GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

A New Economy of Power - 08/28/2016

Have you people heard of this Rabbi Jesus from Nazareth?

He's not like any rabbi I've ever met or heard about. My whole family, my whole town is talking about him and rejoicing over the things he has said and done – especially after this Sabbath dinner that was held at the house of the Pharisee Simon. My name is Mara and my master is the Pharisee Simon. I work in his house as a servant. My father, Johnathan, works there too, as a laborer.

And let me tell you, my whole life has been changed by the teachings of this Rabbi Jesus and what I've seen him do with my own eyes! I feel more hopeful and loved by this great God of ours then ever before!

So, have you heard about him? Well let me tell you all about what happened on that wonderful Sabbath day … but wait, I have to back up first. So much  has happened, and I have a feeling there is even more to come!

You see, this Rabbi Jesus has been staying here in my town for awhile now. I've seen him at the synagogue and I've seen him around the town too. Always he has a crowd of people around him, listening very hard to the way he explains the law and who God is and how God wants be understood in our lives. The people ask him questions too, sometimes they even seem to argue with him, something some other rabbis would never allow. But this rabbi does. He gives them his full attention when they talk, and he looks at them with this warmth and kindness in his eyes – in his whole face – as they ask their questions and present their arguments. It goes back and forth like this – for as long as it takes, I guess – until pretty soon, the faces of those questioning and arguing with the Rabbi also soften and soon after that happens everyone is moving on and departing from each other as if they have been friends forever, walking off like they are walking on air to their homes or their jobs or, in Rabbi Jesus' case probably, the next group of people who want to discuss and question and argue with his teachings.

A lot of what he has been talking about and what people have been questioning him about is this Kingdom of God he talks about all the time.

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, he says, small but containing enormous potential. He cures people who are sick or possessed by demons that make them wild or very sad and then tells them the Kingdom of God is near. Blessed are those who are poor, he says, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Now I am just a servant girl. I have no social status. I'm not invited to dine with people like the Pharisee Simon. I am not even always free to observe the Sabbath. I have to do my job so that the household I work for is able to properly observe the Sabbath. It's just the way it is in this world. And that also means that I cannot just join these groups of people who constantly gather around the Rabbi Jesus – although I'd sure like to, because I have some questions myself. But I do find ways to linger for as long as I can so I can overhear what the Rabbi is saying.

One time I was coming back from the market and I saw him talking to some people in the shade of a tree. The items I was carrying from the market weren't wrapped up very well in my cloak and I was afraid I was going to drop something, so I stopped to rearrange what I had purchased and realized I could hear what the Rabbi Jesus was saying. So I took my time getting my things together and I heard him telling the story of a rich man who had a great harvest, but he didn't know what to do with all the extra grain. So he tore down his barns and made bigger ones to store up all this grain for himself. But then he died before he and his family could even use the grain and I imagine it all rotted in those barns, which is a shame because there are always people who are hungry and dying from lack of food. And when the rich man died, God told him he was a fool for storing up all that grain for himself instead of sharing it with others. Jesus said we should remember that God is taking care of us in many ways, just like God takes care of the lilies of the field, makes them so beautiful and provides the rain and sun they need.

I never heard a rabbi talk about God like that or talk about what we do with our gifts from God like that. It made me want to hear more.

So one morning he was talking with a group of people near the well where I draw water every day, and so I took my time. I let some other servants go ahead of me, and pretended to join in some of the morning gossip while I listened with my other ear to what the Rabbi Jesus was saying.

The people he was with were upset about some Jews who had been killed by the Romans and then further and deeply disrespected when their blood was mixed in with the sacrifices they had brought to offer to God. It was a terrifying example of how my people are treated by the Romans. Some people think that this is all happening because God is mad at us, because we don't always do perfectly what the Pharisees and the high priests say we must do to be true and obedient people of God, which seems to have more to do with being obedient people to the emperor of Rome, in my opinion.

But the Rabbi Jesus was saying that this was the wrong way to look at it. He asked the group if they really thought those people murdered were worse sinners than anyone else. I thought that was a really good point, because I can guarantee you, from what I've seen and heard in my home, in the market, in my master's house, sin is something everyone has in common, no matter how rich or poor. Even very important and powerful people like the Pharisee Simon who make the rules and tell us exactly how to be good God-fearing and faithful Roman citizens aren't perfect. I've seen that for myself many times, although I would never say that to him.

And then the Rabbi told them a story to help them understand that what's more important to know about sin and is that we must acknowledge the ways we turn from God and ask God for forgiveness. He said he was there to help free us of our sins so that our lives could be fruitful, just like the gardener who argues with the vineyard owner to give a struggling fig tree more time and more care so it too can grow fruits that feed others.

When I went home that night, I told my family about what I had heard. And when we prayed together, I thought about the ways I had sinned and I asked God to forgive me.

A couple of days later, we all went to see one of the Rabbi's disciples who was baptizing people in the river. We were all baptized together and I could feel the truth and power of what the Rabbi Jesus was saying that day at the well. I could feel it in my heart that my sins were forgiven and I was loved by God and there was nothing or no one who could take that from me, ever.

Shortly after that, we began to hear about a disturbance at the synagogue. Jesus healed this woman from our town who was crippled. All my life I have seen this woman bent over. I cannot imagine what that must be like and I have prayed for her many times. When the Rabbi Jesus saw her, people told us he called her over and said “Woman, you are set free from your ailment,” and she was healed!

And it's true. I've seen her since. She stands as straight and strong as cypress tree now. And even though the whole thing got Jesus in trouble with the synagogue leaders and caused a lot of controversy, I started praying to God for healing in my own family.

You see my father has been very sick with dropsy and it's getting worse. It makes everything about his life so hard. His legs swell up terribly and they hurt him constantly. He can't sleep and he's worried about losing his job.

My mother is constantly fearful that my father will die, because then my brother will have to care for us and his own family too and it's already hard enough. So I began to pray to God that Jesus would help us and heal my father too.

Well, low and behold, Jesus was invited to this dinner by the Pharisee Simon and he ran into my father on the way. And he cured him. I know I prayed and I know God hears our prayers, but I really didn't expect this to happen right after all the uproar of when Jesus cured the the crippled woman on the Sabbath. It caused so much trouble for him and I heard the Pharisee Simon talking to others about how they would be watching Jesus very closely now. He is starting to cause too much trouble.

But Jesus cured my father anyway and before he did it, he asked the lawyers and the Pharisees who were with him whether it was lawful to cure people on the Sabbath. They were silent. That doesn't happen very often.

And then he was there in the house. I had a chance to listen in again as he began teaching at the table. And it seemed like it was a lesson in table manners, which was pretty funny after watching all those self-important guests try to impress my master and compete with each other over who was placed closest to him at the table. The Rabbi Jesus was telling them a story that I recognized from the teachings of Solomon: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, 'Come up here,' than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” (Prov. 25:6-7)

But then Jesus added to this great teaching. He looked right at my master with that same kind and warm face, and told him that when he hosts a meal like this, he should not invite his friends and relatives or those who are powerful. Instead, Jesus told him he should invite the poor, the crippled and lame, the blind. It was astounding! The Pharisee Simon got all red in the face and everyone started fidgeting.

You see the thing about these meals is if you accept the invitation, you are expected to repay the one who invited you with your loyalty, with gifts, and with equal invitations.

But the people who the Rabbi told the Pharisee Simon he should be inviting to his table of abundance – people like me and my father and the crippled woman at the synagogue – we cannot repay in the ways expected, not to mention this just isn't done. The poor and lowly don't eat with the rich and powerful. Our loyalty is not valuable enough for people like the Pharisee Simon and we certainly cannot afford the kind of gift or return invitation to dinner that would be expected by someone as powerful as the Pharisee Simon.

And suddenly I really began to understand what the deeper meaning was behind the wisdom of Solomon on table etiquette and what the Rabbi Jesus is trying to teach us about the Kingdom of God and where true power lies.

What Solomon was saying wasn't how to use table manners as a clever way of gaining status in the eyes of others. Solomon said we should not seek a high seat of honor because truly we are no different than anyone at the table – we shouldn't assume we are any more or any less than anyone else.

And further, the Rabbi Jesus is assuring us that none of this competition for status and importance can compete at all with the power of God. In the Kingdom of God, the table of abundance is open to everyone, even me, even all of you, no matter your position in the world, no matter how big small your home is, no matter how much political sway you have, no matter your sin, no matter whether you go to sleep with a full or empty belly.

At this table of abundance, the table of the Kingdom of God, we are each of us placed right next to God and we all live equally in this true power and true freedom. And in that freedom I now pray that you will join me and share this amazing story of how the Rabbi Jesus has changed everything for me, for each of you and forever.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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