Week 2 (4.17.2016)
Ground Work: Read Luke 19:1-27
Jesus showed us his eyes wide open when he looked up and saw Zacchaeus standing in a sycamore tree along the roadside of a crowed street in the village of Jericho (19:1-10). At eye level, Jesus would have seen a myriad of faces eager to get a good look at this teacher and healer. Instead, Jesus looked up and saw a man excluded by the faith community because he was tax collector on behalf of the Roman Empire. Jesus insisted on going to Zacchaeus’ house where this man’s life was turned upside down by his experience with Jesus. Zacchaeus was filled with radical generosity: he offered to give half of his possession to the poor and restitution to any he cheated by repaying them four times what he owed them!
As one of the two last stories told by Jesus only in Luke’s gospel and right before his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it is clear that they have important messages for us to consider. Is it any surprise that Jesus caused a stir in the local religious community by going to a sinner’s home? The grumble mill started talking about this Jesus, the guest of a sinner!
To dispel the rumor that God’s kingdom was soon coming to an end, Jesus told the story of the ten pounds (not the famous ten pounds you were hoping to lose during Lent rather a unit of money). A wealthy man was leaving his servants to invest some of his money while he went to another country to gain greater power for himself. Like everything in life that has been entrusted to us, including our talents and time and money, how we invest our lives for good and for God matters (19:11-27).
While there are ten servants who each receive a pound with which to invest and do business, only three of them are mentioned upon the nobleman’s return. One is faithful and the return is ten times what he started with, another five times and the last servant did nothing with the talent, only returned it. The nobleman, while described as being harsh (v. 22) is a reference to Jesus who shortly will be going away and entrusting the ministry of the gospel to his followers. They are to use their talents for the sake of the kingdom of God.
At Grace we have been working toward a common understanding about God, our role, and life as we read the scriptures. Even if you have read or heard these theological statements numerous times, it is amazing how we discover something we may have missed before when we think about these important concepts once again.
It is all about relationships. Life is a collection of the relationships that we have made in our life. Our relationships are the fabric and color of our existence. Together, we share our times of joy, ordinary every day kinds of times as well as difficult days with family, friends and people who just happened to cross our path at the right time. Life is a tapestry of longtime, one time and every now and then relationships. Some friendships are like an old bedroom slipper where you may not talk for a long time but when you do, it is as if you talked yesterday. Other relationships are messy or require work to heal a broken relationship and some are simply unhealthy. In the case of an unhealthy relationship, let go if you can or create boundaries to protect yourself.
Movement toward (attraction) or away (resistance) begins one step at a time. A few choices here and there, a new controlling relationship and all of a sudden a mom and her daughter find themselves estranged. Like the slow drip, drip of water damage caused by a leaky faucet, most of our major relationship problems erode over time. Lori’s problems with her parents escalated when she dated, got engaged and married Stephon. Lori’s mom Diane saw little good in Stephon who quickly built a wall of control between Lori and her mom.
Now back in jail awaiting her transfer to prison, Lori has had her eyes opened wide to the mess her life has become. Stephon and Lori are both heroin addicts. They have burned through all the money they have earned and stolen to feed their addiction. They have both done jail and prison time before but each time they have gotten out, they have pulled each other back into drugs. Three wonderful children has not kept them clean.
Twelve years of this insanity and the wall between Lori and her mom was almost unscalable. It was one more insane choice that landed Lori back in jail. Talking with Lori through a television monitor at the jail showed a young woman who was very unsettled, extremely lonely and knowing things had to change (she had to change) but uncertain of the first steps. As she talked she discovered that despite her love for her husband they are not healthy together and next time she feared she could die. For the sake of her life and a chance at a future with her children, she knew she needs to pursue divorce.
Lori has begun to pursue God by reading her Bible and attending worship in jail. It is slow work. It is hard to grasp the grace of God when shame and guilt choke the soul. Jesus’ love sounds almost too good to be true yet she yearns to believe. As an advocate for Lori, her mom and dad have done the difficult thing and come to visit her. Many tears have been shed. The walls are starting to come down as honest conversation happens. With eyes wide open to acknowledge past mistakes and yet focused with hope on an amazing God, hope for the future is being restored. Relationships take work yet they are one of the most important things we do in life. Relationships matter.
At Grace, we speak often about key biblical principles or lens through which we read Scripture and interpret life. In addition to “it’s all about relationships” here are five more keys:
- It all begins with God. This important first word was demonstrated week one. How was God at work in Lori’s life even before her eyes were opened wide to the insanity of her situation?
- God works through people. The primary way that God gets stuff done on earth is through people.
- Changed circumstances often lead to new discoveries. When the road of life you are traveling comes to an intersection, you have to make a choice which either way leads to something new.
- No one is beyond God’s ability to reclaim and recycle for good and for God. All people have a root of good because God created everyone and everything God created is good.
- No perfect time, just the right time. With eyes wide open, any time can be the right time to see God at work in others as well as our own situation.
Personal Reflection on Relationships:
As much as I may talk or write about relationships, it does not mean that I am by any means an expert in my own relationships. I find that people who fix cars all day do not necessarily want to go home and fix their own car! Teachers tell me all the time that the last thing they want to do on Sunday is teach Sunday School. My best teacher in life is my wife Jody, and a lot of what I teach or write about on relationships I have learned from her.
The honest truth is that when it comes to learning from Jody about our relationship, I was a slow learner in the early years. I never really heard nor saw my parents have a disagreement so I was ill equipped to know the etiquette of negotiating or for that matter, shared decision-making. In hindsight, despite the fact that my mom was a college graduate and a teacher my whole childhood, my dad made most of the decisions on major purchases. Those tendencies found their way into my head and after all of these years, I still have some default behavior that is not helpful nor appreciated.
We have worked through some tough times together and she has helped me to learn how to listen more closely and to restate what I think I am hearing. In addition to being very good at putting into words what she is feeling and thinking, Jody’s most important value in a relationship is honesty. With honesty on the table, we have been able to work through each problem.
Another value that has been with us since the beginning of our marriage is to work out our problems before we go to sleep. Honestly, neither of us can sleep much with dissonance in our relationship. There have been some very long nights of work and short nights of sleep. I do recall one Sunday morning heading off to preach with our issue still at bay. It was a pretty generic message when you cannot speak relationally with words like love or forgiveness. One Sunday out of thirty-four years is not too bad!
There have been times in our marriage when we have been better about praying together than at other times. What I do know is that Jody prays for me when I am out and about doing my thing in God’s name and I have her back when she is doing God’s thing at her school. Jody is my prayer partner for life. It is precious and intimate. It heals our hearts when they hurt, comforts us when we struggle and gives us a close proximity to each other’s hearts and minds. I always tell couples that praying together is the most intimate thing you can do with and for each other.
- Jesus was not afraid of what others thought of him. What mattered most was responding to the guidance of God who put people in Jesus’ path. Zacchaeus found himself in Jesus sight. Despite the anticipated grumbling, Jesus still invited himself to Zacchaeus table. What strikes you as important for you to take away from this story?
- We all have God-given talents and a purpose to share the love of Jesus with others. What talents has God given you for which you are thankful? Are there any talents you have hidden away and not used? How is God using you as a witness for him in your relationships?
- It is never too late if possible to build bridges of reconciliation to people with whom you are estranged. Keep in mind that it takes a willingness on both parties to heal a break. Not all relationships are healthy and they can inflict pain. No one deserves to be abused. You must judge what is right for you. What caught your eye in the story about Lori and her mom?
- Praying together with a spouse or good friend is a gift. It unites our souls together. It is so encouraging and important to know that someone is praying for you. Who is or could be a prayer partner for you?