He understood.  He understood that when life is tough, when the odds are against us, when the disease is running rampant throughout the body, he hears his name called on a lot.  Remember the famous saying that there are no atheists in fox holes.   Jesus knows people call on him when times are rough, but Jesus also understood that when the disease is gone, the odds look better and life is good, we are too busy celebrating and enjoying life to turn back, to remember Jesus.  To give thanks.  He understood.  He may not like it.  He might wish it were different, but he knew where the nine were.

What was different with the tenth leper?  Gratitude.  Pure and simple gratitude.  Not that the other nine were not grateful that they were healed.  Sure, they were overjoyed and in time they probably got around to writing the thank you note to Jesus.  But the tenth leper was different, his gratitude came from deep in his soul, in a way that he simply couldn’t contain it anymore.  He had to see Jesus and show his gratitude.  He understood that he was not worthy of what had happened to him.  He did nothing to deserve Jesus healing him and he knew it.  And his response was pure gratitude.  

The tenth leper’s gratitude is inspiring.  This tenth leper followed his heart and soul.   He accepted his life as a gift, a gift from God, and returned to give thanks that he had his life back.  He allowed his gratitude to come out. As he turned back to give thanks.  For he was whole again.

Living grateful lives means realizing that we are not self-made, that all of life is a gift from God and that none of us deserve anything we have.  Understanding gratitude is understanding that we are not entitled to life, or to any of lives great blessings.  

I think Jesus was being a little playful in his question, “where are the other nine?”  He was not angry, but playful.  He was questioning the Samaritan and in turn each of us as to why the one leper came back.   Gratitude.  He wants us to ponder why the outsiders, the marginalized are often the ones who live closer to praise and gratitude than those of us on the inside.  This is one of those consistencies of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.  It is the outsiders who get it, the prostitutes, the foreigners, the sinners, the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the lame.  They seem to live on the edge, grateful for every breath, every day, every gift.  They are not entitled, No, instead, they are grateful, grateful for the gifts from God.  They are not so wrapped up in themselves so that they forget the God who created them and gave them everything.

And that, it seems, is the secret to life: gratitude. Noticing grace, seeing goodness, paying attention to healing, stopping to take in a blessing, and then giving thanks for the ordinary and extraordinary blessings of everyday life.  It is exactly what we are created for.

Let us pray


[1] Luke 17:15-16, NRSV

[2] Luke 17:19, NRSV

[3] Reverend Dr. David Lose

[4] Ibid

Faith, Excuses and Giving

October 6, 2019 (17th Sunday after Pentecost)

World Communion Sunday

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Lamentations 1:1–6

Psalm 137

Luke 17:5–10

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'” (Luke 17:5-10, NRSV)

Let us pray: God, you are the refuge of all wanderers and exiles, you are the mother and father of the homeless, you weep with those who are uprooted from their homeland, and you suffer with those who are forced to exist without shelter and security. Grant that we your faithful – may reach out. We ask this through Jesus, your Son, our savior. Amen.

As Nancy began her sermon last week telling how she and her husband Rodger enjoy movies, especially the high intellectual art house type films and that they look for the redemption in the film.  I must confess that Monnie and I also enjoy Movies, however, Monnie might join Nancy and Rodger for the arthouse films, I on the other hand — go for the lowbrow, slapstick, silly comedies, the Dumb and Dumber, the more mindless and sophomoric the humor the better.

Sometimes with all the problems of the world, all the pain and suffering, fear and hate, constantly bombarding us I go for the escape.  And sometimes I would choose slapstick humor over the truth of scripture.   But we don’t get to choose what scripture says to us and we must pay attention to all of it.  And there are some topics that aren’t as enjoyable as others to preach about— leave it to the light and easy and comfortable.  But faith doesn’t offer an escape from reality.  Also, we have entered that dreaded time of the church year, Stewardship Season.  Run, hide your wallets, and your checkbooks. But we can’t do that because stewardship is a vital component of faith. 

The lectionary does us no favors, because it left out the important lead into this passage. In the verse preceding our passages, (Chapter 17) verses 1-4; Jesus says to the disciples that they should forgive a sinner who repents. Then adds, “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”[1] No wonder the disciples want Jesus to give them more faith.   It is hard to forgive, even once, much less seven times.

So, Jesus is talking to his disciples, about faith.

What is faith? 

Faith is trust, belief, conviction, relationship.  For example, “I have faith that this roof will hold while we sit here in worship.”  I am saying that I trust, I have faith, I believe.

Likewise, if I can say, “I have faith that Jesus Christ is living son of God and the embodiment of God,” that is faith.   Christians believe that faith is not a personal, intellectual achievement, or the result of being an especially good or spiritually proficient person.  Instead it’s a gift from God.  God gives us faith so that we may be in relationship with God.

But the disciples want more.  They want more faith, which presents a difficult situation as the disciple’s demand Jesus to “Increase our faith.”  They assumed they only had a small amount; because they were literally following him.  But they yearned for more.  They wanted more trust, surer belief, stronger conviction, deeper relationship, that is, more faith than they currently had.[2]

Faith is like grace it is a gift. This is what Jesus meant. Jesus knew the disciples had all the faith they need.  What they didn’t have was an understanding of what it means to have faith.

So, Jesus responds to their demand, by saying that they had every bit of faith that they need.  If they would only use what they already had.  In other words, what they need is not more faith but fewer excuses.[3]Let that sink in… Excuses.

Excuses, everybody has got them.  I do, you do, we all do.  I would love to stand up here and simply say we need to raise $725,000 and go on with worship. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is how it works. For some reason we have a stewardship committee that will write letters, make calls, more calls and follow up and we may make our goal of $725,000 if each of you decide to give more than you did last year.  How much more, approximately, 4% more. 

If I was you, I would want to know what that money was going for.  Let me tell you.  As you heard last week from Alison Zimmerman, we have spent some money this year on Air Conditioning, an upgraded Audio-Visual System for Guild Hall and various other improvements to the building and grounds. We have also hired some new staff members, Tyler Eckert, our Administrative Assistant and Communications Director and Amy Clark, Youth Director and Assistant Music Director.  The staff is the most important part of our church.  We have made changes in our Episcopal leadership and that is costing more money than had been budgeted.

We have added new programs, Young Family Worship Service on the Third Sunday of each month at 9:30, we have added a Wednesday evening fellowship dinner and worship on the Third Wednesday of each month at 6:00 PM and Messy Church on the first Monday of each month at noon.  These new worship opportunities have opened our church to the community in ways that Sunday Mornings cannot.  We have asked how and why young families have come, and they say everything from we got the postcard in the mail, we saw it on the sign out in front of the church and we were invited by friends.  We have added great new music opportunities, like the Youth Choir and Jazz band.  We don’t pay them to sing or play but we do feed them, and we have purchased a new drum set.  My point in all of this is to let you know that we are growing, and we have added new and exciting programs and people, but it isn’t cheap.  Because we still must maintain this beautiful building and grounds and keep the lights on.  By the way, our utility bill is nearly $40,000.

I believe one of the most important aspects of faith is serving others and we have tried to maintain our support to wonderful ministry partners such as, IPM, IHN, Vince on Vine, Transforming Jail Ministries, 20/20 juvenile jail ministry, Matthew 25: Ministries, MEAC, Maslow’s Army and others…. Unfortunately, when the budget gets tight it is the help for others that is the first to be cut.  Years ago, this church made it a goal to spend at least 20% of the total budget on outreach and now we are less than 5%. It is a shame, but it is true.

Here is another way to look at it, this is awkward.  It is awkward because God does not need your money, but Indian Hill Church does.  It is also awkward for me because you pay my salary, you put a roof over my family’s heads, your giving feeds us and sends my children to school and college and I am eternally grateful.  So, take me out of it and think about what excites you about Indian Hill Church?  What is it about this place that you will gladly give your money to support?

Simple math, we currently have an operating budget of $952,600 which is great, however, our pledges are for $702,000 so you see we have a gap.  A $227,600 gap that we are blessed to receive from the interest from our endowment accounts. Don’t worry we are not touching the principle, but we are dependent on the endowment to operate.  I have recently been talked off the ledge by people much smarter than me who explained that people who have gone before us loved this church and left this church in their Estate plans so this church can use the money they left in their death. But I have faith that we can do better…call me naïve, if you want, but I truly believe we raise more money by increasing our pledges and use less of our interest from the endowment.

We have 278 giving units, that is families and individuals that are potential givers to the church. Our average pledge is roughly $3500, which is less than Knox Presbyterian in Hyde Park and Church of the Redeemer Episcopal also in Hyde Park. I tell you this as a point of reference and to engage your competitive nature, everybody likes to compete, don’t we?  So, if each of you 277 pledging units will join me in giving 4% more this year, we will not only meet our goal, raise our average pledge but also be able to do so much more in our church, our community and the world.

I offered these questions to the Vestry Session at our September meeting. What gets in the way of your connection to God?  What gets in the way of your coming to church on Sunday morning?   What gets in the way of your faith formation, spiritual practice, and exploring new ways to connect with God and neighbor?  Why not have a little faith and give 4% more this year? After all it is a gift from God.  If not, what is your excuse?[4]

We have all the faith we need.  We have all the gifts we need.  We are all blessed beyond measure.  So, I invite you to take a step-in faith this year and give more to support God’s work in this place at this time by supporting Indian Hill Church.  Our challenge is not to ask God to increase our faith, but our challenge is to respond to God’s gift of faith and be more generous.

Let us pray:


[1] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton, The Lectionary Lab Podcast.

[2] Reverend Dr. Will Willimon, Doing Faith Until You Have It. Faith (being in loving relationship with God) is a gift of God: How does God increase our faith in God?  September 29, 2013

[3] Reverend Dr. Scott Hoezee, https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-22c-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

[4] Reverend Dr. Robin J. Steinke, President, Luther Seminary, www.luthersem.edu/elerts/article.aspx?article_id=1438&elert_id=166