Proper 24C Sermon (2016)

Proper 24 (October 16-22)
Texts: Luke 18:1-8;
Gen. 32:22-31; 2 Tim. 3:14-4:5


For what justice would a persistent widow be crying out for today? Where is the gap in justice for women today? Unfortunately, this election season is manifesting a huge gap in answering that question between men and women. Polls show that, if only men voted on November 8, Donald Trump would win comfortably. And, if only women voted on November 8, Hillary Clinton would win by an unprecedented margin of victory, a huge landslide. I lift up this aspect of the polls as another glimpse of the polarization that exists in our nation right now over so many issues.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our nation needs us right now . . . badly! It so sorely needs followers of Jesus who can be part of healing the polarization, that this nation, this world, might move forward in peace and justice for all God’s children.

But right now Christians have also been part of the problem. Haven’t we? We have tended to be as polarized as the rest of the nation. Is there any way forward? In the last three weeks I have been presenting from a new book that I think truly helps point the way forward. I have offered three glimpses of the three “great spiritual migration” proposed by Christian author Brian McLaren, who many are calling the Martin Luther for today’s church.

Last week, we tackled the spiritual migration we need in our experience of God. We need to move from the cultural God-on-our-side that tends to divide us into polarized human groups, to the experience of God-is-love, the God who is on all our sides and wants us to us to work together as family. This week, I’d like to suggest with Brian McLaren that that requires a spirituality which helps us to get some separation from our cultural institutions, so that we might better hear what justice God wants for us. It means not only persistently praying like the widow in today’s reading, but I think it also means reviving a different way to pray — in other words, a spiritual migration around spirituality itself. The Gospels testify to Jesus praying in these ways —  especially the forty days and nights he spends in the wilderness battling Satan. Jesus prayed by himself in a certain way that helped him move out of stuck human institutions and into God’s movement of the Spirit leading us human beings in God’s way for us to be more truly human.

[Extemporize lead-in to extended quote from The Great Spiritual Migration:]

There is so much right with Christianity. Sunday by Sunday, caring ministers prepare sermons into which they pour their hearts. Week by week they care for their flock, visiting the sick, honoring the dead, welcoming new life, nurturing those in need of counsel, challenge, recovery, or encouragement. Church musicians practice and prepare a weekly feast of beauty. Faithful people show up and generously show kindness to one another, from sharing after-church coffee and baked goods to preparing epic potluck dinners to cooking nourishing meals for the hungry and lonely. Hospitality abounds. Mission flows. People give money, year after year, so staff are supported, buildings are constructed and maintained, and the good news is spread in word and deed.

There is so much right with the world. The sun faithfully does its work, bathing us in life-sustaining energy. The moon faithfully does its work, lifting tides and letting them fall, and no one worries it will fail. Water faithfully does its work, the lifeblood of our planet, circulating from cloud to rain to stream to river to sea to cloud. Creatures do their work as well, filling the earth with life and song, sharing the gift of life through death and birth, through nesting and migration, through pollination and germination, each specimen a living miracle if we have eyes to see. Your body, a civilization of cells more sophisticated than any megacity, works amazingly well amazingly often, your heart beating, your lungs breathing, your eyes seeing, your mind aware.

There is so much right in humanity. Children play. Adolescents fall in love. Young couples marry. Lovers entangle their limbs, breath, and dreams. Babies are conceived and born and nurtured, through their smiles and cries teaching their parents to love in ways they never knew they were capable of. Friends laugh, plan adventures, throw parties, stick together, weep at gravesides after a lifetime of shared joy. Farmers grow, harvesters pick, transporters transport, grocers distribute, and meals of unimaginable variety and delight are prepared and eaten. Entrepreneurs plan and launch new ventures. Colleagues work side by side as managers seek to steer their companies toward success. Researchers seek cures, discoveries, solutions, understanding. Teachers teach and children catch the gift of curiosity. People are honest. They make promises they keep. People take vacations. They watch the surf, ride horses, cast lines, take hikes, swim, ski, bike, sail, and slow down so they can remember they are alive. Grandparents and elders watch all this, their eyes brimming with tears of joy.

There is so much right in the church, in the world, in humanity. There is so much good. And so much beauty. When we see it, even a tiny glimmer of how precious it is, our hearts swell in gratitude and awe.

And we feel in those moments why it matters for forward-leaning Christians to embark on this great spiritual migration: to support the wild goodness, rightness, beauty, and aliveness that surround us so that they can ever grow, ever thrive, ever diversify and deepen.

The Spirit of goodness, rightness, beauty, and aliveness, Jesus said, is always moving. Like wind, like breath, like water, the Spirit is in motion, inviting us to enter the current and flow.

The problem is that we often stop moving. We resist the flow. We get stuck. The word institution itself means something that stands rather than moves. When our institutions lack movements to propel them forward, the Spirit, I believe, simply moves around them, like a current flowing around a rock in a stream. But when the institutional and movement impulses work together, institutions provide stability and continuity and movements provide direction and dynamism. Like skeleton and muscles, the two are meant to work together.

For that to happen, we need a common spirituality. . . , often be derived from the mystical/poetic/contemplative streams within our traditions. . . . It is the linking of action and contemplation, great work and deep spirituality, that keeps the goodness, rightness, beauty, and aliveness flowing.

So, the great spiritual migration we need cannot simply be a matter of strategies and structures, as important as they are. Rather, as Pope Francis has said, this moment calls for social poets: sincere and creative people who will rise on the wings of faith to catch the wind of the Spirit, the wind of justice, joy, and peace. The season is changing, and it is time for us to rise. (pp. 179-81)

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Faith Lutheran,
Saginaw, MI, October 16, 2016


1. This sermon is based on the second of three spiritual migrations in Brian McLaren’s newly released book (Sept. 20) The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian. (We explored the first of three two Sunday’s ago and the second last Sunday.) I highly recommend this book for all! It is the essential guide to being better Christians for the sake of the world. This sermon draws on Part 3 of the book, the third of three great spiritual migrations that he elaborates.

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