Sunday, October 13, 2019


Pentecost +19 C

October 20, 2019

“Honest to God”


St. Luke 18:1-8/Genesis 32:22-32

The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge

18 Then Jesus[a] told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”[b] And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 18:1 Gk he
  2. Luke 18:5 Or so that she may not finally come and slap me in the face

Message

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the Christ.

Jacob was a swindler.  He conned his brother, Esau, out of his birthright and ran off to his Uncle Laban’s family to be safe from his brother.  There he tried to make a deal with Laban to marry Uncle Laban’s daughter, Rachel.  Laban tricked Jacob and got him to marry Leah instead.  Then Jacob bargained to have Rachel by working 7 more years for her.  Then he sensed it was time to go home.  There he would have to face the wrath of Esau. 

As he approached home he got wind of Esau coming to meet him.  Frightened and seemingly hopeless he put his family on one side of the River Jabbok and spends the evening in prayer on the other side of the river.

And this is what happened:

24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.  [Genesis 32:24-32]

Persistent in prayer, Jacob wrestled with this mysterious divine figure.  Notice the wrestling with the divine ends in a draw and Jacob demands a blessing.  He gets a new name – Israel – one who has striven with God.  Then Jacob asks the mysterious beings for his name. 

Knowing the name means having control over the person or thing being named.  He got an answer in the form of a question:  “Why is it that you ask me my name?”

Jacob, now Israel, calls the site Peniel – which means ‘the face of God.’

Persistent in prayer the outcome was not pre-determined but in relationship to the stranger with whom he wrestles he exacts a blessing – a new name – and for the rest of his years walks with a limp – a constant reminder of this encounter. 

Persistence in prayer is like wrestling with the Divine as we sing together:  
“O Lord, Hear My Prayer.” [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f51n-yb11dY]

Next day Jacob, with his new name “Israel” encounters Esau and to his surprise, he hugs him and they are reconciled.

Lest we forget – God chose Jacob, Israel, to be a blessing for all.  God’s intention is for all nations, all creation to come under his loving reign.

Chosen ones persist in prayer in order to participate in God’s loving rule for all.  We wrestle with God and are honest to God about our situations and through such wrestling we are formed, transformed and given a new name.

Jacob’s story is the story of struggle, persistence, and transformation.

Turning the cultural hierarchical system of the 1st Century on its head, Jesus tells a tale of a widow and a judge.  Widows were vulnerable and often marginalized.  Judges were to be respected.  Here you have a reversal, and the widow’s persistence brings justice.  Jesus encourages followers to persist in prayer.

If she had no sons, a widow was to be taken in by her brother-in-law and bear children. (Deuteronomy 25:5)  The concern was more with continuing the family line then simply the care of the widow.  A widow like Naomi in the Old Testament was vulnerable and marginalized unless they be taken in by a man. 

The Story of Ruth is a story of persistence and conniving on the part of two women to have a safety net.  And she persisted.

So, Jesus uses the most marginalized and vulnerable of his day to make a point about prayer and persistence.  Pestering and persisting the unjust judge caves in and she gets justice.  By contrast how much more will God listen to and grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?

And so we pester God – we cling to God’s promise and remind God of the promises God has made to us and all of Creation – to make all things new.

And so we sing:  “O Lord, Hear My Prayer.”  

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f51n-yb11dY]

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.  There are times in life when we lose heart…times when we sense that nothing will change…times when cancer is not cured…and our prayers seem to go unheeded.  How do we address such times?

Dr. James Howell, Lead Pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC reflects on ‘losing heart’:

Twice in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul says “So we do not lose heart.” Evidently, Paul knew what it was to lose heart. He knew how easy it can be to lose heart.  The Greek verb, enkakeo, means “grow faint, get weary.” When you cope with tough challenges, when you strive to be faithful to God in trying circumstances, you get tired. Understandably.

What an interesting phrase though: “lose heart.” You don’t lose your heart – either the organ that pumps blood and oxygen through your body, or that more metaphorical “heart” that is your inner, loving, passionate self. If you “lose heart.”  Your heart is always there, but the temptation is to let it slide, in fatigue, into doubt, cynicism, fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.

[Paul goes on to say in 2nd Corinthians 4:] “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

Such eloquence.  So encouraging.  The keys here are (1) “earthen vessels,” which means clay pots that are broken.  We who are broken are those God dwells within.  Then, (2) “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies.” 

All other religions have a god high up in heaven.  Only Christianity has a God who comes down and enters into our broken, mortal condition.  Jesus died – so our worst losses, even death itself, are engaged from the inside, from painful personal experience by God Almighty. 

Whenever we suffer, we do not do so alone, but in loving solidarity with Jesus, and hence with God.  And so we have good cause not to lose heart, not to be crushed, not driven to despair, not destroyed.

And so we sing:  “O Lord, Hear My Prayer.”

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f51n-yb11dY]

Our persistence in prayer comes through the power of the cross.  Knowing that God was present to Jesus at that moment and knowing that God was absent from Jesus at that moment – both and so in the midst of loss we sense both the absence and presence of God – a strange wrestling at the Jabbok. 

But the story does not end there.  We persist in prayer through the open tomb – that empty tomb.  God raised Christ and as we wrestle with the divine in prayer – God raises us and gives us a new name.  We, too, may limp away as we carry in our bodies the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may be manifested.

We are to be open and honest to God and persistent in prayer.

God answers the question “WHY?”  Why did my loved one die of cancer after I prayed and prayed?  Why do my prayers go unanswered? God answers the question ‘Why?’ with a who.  That who is Jesus the Christ – always at our side – not with answers but with God’s love.  For nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Amen
Permission to quote any part of the sermon
contact: kennstorck@gmail.com
Dr. James Howell has given permission 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


Proper 23C / Ordinary 28C / Pentecost +18
October 13, 2019


Foreigner


Luke 17:11-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[b] 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’[c] 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.”

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 17:11 Gk he
  2. Luke 17:12 The terms leper and leprosy can refer to several diseases
  3. Luke 17:16 Gk his


Foreigner

Bound
and doubly indentured
Samaritan
and leper found

common pain
and common wont
with nine others
alone, together
wilderness bound.

But then hearsay
about The Prophet:
“Is it true that
he can cure?”

So they go
and discover
he is the one.
They cry aloud:
“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!”

Then a sound,
a voice
that penetrated
their bodies;
a voice
that falls over them
and in the ocean
of vibrations
they are washed
and they are cleansed.

One heart,
one soul,
one body
returns:
the doubly indentured,
the foreign one:

Gives witness of a resurrection.
In gratitude praises God’s Son.

And what of us
who take for granted
health and wealth
and white privilege?

Hearts grown cold
and it’s the foreigner
who gives praise
for divine grace.

copyright@2019 kennstorck
may be used with permission
kennstorck@gmail.com




Sunday, September 29, 2019


Proper 22C / Ordinary 27C / Pentecost +17
October 
6, 2019
"Increase our faith"


St. Luke 17:5-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)


The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a[a] mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
“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’? 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’? 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!’”

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 17:6 Gk faith as a grain of


Increase Our Faith

What of those who
have lost their way?
The birds of prey
taking the seed away

where winter snows
cover decaying leaves
and blizzards blow
over vacant fields.

When spring is silent
and life is snarled
and wind grows violent
and thoughts grow wild;

where is the seed
to muster growth
when faith is deceased
deep in the earth?

In such a loss,
in such a sea change,
there is only the cross
nothing else remains.

@Copyright 2019 by Kenn Storck
May be used with permission
kennstorck@gmail.com

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Saint Michael and All Angels
September 29, 2019

(Scroll down for RCL Gospel Message: "Me to We")


OVER ANGELS

On the occasion of the anecdotal story of the painting of the ceiling of

Holy Cross Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri and the ousting
of  Professor Arlis Ahlen at Concordia Seminary
due to a controversy over angels - circa 1972.


They’ve painted over angels
and now I don’t know how
to answer you
from my pew
the questions that you howl!

They’ve painted over angels
all away from my sight.
No book, no bell,
no candlelight swells
to brighten the gloomy night!

They’ve painted over angels,
we’re all left alone.
Comfortless, our faith must
jump on messages from home!

Dark, alone to God-knows-where
we run a crooked race.
Having seen through an angelic stare
something about grace.

They’ve painted over angels
and now we’re left with HIM.
Comfortless our faith must trust
in the cross again!

Kenneth R. Storck
  Originally written - 1972
  Revised: 1-1-2012
May be used with permission.
kennstorck@gmail.com


Proper 21C / Ordinary 26C / Pentecost +16
September 
29, 2019
From ‘Me to We’



Amos 5:1a, 4-7; 1 Tim. 6:6-19; St. Luke 16:19-31

As to those who in the present age are rich, …they are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.  1 Timothy 6:17a, 18-19

The story Jesus tells of the rich man and Lazarus is not a story about the afterlife.  It is the story of this life and what we do with our wealth.  St. Paul chimes in in his letter to Timothy insisting that simply taking hold of wealth does not lead to taking hold of the life that really is life.  Amos states God’s case against the wealthy who ignore the poor and are oblivious to those in need around them.

This parable comes in response to an earlier verse in this chapter of Luke: 

‘The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this and they ridiculed him [Jesus]…” St. Luke 16:14

A closer look at this parable of Jesus reveals that God reverses the order of things.  The rich man has no name, but Lazarus is named.  Their roles are reversed in the afterlife.  And God questions the rich man’s use of his power and wealth when alive.

All of the readings for today are a clear call to start living from ‘Me’ to ‘We.’

The ‘Me, Myself, and I’ mentality

There are those of us caught up in the daily grind.  Many of us are just too busy for anything or anyone else.  As a result we sometimes get into a ‘me’ mentality.   The ‘me’ mentality is a way of thinking that focuses on self-interest above all else and leads us to act accordingly.

Surprisingly the ‘Me ‘mentality has infected even those who are to be prime models of service.  In one study, a group of Christian theology students found themselves running late for a lecture they were told they had to give.  The students had the dilemma of making it from one side of campus to the other with barely enough time.  On the way a shabbily dressed man lay moaning in the doorway. 

Some of them even had to step over him in order not to be late.  Only 10% one in ten – stopped to help.  The irony was that they were on their way to give a lecture on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Source:  Me to We: Finding Meaning in the Material World by Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger, p.66]

When we are caught up in me, myself, and I – we become blind to the ‘Lazarus’ at our gate.  Life is devoted to looking out for number one.

This kind of thinking has influenced folks who say:
“I’ve done my part, paid my dues – now it my turn to sit back.”

There is a sense of entitlement that plagues people --whether it is in church or other organizations.  There is a cry to rest on one’s laurels of the past.  As if to say, “The institution owes me!”

That sense of entitlement puts self at the center, rather than others.  It hasn’t grasped God’s grace and the abundance of God’s gifts to be shared  no matter what age!

Those who operate out of a sense of entitlement are often blind to the Lazarus at one’s gate.

Rather than ask the question “What do I have to share at this stage in my life?”  Some folks just quit sharing.  Yes, there are certain limitations as we grow older.  At different stages in life we have different contexts, but in each of those contexts God has given us gifts to share with others. 

I have also heard "Let's take care of our own."  In other words - there has been too much reaching out.  Why even today we hear:  "America First!"

And who are those others at our gate?  Who is the ‘Lazarus’ at the gate?

At Spring Creek elementary school just a few blocks from us there are kids at our doorstep.  85% of the children at that school are so impoverished that they qualify for subsidized lunch program.  That means their family are living on the edge of poverty.

Wealth, we all too often think of wealth in terms of money.  What if we thought of it in terms of time?  Can you imagine what one hour a week dedicated to tutoring a child at Spring Creek elementary school might do for that child and the long range effect it could have?

It may mean one less golf game or bridge club or brunch – but the impact on that student just might be life changing. 

Are not these children the ‘Lazarus’ at our doorstep?

A true story told to me by one of our local pastors: 

An elderly lady at the church this pastor served has a debilitating disease.  She is no longer mobile.  This pastor visited this homebound woman.  The pastor found her in a state of loss and depression.  At her pastoral visit the pastor asked, “Now what do you love to do?”  “I love to knit!” she proudly announced.  The pastor said, “I love to knit, too!  Let’s pray about it!”

In a few weeks the pastor heard from this disabled homebound person.  The woman decided to knit squares and then have the squares made into lap blankets.  Soon they asked other members of the parish if they enjoyed knitting and 3 or four ladies stepped forward. 

Now a group known as ‘Knit Together’ uses the disabled ladies knitted squares and combines them with their own to create lap blankets.  They sometimes even meet at her house!

The point is that each one of us has wealth –whether it is money, time, talents, or gifts. 

The point is that there is a Lazarus at our gate that we may not even be aware of yet. 

The point is that the Christian calling is to move from me to we.

The Christian life is never just about me – it is about us.  The Christian life is about the world.  “God so loved the world…” St. John writes.  He did not write:  “God so loved me!”  Of course God loves you as an individual but God’s love does not stop there. 

Christianity is not primarily about me “being saved,” but is primarily about sharing the grace and love that God has so abundantly bestowed on us.  Each one of us is given God’s grace and we are called to share that grace.

Especially at this time in our history where there are children separated from their families in cages at our southern border.  

Yet don’t be discouraged by the enormous problems in the world.  There are enormous problems – 21,000 people on this planet die each day due to lack of food and proper nutrition.  Wars continue – conflict and violence.  Do not be discouraged.  You and I can and do make a difference.

We have opportunities:  our monthly food ingathering for two local pantries, the hunger walk.  These are intentional responses to the ‘Lazarus’ at our door. 

Yes, everyday -  it is the small stuff that counts – one action, one act of faith, one small step at a time.

Craig and Marc Kielburger describe this Christ-like philosophy in their book Me to We:

“Me to We [is] a way of living that feeds the positive in the world – one action, one act of faith, one small step at a time.  Living Me to We has the potential to revolutionize kindness, redefine happiness and success, and rekindle community bonds powerful enough to change your life and the lives of everyone around you.”  [Introduction, page IX]

Christ certainly espouses moving from Me to We.  It is indeed a Christ-like way of life.  In fact it is the way to change our lives.  There is hope because the small step, the act of faith, the one action makes a big difference. 

The food given to our food pantries helps those who are unemployed or unable just to make it – to make it.  A letter written to our Congressional leaders on behalf of the immigrants or advocating for keeping the Food Stamp program will make a difference.

Walking for the hungry in the CROP Walk or generously sponsoring a walker helps to establish micro-businesses in developing countries as well as supply our local soup kitchens.  25% of those funds raised return to Rockford.

There is tremendous hope to turn the tide toward a world of “WE.”  Maybe just putting up a small world map somewhere on a wall that we will see daily can remind us of our global connections.

The call to faith in Christ is to live a real life – connected to each other and this world.  The call to faith in Christ means living in hope because what you do will make a difference. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes:

“At a tender age I discovered that it isn’t doing spectacular things that make you remarkable in the eyes of God, but instead, it is when you light just one candle to dispel a little bit of the darkness that you are doing something tremendous.  And if, as a global people, we put all the little bits of good together, we will overwhelm the world.”

Christian living is a constant movement from me to we!

Amen.
May be quoted with permission.
kennstorck@gmail.com











Tuesday, September 17, 2019



Proper 20C / Ordinary 25C / Pentecost +15
September 
22 2019


St. Luke 16:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Commentary:  St. Luke records another parable of reversal and the upside down nature of God’s Kingdom.  Shrewdness and imagination are lacking in the Church today.  Might we be schooled by the Children of this Age?

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

16 Then Jesus[a] 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[b] so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.[c]

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,[d] 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.”[e]

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 16:1 Gk he
  2. Luke 16:9 Gk mammon
  3. Luke 16:9 Gk tents
  4. Luke 16:11 Gk mammon
  5. Luke 16:13 Gk mammon

Children of This Age

Children of this world or
Children of light?
Who has the inside track?
Who has the insight?

Children of this world
street wise and savvy
live in the moment
nothing more to lose.
Choose a new road
and take many chances,
dancing in the dark
with reckless abandon.
Letting go only to discover
you can really fly
and God is a Lover.

Children of light
fear the darkness,
play it safe.
In control of their future
is only an illusion
leading to more
fear and confusion.
Without imagination
they circle the wagons
preparing for an invasion
of fire-breathing dragons.

Children of light learn from the Children of this age!
Let go!  Surrender!  Joyfully engage!
Shrewdness and wisdom are signs of God’s Kingdom.
Dare now to live in grace and freedom.

Copyright @ ‘A Poem a Sunday’
May be used with permission