Summary: PENTECOST 17, YEAR C - The greatest story ever told is the one about "True Love".
One dark night outside a small town, a fire started inside the local chemical plant. Before long it exploded into flames and an alarm went out to fire departments from miles around. After fighting the fire for over an hour, the chemical company president approached the fire chief and said, "All of our secret formulas are in the vault in the center of the plant. They must be saved! I will give $50,000 to the engine company that brings them out safely!" As soon as the chief heard this, he ordered the firemen to strengthen their attack on the blaze. After two more hours of attacking the fire, the president of the company offered $100,000 to the engine company that could bring out the company’s secret files. From the distance, a long siren was heard and another fire truck came into sight. It was a local volunteer fire company composed entirely of men over 65. To everyone’s amazement, the little fire engine raced through the chemical plant gates and drove straight into the middle of the inferno. In the distance the other firemen watched as the old timers hopped off of their rig and began to fight the fire with an effort that they had never seen before. After an hour of intense fighting, the volunteer company had extinguished the fire and saved the secret formulas. Joyous, the chemical company president announced that he would double the reward to $200,000 and walked over to personally thank each of the volunteers. After thanking each of the old men individually, the president asked the group what they intended to do with the reward money. The fire truck driver looked him right in the eye and said, "The first thing we’re going to do is fix the brakes on that truck!" Things are not always as they seem. A person’s motivation may not be what you expect it to be. Especially when your standard for judgment is yourself.
As we open to the gospel of Luke this morning we see that our Lord is still ministering in the area of Perea on the east side of the Jordan, teaching his disciples the secrets of the kingdom of God. As the tax-gatherers and sinners gathered around him to listen to his teaching, a group of Pharisees surrounded him also. This is the same crowd which began in chapter 15 to hear his parables inviting everyone to God’s feast, about God seeking lost things and the call to put God above the world. However, the Pharisees, did not have an easy time with Jesus’ preaching and at these last words they scoffed at him. P’h-h-h Yeah right! Jesus. “you cannot serve God and mammon”. Get real, that’s not what we teach. You can sense the tension building, can’t you between the Pharisees and Jesus with the disciples and the crowd watching it all with baited breath. These two sources of religious authority, Jesus the back country lay preacher on one hand and the established religious higherarchy on the other hand were clearly at odds when it came to interpreting the will of God. A difference of opinions that put their religious teachings into a head-on collision. You see in Jesus’ day there was a commonly held belief that went like this. If a person obeyed God’s commandment God would then bless them the result of that blessing being: Long life, Prosperity, and Wealth. A + B = C. Simply really. Except that the religious leaders, who like the founding fathers of our country, were the land owners, the rich, the makers and shakers, had turned that common belief around so that it now said, “If you are rich then you must be blessed by God, therefore, you must be in the will of God.” C + B = A. So to the Pharisees to serve mammon, that is to seek after wealth and possessions, was the same thing as serving God. The rich believed this. The poor believed this. Even Jesus’ own disciples believed this to be true. In John 9:1-3 we read, “And as He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?’” By this standard it was easy to determine who was in and who was out of God’s favor. If you were poor, unemployed, ill, deformed, then of course you were on the outside. For God clearly had not blessed you. If, on the other hand, you had been born into a wealthy and powerful family. If you been raised with a silver spoon in your mouth. Had never gone without, never suffered, never wanted for anything. Then surely you were one of God’s favored people. God’s blessings must surely be on you and all that you did was within the will of God. So standing there before Jesus was a crowd of people who thought that they were on the outside. A group of disciples hoping to make it to the inside. And handful of Pharisees who knew for a fact that they were already on the inside.