Sunday After Christmas Sermon


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?


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


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


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


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.


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,


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

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.

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.

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


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,

[4] Reverend Dr. Robin J. Steinke, President, Luther Seminary,

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,


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:

Misguided theology and other myths of faith

August 11, 2019 (The 9th Sunday after Pentecost)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 1:1, 10–20

Psalm 50:1–8, 22–23

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Luke 12:32–40

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Luke 12:32-40, NRSV)

Let us pray: God of Abraham and Sarah, Mary and Jesus, you invite us to contemplate heavenly things and urge us to trust in you. May your coming among us find our doors open, our tables set, and all of us ready to greet you. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

As a young boy I never imagined that I would be a preacher, I was extremely shy and couldn’t fathom standing up in front of people and speaking. Much less speaking about personal things like faith, beliefs and sharing my inner struggles. So, as you might imagine it has been a journey over the last forty plus years for me.

One very negative experience that was a signpost along the way comes to mind as I read this scripture passage for today.

It was summertime. I was 10 or 11 years old and I was with my friends in the woods across the street from my house and we were building a tree house. When a van from Pinecrest Baptist Church drove past. They must have seen us boys and girls playing in the woods. So, they stopped.  Three men got out of the van and walked towards the treehouse.

They asked us to come down because they wanted to talk to us.  We climbed out of the treehouse and stood near them. They began to ask us our names, where we went to church and if we knew Jesus.

We respond and then one of them said, “if you died tonight do you know that you will go to heaven? If you are not absolutely sure than you might burn in hell for eternity.”

That was a turning point in my faith development, obviously, I did not know it at the time because I was scared to death but overtime those men from Pinecrest Baptist church helped to define my theology and ultimately my understanding of God.

These men were comparing God to a cosmic bully who was judging every move we made and waiting to catch us in a sin. They were in the truest sense trying to scare the hell out of us. Using fear to frighten us into converting to their band of faith.

“If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”[1]

It maybe that I was a product of the bible belt and the heavy influence of the Southern Baptist Church but texts like this were often used to scare people into faith in God.  I often heard preachers misuse this verse, and others like it, to frighten people into following Jesus, or else.  The implication was that Jesus was our friend and he would protect us from the angry and vengeful God who was on the warpath watch for us to sin and say, “Aha! Caught you! Now you’re gonna get it!”  Of course, overtime memory fades and that may not be exactly what the preachers said, but that’s what my younger self heard.

Many years of years of seminary, reformed theological education and even some therapy later, I now know that this is not what Jesus was talking about.[2] The issue is not judgement but rather readiness to receive the kingdom of God into our lives.  Remember the start of our Gospel reading begins with the overlooked and often ignored statement from Jesus, “be not afraid, little flock, for it is the father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”[3]  We do not have to be afraid when the kingdom comes; it is a good thing.  It is not something we earn, there is no test, no way to fail or come up short.   The kingdom is a gift, a promise — not a prize; it is a thrill, not a threat; it is a thing of joy — not a fear-filled destiny of doom.[4]

This promise of Jesus changes everything.  It’s one thing for someone to demand things of you, like your shareholders, your boss, your parent, your teacher, your coach, etc. It’s a totally different thing when that person wants only what is best for you or who wants you do to your best.  You know that ultimately, they want the best for you.  What Jesus is saying is that God wants what is best for us.  It is not fear and worry and anxiety about the future and eternal life.  God wants to reassure us of God’s kingdom.  And God’s kingdom is based on trust and generosity and love and faith.

In scripture Jesus spends most of his time focused on two things; money and the kingdom of God.  He usually talked about one when talking about the other.  In his preaching and teaching money and the kingdom of God are intimately intertwined.

  • The kingdom of God is like – a man who had two sons and the younger came to him and demanded half of the inheritance.
  • The kingdom of God is like – a vineyard owner who pays everyone the same, no matter how much or how little they had worked.
  • The kingdom of God is like – a master who gives his servants varying amounts of money and then judges them on how they have managed it.

Or another way he said it is from today’s reading, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  What Jesus is trying to say is that our treasure is not in all these things that we worry about, what we are afraid of, that keep us up at night.  Our treasure is in the kingdom of God. 

If our treasure is in the Kingdom of God, then it changes our mindset, it shifts our focus.  Kingdom living changes the way we prioritize our lives, it changes the way we treat out neighbors, it changes the way we spend our money, it changes the things we care about and how we live. 

What Jesus is lifting up in this passage is faith – faith that frees us to be generous; faith that enables us to leave anxiety behind; faith that creates confidence about a future secured by God.  Instead of fear, he offers faith. 

There is a quirky movie that came out almost a decade ago called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel about a group of seven British retirees who travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored Marigold Hotel.  When they arrive, they find that the Hotel is not new, nor is it the resort that the website promised.  The Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to change these seven people in unexpected ways.

Each of them is overwhelmed by the unfamiliar environment, it is too hot, the rooms are dirty and run-down, the food is much too spicy for their bland English palates and each of them begins to doubt their future.  The enthusiastic new manager tries to adjust their attitudes and change their minds.  He encourages them to give the hotel, the city of Mumbai and the food, time to change their attitude by his famous quote, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.”

It is kind of like that with Faith. Everything is not alright, so it is not the end, but Jesus has already promised, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”   So yes, we do need to be ready, to have our lamps lit and expect God to arrive at any moment.  But not with fear and foreboding, rather with trust and faith that God is still working.  God is not finished yet.  God will make all things right in the end. 

Let us pray:

[1] Luke 12:39-40, NRSV.

[2] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton, Lectionary blog: The kingdom is a promise.

[3] Luke 12:32, NRSV

[4] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton, Lectionary blog: The kingdom is a promise.