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

It’s not business, it is personal!

September 22, 2019 (15th Sunday after Pentecost)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Jeremiah 8:18–9:1

Psalm 79:1–9

Luke 16:1–13

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

16:1 “Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:1–13, NRSV)

Let us pray: Loving God, open our ears to hear your word and draw us closer to you, that the whole world may be one with you as you are one with us in Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen.

It’s a dimly lit room. The kind of room where sinister schemes are planned. It is the kind of room where you expect bad things to happen.  The kind of room where gangsters hang out.   In this room three men are gathered planning for revenge.   Michael Corleone the youngest son of Mafia boss Vito Corleone says to his older brother Sonny, “It’s not personal it’s strictly business.”  This statement comes from Mario Puzo in his famous book The Godfather and the Frances Ford Coppola movie of the same name.

Michael’s line: “It’s nothing personal, Sonny—it’s strictly business,” is one of those lines, it is infamous statement. That even if you have never seen the movie or read the book you are probably familiar with it.  It’s a great line to deliver but a terrible one to get. 

It is a phrase that conveys that whatever the action is, it has got to be done.  It is said to relieve any guilt associated with the sinister act.  As in the Godfather, “I am going to shoot this crooked policeman, but it is nothing personal, it just has to be done.”

Obviously, I am not a businessperson and I have not been to business school, but I understand that business can be ruthless. 

There are decisions that go your way, and decisions that don’t.   Business can be survival of the fittest – use any means necessary to make the sale, to cut the deal, and to earn the profit.  You must be shrewd to get ahead…

Keep this in mind as we hear Jesus tell this parable we just read from the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the Dishonest Manager, as the late Phyllis Tickle, refers to it “the most difficult parable of them all.” It is about the work of one particular businessman, who uses any means necessary to save his own skin.

A fellow employee goes to the business owner to report that the office manager is stealing from him.  The business owner calls his office manager in and says to him “I hear you are stealing from me. You’ve got two weeks before I audit you. “

The office manager knows he’s in deep trouble.  But he like most con men – he is much too proud to beg; and way too soft to work; so, what does he do to save his own skin? 

He comes up with a scheme.

In one of those dimly lit rooms.  The kind of room where sinister schemes are planned the office manager calls in some of the company’s biggest customers.

“Have I got a deal for you?”

Here is his plan.  He cuts their bills in half.  It will bring in money for his boss and it will also make the debtors happy to have their debts off the books. 

Fast forward two weeks and it is time for the audit; the business owner looks at the new books and he knows what has happened but there is nothing he can do about it.  He knows he has been conned. 

And here’s the surprise.

The business owner says to the office manager: “I have to admit it, you were pretty smart.  You got me.”

Up to this point the story makes sense; especially in our current culture of greed.  What doesn’t make sense is it seems like Jesus is praising the Dishonest Manager and his deceit.

What in the world is Jesus thinking?

Doesn’t Jesus know that getting ahead by any means is counter to the Gospel, counter to everything Jesus tells us? 

But if you look closely you will notice Jesus does not praise the Dishonest Manager. Imagine having that single-mindedness in our faith and our service to God?  Imagine every minute of every day totally committed to following Christ. 

Just imagine…

This strange story is really asking us to imagine our faith in God is not just an hour a week, but it is an all-day, all the time commitment worth our devotion, our focus and our shrewdness.  When we understand that, we are free to turn our hearts and minds, and our wealth and resources, to the service of God and one another. 

I’m not praising ruthless businesspeople.  I’m not praising the Godfather, especially not for family movie night or as an example for living. 

I’m also not praising Enron,

WorldCom,

Bernie Madoff,

Lehman Brothers,

Bear Stearns,

and countless others that have exposed the culture greed in our nation. 

Their greed and criminal behavior turn our stomachs and anger us.

What I am saying is, just imagine if all their efforts, their smarts, their passion, their desire and especially their shrewdness used to make money by any means necessary could instead be focused in the building up of the Kingdom of God. 

Just imagine that instead of profits and money being the goal of life…imagine if all that energy was instead used to build up of the Kingdom of God. 

Just imagine if all of us used our energies following God, trying to make the world a better place. Churches all over the world would be overflowing and there would be waiting lists to get a seat for worship.  Just imagine if the energy that the Dishonest Manager used to scheme and defraud to ensure he saved his own skin when he was fired was instead used in his faith to build up the Kingdom of God.

One of my mentors said that he has never understood why people who are so smart and savvy in the business world, so good at their jobs, so impressive in their everyday lives walk into the church and turn off their brains and leave their passion outside.

God gave us the brains, the drive, the gifts, the talents and the passion to succeed in business and in life.  God gave them to us to use – not only for building up our own empire, our own wealth, our own security, and our own happiness but more importantly to build up the Kingdom of God and following Christ. 

Ah, so what kind of work will we do if we use our passion, our desire, our skills to build up God’s Kingdom.  When we use our gifts to follow Christ, we will be called to go to some strange places, and we will be called to do odd things, such as; 

Eating with outcasts and sinners,

Healing the sick,

Welcoming strangers,

Visiting prisoners,

And challenging the mighty and the powerful.

Just imagine what the world might look like if the passion we put into pursuing the American dream was used for following Jesus’ call to serve the least, the last and the lost among us.  Just imagine.

You see after all it’s not just business with God, it is in fact very personal!

Let us pray:

More than we bargained for…

September 8, 2019

13th Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 18:1–11

Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18

Luke 14:25–33

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

14:25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Luke 14:25–33, NRSV)

God of power and justice, source of life and blessing, of garden, orchard, field, anchor us in obedience to you and nourish us by your ever-flowing Spirit, that, we might love you by serving others. Amen.

Excuses, everybody has got them.  We all use them to cover ourselves, if we don’t want to do something, if we are late, or forgot, or simply did not do our work. We offer excuses.  Instead of being honest, we believe that an excuse is better than the truth.  We all do it, thinking it is the polite thing to do.  Instead of truth telling we offer an excuse to cover for our breaking our commitments, declining our invitations, covering our mistakes, and justifying our wrongdoing.

How many times have you been late for work or an appointment and blamed it on traffic or something else “you had no control over?”

While being honest would sound like this: “Yes, I am sorry that I am late, I didn’t leave myself a reasonable amount of time for the traffic today.  It is entirely my fault, I apologize, and I will do a better job of leaving sooner next time.”  Excuses, everybody got them.

I feel like a broken record. Sunday after Sunday, preaching seemingly the same sermon over and over.  Following Jesus is hard, no it is really hard.  He keeps upping the ante, love your neighbor, love your enemy, invite the poor, lame, outcasts to your banquets.  Today he seems to go over the top.  Following Jesus is so hard that is causes us to well…come up with excuses.

I believe it will help by giving these challenging words of Jesus some context. If we notice what comes before and what comes after it in Luke’s Gospel it may make more sense.  Just before this very difficult passage Jesus tells about someone who gave a great dinner party and invited many guests.  But everyone he invited made excuses why they could not attend.

One could not come, because he had just bought some property, and needed to check on it.  Another could not come, because he just purchased five yoke of oxen, and said he had to try them out.  Another could not come, because he had just gotten married.  Jesus counts these as excuses. Why the big deal, Jesus?

Well, as we might remember, this great dinner party like other parties, dinners, banquets, and feasts, is a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. So, the point of Jesus’ message to the distracted, preoccupied invitees is crystal clear.  You don’t know what you are missing out on…it is so much better than what you are currently focused on.  Which sets up our Gospel text for the morning.

 In contrast to great dinner party that people chose to skip this story as Luke tells us, “Now large crowds were traveling with him…”[1] Luke makes it clear that Jesus is not impressed with the size of the crowd or of his own success.[2]  He is upset with the casual nature and easy approval the crowd offers.  So, to make his point he says to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  Whoa! What did he just say? Did we hear that correctly? 

Yes, yes, he did. These are hard words that underscore that following him is not easy and should not be taken lightly.

This is in direct contradiction to everything Jesus says and does in the Gospels. He talks about love, love and more love.  Hate has no place. So, what we hear in these words is Hyperbole.  This may be exaggeration, but it still doesn’t remove the demanding nature of his words and its shock value.  So how can we make it more palatable? How can we soft peddle it? Commentators point out is that the word “hate” here is not like our English understanding of the word, instead think of it to mean to turn away, to detach oneself, remove oneself.  So what Jesus is saying is that following him, being a disciple is our primary responsibility more important than our most sacred of human relationships, spouse, children and family.  Wow, Jesus is very demanding!  In these demanding words he wants us to know what we are getting into if we sign on.  Don’t hear this as Jesus discouraging people from following him. He is being clear about the great cost.[3]

Jesus’ message is one of love, but he does not venerate the love within families.  He knows that family ties can sometimes get in the way of discipleship.  Remember the story of the man who wanted to be a disciple, but first asked to go home to bury his father?  Remember the story of the time Jesus was teaching and was surrounded by a crowd, and someone told him that his own mother and brothers had arrived and were asking to see him? He said, ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”  His message is one of love, but love at a cost, the love of the nuclear family is not the highest loyalty for his disciples.  Instead the highest loyalty is to the Kingdom of God.  And in the Kingdom of God “family” means everyone who does the will of God. In the Kingdom of God, the whole human race is our family; and every human being, a brother or sister.  So, you see, Jesus isn’t saying literally that we are supposed to hate our family. He’s saying that his followers can’t put nuclear family ahead of God’s family.[4]

When we follow Jesus, we are invited to view life with a new set of loyalties and new understandings of love, commitment, and priorities. Those new commitments can break the tight hold on our loves and connections and even over how we live.   The challenges to choose life, discipleship and the way of the cross are ultimately about where we place our allegiance and our trust.  Following him must be radically more important to us than loving those closest to us, our own selves, and all the stuff in our lives. Jesus demands that we be fully committed to following him over everything else. 

In doing so, I believe that we will be free to receive the grace to love our families, friends and ourselves fully.  May we respond to God’s grace with lives of gratitude and discipleship and gladly follow wherever our Lord leads us.

Let us pray:


[1] Reverend Dr. K.C. Ptomey, Jr., A Homily on Luke 14:25-33 Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 29, 2004, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN 37205 quoting Luke 14:25.

[2] Reverend Dr. K.C. Ptomey, Jr., A Homily on Luke 14:25-33 Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 29, 2004, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN 37205 quoting R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), p. 283.

[3] Reverend Dr. Alyce McKenzie, Counting the Cost: Lectionary Reflections for September 5th, 2010: Luke 14:25-33

[4] Reverend Dr. K.C. Ptomey, Jr., A Homily on Luke 14:25-33 Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 29, 2004, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN 37205

Impossible guest list and other difficult acts of faith

September 1, 2019 (The 12th Sunday after Pentecost)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Jeremiah 2:4–13

Psalm 81:1, 10–16

Luke 14:1, 7–14

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:1, 7-14, NRSV)

Let us pray: Lord God, friend of those in need, your Son Jesus has untied our burdens and healed our spirits. We lift the prayers of our hearts for those still burdened, those seeking healing that we may love you with our whole being and willingly share the concerns of our neighbors. Amen.

Hello, my name is Stephen Caine and I believe in Jesus Christ.  I imagine you did not expect that as a sermon starter today.   I guess that most of you assumed that as an ordained clergy person it would go without saying that I believe in Jesus, the son of the living God.  You would be surprised to know how many clergy don’t believe. But this sermon is not about that, no.  This sermon is focused on how hard it is to follow Jesus, the only begotten son of God born in a manger, lived and walked the dusty roads of Palestine, ate with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick and cured the lame, was betrayed by his closest followers, was tried, found guilty and died a horrible death on a cross.  Now it is not hard to say those words, but it is hard to believe them.  But this sermon is not only about belief in Jesus because that is easier than what he is challenging us to do.

It seems fairly easy to say the words on a Sunday morning that we follow Jesus or believe in him and yet it is nearly impossible to live them out.   

We have a mantra in our house that when one of us is feeling down about ourselves, worried or anxious about how we are measuring up or fitting in…that it is time to go and visit someone else. Monnie often says to me get out of yourself and go visit someone, talk to somebody else, get out of your own head for a while. Focus on someone else and what they are dealing with.

In a roundabout way that is what Jesus is saying in this gospel lesson, move beyond your normal group of friends, invite others to your party, invite some people for whom there is no payoff or gain.  Expand your life, your circle of influence, your group of friends. Invite people who can never pay you back and from whom you will not gain any social status or upward mobility.  This is not easy! This is really hard!

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus challenges his host about the make-up of his guest list. “By inviting your friends and family and your neighbors who are in your social class, you have made sure that you have lost nothing, risked nothing, spent nothing, sacrificed nothing, actually done nothing that qualifies you as a host in the spiritual sense of the word.   You have invited only people who can afford to return the favor and invite you to their house and feed you there.   This is a nice social event, its good fellowship, but it’s not real Biblical hospitality.”[1]

Biblical hospitality is about taking a risk on behalf of the strangers and aliens in your midst.   It is rooted in the Hebrew awareness that we are all, every one of us, strangers here on this earth.[2]

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Remember that groundbreaking movie from the late 1960’s?   For those of you who don’t it was a movie that starred Spencer Tracy, Sidney Potier, Katherine Hepburn, and Katharine Houghton.   It tells the story of the daughter of an upper-class white family, Joanna Drayton (played by Houghton), who comes home from a vacation to tell her parents that she is getting married. She tells them that she is going to marry a young physician also from an upper-class family named John Prentice (played by Potier). As the plot thickens when Joanna Drayton brings John Prentice home to dinner to meet her parents who do not know that John is black; John’s parents also come into town for this big dinner at the Drayton’s home so that the families can meet.   John’s parents don’t know that Joanna is white until they meet her at the airport.   I will not spoil the rest of the story but the important take away is this; it might not seem like such a big deal today but way back in 1967 it was very controversial.  Especially for a mainline movie to present a positive representation of a such a controversial subject like interracial marriage was quite bold.  Bold because interracial marriage was illegal in most states and at the time the movie came out it was still illegal in 17 states.  This movie presents a cultural taboo of that time and it does so around the dinner table because who’s at the table says something about who’s in and who’s out.

The dinner table is not only where one may say grace; it is the space where one extends grace.  Tables in the ancient world were places where philosophers and teachers could share their wisdom.   Tables were also the place where a community’s identity could be marked; a Near Eastern proverb declares, “I saw them eating and I knew who they were.” Who we share a meal with says something about us.

To the gospel writer Luke, “nothing [is] …more serious than a dining table”[3] Which leads to the hard part of following Jesus.  I imagine that most of us can say that we believe in Jesus, we call ourselves Christians, most of us come to church on a regular basis, we try to do the right thing, take care of our loved ones, our families and our friends.   But it is hard to do much more because it takes so much effort to reach out, to love others, to speak to people who don’t look, act, believe, vote like you do.  So how in the world are we going to invite them to dinner?

Why would I invite a smelly homeless person to my dinner table?  Why would I invite a drug addict to eat with my family?  Why would I invite a prostitute into my home with my spouse and children?  Why? Jesus, do you want me to do that?   I don’t want to do that.   I have nothing to gain.  I have everything to lose. They could steal from me, they could ruin my reputation, they could upset the neighbors.   Absolutely nothing good can come of inviting one of them to eat dinner with me and my family.  Aha!  Jesus has baited the hook and set it and I have taken it in.

I heard of a book this week entitled The Best of Enemies, written by Osha Gray Davidson.  She tells the story of Durham, North Carolina during the 1960’s and 70’s and how two people from opposite parts of town came together.  The first, a woman named Ann Atwater, an African American single mother and a maid, who was from a poor black section of town. The other person, named C.P. Ellis. Ellis grew up in the poor white section of Durham and as a young man joined the Ku Klux Klan, eventually becoming the Exalted Cyclops of the Durham KKK.

The book details how these enemies, came together to bring about change to a Southern city around the difficult political issue of court ordered school desegregation.  These two individuals ultimately became friends and welcomed each other to each other’s table for a meal.  It was truly a glimpse of the kingdom of God played out in Durham North Carolina in the shadow of Duke University.[4]

Inviting the other to join us at the table is not just a nice thing to do.  It is the right thing to do but it is a hard thing to do.  In fact, it makes for a better table and a better life. Having people around the table who don’t look like us, act like us, talk like us, think like us, who are not us, helps us understand the beauty of God a bit better and it makes for a better life.  So, challenge yourself and invite someone new to break bread with you…it just might change your life.

Let us pray:


[1] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton

[2] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton

[3] Rev. Luke A. Powery, The Welcome Table, Duke Chapel quoting Reverend Dr. Fred Craddock.

[4] Rev. Luke A. Powery, The Welcome Table, Duke Chapel

Blessed division

August 18, 2019 (The 10th Sunday after Pentecost)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 5:1–7

Psalm 80:1–2, 8–19

Hebrews 11:29–12:2

Luke 12:49–56

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

12:49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:49-56, NRSV)

Let us pray: Loving God, open our ears to hear your word and draw us closer to you, that the whole world may be one with you as you are one with us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wouldn’t it be great if following Jesus was easier? I mean he seems to get more and more difficult with each passing week. Last week it was be ready or else and now this passage, with its strong emphasis on division, even to the point of splitting families, wow! Talk about family values!

He contradicts our idyllic pictures of peace by stating that he has come not to bring peace, but to bring division: division in households, division within families. Jesus says he has come to bring fire.  This is not the Jesus we learned about in Sunday School.  What we learned in Sunday School was a very nice and pleasant Jesus.  Jesus is your friend, your buddy, your pal.  That is not this Jesus.  This is not nice and pleasant.

I don’t like conflict any more than the next person, but Jesus seems hell bent on causing trouble and division.  One of my former professors David Lose states, “One of things I’ve learned over time is that the only time there is no division in a community is when there is no vision.  Because a vision sets a course, pulls you forward, and invites – even demands – change. And that creates division.”   Jesus is sharing a vision.  A vision of the coming of the kingdom God. It’s a kingdom that stands in stark contrast to the kingdoms of the world.  Rather than valuing the strong and powerful, it values the poor and vulnerable.  Rather than prizing power, it lifts up compassion. Rather than coming by force, it comes in weakness and vulnerability.  And for all these reasons, it challenges the status quo and makes people nervous, uncomfortable, and some it even makes angry. 

Which is why Jesus causes division, because this is not the world that God wants for us.

Because the vision of the Kingdom of God is one of love.  For God so loved the world and it is love that draws the world together in sharing that love.  It’s that simple, and yet so very hard. It is that beautiful and yet so very messy.  Not easy, to be sure, but beautiful to the end.

I can remember a friend growing up who broke his nose but didn’t want to miss any football, so he waited to go to the doctor.  When the season was over, and he finally went to the doctor.  The doctor told him, that he had some good news and some bad news or not so pleasant news.  First the good news, his nose could be fixed, and the not so pleasant news was he would have to break it and reset it.  Sometimes you need to break something for it to heal and grow stronger.

This is an overview of what Jesus is saying in this passage.  It is a different message than we’re used to hearing, but it is an important one.  Jesus came into this world with a message of good news and a and a mission, that was not so pleasant.  Jesus came with the message God’s new community was coming.  And he came with a mission.  His mission was to break the power and value system of the world on end.

His message was a message of love.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself, love your enemy, love those who persecute you, and above all else love God with all your heart, soul and might.  Sounds simple, right.  But none of those are easy.   And as we all know, love can be difficult and at times even unpleasant.  So, when things get difficult or messy then we tend to quit or disengage.  Remember that the opposite of love is indifference, apathy, uncaring, uninvolved and unresponsive; which is what happened.  So then comes his mission, the whole reason we meet Jesus in the first place. 

Because the Love that God is offering is different, it is very involved, it demands, it is costly, and it is transformative.  Love will confront you with unpleasant facts about yourself, love will sometimes break you in order to heal you.  Jesus had a message of love, a message of love that disturbed communities and families because it refused to allow people to coast along in a pleasantly unhealthy and unhappy slide into death.  Jesus, the living word of God, broke into the world demanding that we get involved.  No more sitting ideally by, watching people suffer.  No more watch as others go hungry or homeless or sick.  Get off the bench and into the game. Following Jesus is not a passive event. And this will set us against our own flesh and blood.

Jesus has called us to get beyond roles and to get into relationships; real, messy, involved relationships.  And the sometimes unpleasant but ultimately good truth is – that kind of love is disruptive; it breaks what isn’t really working in order to create something new.

This is where it changes.  It is easy to feel beat up and dejected by not living up to Jesus high standards, so what if we looked at Jesus’ challenge differently?  What if we looked at how we can be a community of faith that instead of feeling bad about how we didn’t live out our faith, but rather we look at how we support each other in our faith.  What if we spent more time on Sunday mornings in worship, in adult education, and fellowship encouraging each other to not just believe in, Jesus but to really live out our faith?  How would we imagine worship, preaching, Sunday school, even coffee hour if our goal was to equip each other to enter more deeply into our faith?  So that our faith might shape our lives.  Now, I am sure I just scared many of you with that statement so hear me out…. I bet, and I don’t like to gamble that most all of us really want our faith to matter!  Why else give up a beautiful Sunday morning to come here?  I imagine that each of us want our faith to be a help, a guide, a useful aspect in our lives.  It would be awesome if our faith helped to shape the way we think about our work, our families, our politics, and especially our money. But wait a moment preacher, we don’t want to be that serious about Jesus, because we know people like that and well, we don’t want to be like them….

So, what would it be like if we saw our faith as less of an obligation and more as a way of life?  What if church became a place of encouragement and support so that we can really life out this Jesus life.  What if your faith was renewed here and you were sent to make a difference to the world?  What if your faith influenced you the next time you had to make a decision about something you bought, or some issue that was on your heart, or the next time you enter a voting booth?  Because this I do know if you let your faith in Jesus be your guide you will need support because it is hard to go counter to our culture and when you do, it creates division.

So often in our faith we get lulled into images of a gentle Jesus like a lamb – forgetting the angry and anguished Jesus of this text. The Jesus who commands that those who want to save their lives must lose them. The Jesus who tells us to take up the cross and follow. The Jesus who demands that we make a choice to follow him no matter the cost: friends, family, possessions, our lives. Such loyalty always causes divisions, and divides…and it will.  But it will also create joy. Because the one who sends us out was himself baptized by fire and is both with us and for us.  This is a life and a faith that takes courage, and isn’t that a life worth living?

Let us pray: