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Sunday Sermon – Brenda, AiM

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)18th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   – “A TALE OF THREE BANQUETS”                                                             

TEXTS:   Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23; Matthew 22:1-14                                                                            

Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace.

“This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” The joyous response sings out from the Isaiah text – for God indeed, had provided a shelter for the poor, a victory celebration which included a feast beyond all imagining, a feast so sumptuous, so rich – and all peoples, all nations are invited! All expenses paid – totally all inclusive. The graciousness of the Host is humbling – yet exciting. It was what the people had been hoping, dreaming, and waiting for. Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation!

* Who, in their “right mind”, would ever pass up such an invitation?

A table has been set. Again, a meal of abundance and richness. The guest list might be a bit tricky for the person in charge of the seating arrangements. But the Host is personally well known and can be trusted. No harm will befall the guests. The hospitality basket is waiting for you in your guest room. No expense is spared. It is the red carpet treatment! The meal is exceptional and so is the wait staff. No cup remains unfilled. The generosity of the Host is overwhelming and legendary. Surely, this goodness and mercy experienced in the house of the Lord will follow all – forever.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         * Who, in their “right mind”, would ever pass up such an invitation?

The paparazzi have been on edge for weeks since the announcement was made. The royal son is to be married! Everyone is vying for a coveted invitation…speculation as to where and when and of course, what the bridal couple would be wearing for the ceremony has been splashed all over the entire country. Then suddenly, out of the blue, you open your mailbox…And, there it is! That invitation you never dreamed would come let alone have your name printed on the envelope. The invitation says, “Bring no gifts – just come – your presence is all that is required. Appropriate transportation, housing, and apparel will be provided for you upon your arrival. All expenses paid. Simply come and celebrate with us!”   The hospitality of the Host is limitless and over-the-top!

* Who, in their “right mind”, would ever pass up such an invitation?

“Oh, but wait! Let me check the date of the wedding banquet. Umm, are you sure it is at this time and on this day? Ah, you see, I’m very sorry Mr. George Clooney 😉 I am not going to be able to make it to your wedding because, um, you see, there’s this really good TV show coming on and my DVR isn’t working right. Oh, and there’s this really good sale going on at the mall and I need to pick up a few things. Thank you so much for the invitation, but I really need to get the leaves raked up before the snow comes.”

* Who, in their “right mind”, would ever pass up such an invitation?

Yes, whom, indeed…

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Jesus told a parable indicating that the blessings of God’s kingdom are available to all, but the invitation is not to be taken lightly. Matthew’s version of the Wedding Banquet is harsher than Luke’s version; and, the final line “Many are called, but few are chosen” can make us very uncomfortable. Wondering who is “in” and who is “out.”

Many scholars, theologians and everyone who is preaching on this text have wrestled with it. We don’t like the judgmental aspect of this part of the gospel maybe because it applies to each of us personally. Yet, we have no squeamishness at other times making our own judgment calls about other people, who should be invited and welcomed in, who should be kept out. “Thank God, we would respond appropriately to the invitation.” Right?

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As is the case with all of scripture, it is important to look around at the text and see what was going on. Matthew’s gospel was written down a least a half century after Jesus’ death and resurrection – sometime after the Romans burned the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D. That context was a watershed moment for the life of the Jewish community. Seen as “God’s punishment”, they grieved, wondering where God was, now that their Temple had been destroyed. The community had also been fragmented as some Jews remained faithful to their religious tradition while others were now embracing Jesus as the Messiah. A schism had occurred and that tension shows up in Matthew’s gospel, and in particular, this parable; perhaps comparable to Martin Luther’s writings during the Reformation with his sharp comments and opinions toward Rome and the Papacy which followed similar lines.

Those preaching on this text wrestle with possible allegories and metaphors about clothing and being clothed in Christ’s righteousness as well as ancient Jewish wedding customs. They debate whether this fits solely into the context of its time or if it is eschatological – serving in an apocalyptic, or prophetic foretelling of the future ie. “This is a wake-up call story to keep us watching and waiting for the Second Coming of Christ.” Perhaps you have heard sermons in the past that have chosen a particular angle to bring home the point.

“Tell those who have been invited: everything is ready! Come to the wedding banquet!” the king said. But one by one they found excuses. All of which were duties that were good. They weren’t sinful or against the law. It’s just that the invitees made a choice of preference and priority. One by one, choices that didn’t include the king. In fact, the text says, “They made light of it and went away.”

Even though there is definitely a judgment (the folks who made excuses chose to excuse themselves from an amazing opportunity), there is also an amazing opportunity for grace. That is the point that jumped out at me this past week…

“Then he [the king] said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore, into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

As disciples of Jesus, we are called and sent out to invite all whom we meet – both “good and bad” – to come to this banquet, this Feast of Forgiveness and Grace. Our call is to continue to invite and welcome. Judgment is reserved for the Lord. We are also invited to join in at the Lord’s Table where indeed the cup of his grace is running over. Where the honored Guest at the table becomes our Host. Welcoming all people, loving, healing, transforming hearts and lives as we dwell in the house of the Lord…forever.                                                                                                                                                               *Who, in their “right mind”, would not want to experience hope and wholeness in their life?

Or, for the lives of their neighbors?

Even though all of life includes Stewardship – in the coming weeks we are especially focusing on this aspect, this discipline of following Jesus. Scripture repeatedly speaks of tithing our financial resources ten (10) percent. In this coming week, as you remember the Parable of the Wedding Banquet and the banquet tables set in Psalms and Isaiah, think about how you spend your time. Does God receive ten (10) percent of your time during the month, week, day? What invitations and sumptuous tastes of God’s goodness might you be missing as the schedules of busyness are put into place?

I know for myself and probably most of us, our days are filled with good things to be done or attended to. In most cases, we aren’t tempted by the gross, harmful things.

We are tempted to overdo by settling for the good, and in the process, we ignore God’s invitation to come for the best. Spending time in daily devotions with an open heart is to sit at that banquet table. Bible study with others brings encouragement and builds community. Choosing to come and participate in worship clears the heart, mind and palate to receive the cup of God’s love which forever runs over. Feasting on the Word brings strength and courage for our journey of faith and our life of service.

The graciousness of the Host is humbling – yet exciting!

*Who, in their “right mind” would be too busy to pass up such an invitation?

It is what all people have been created for and are hungry for whether they realize it or not: to be loved and whole. It is what all people have been hoping, dreaming and waiting for.

“This is the Lord for whom we have waited: let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation!”                                                                                              

* Come, your place at the table is ready. Thanks be to God. Amen.

– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)The landowner in our parable expects his share of the harvest. He provided the land, planted vineyard and supplied the winepress. For us, it is a version of what Luther says in his explanation of the first article of the creed:

God provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all I need from day to day.

And in the explanation of the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther lists all that God provides for us.

Daily bread, includes everything needed for this life, such as food and clothing, home and property, work and income, a devoted family, an orderly community, good government, favorable weather, peace and health, a good name, and true friends and neighbors.

We don’t provide these for ourselves, it is God who provides them for us. And Luther says that because God provides me with all this, “Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey God.“ But like the tenants in Jesus’ parable, we claim for ourselves both the resources God provides and the fruit that God expects to harvest through our lives. Like the tenants, we pretend that God is dead by the way we ignore God’s hand in our lives and God’s claim on the fruit of our labor.

Faithful stewardship recognizes that God provides us with resources and responsibilities. We like to think the resources are rewards or something we earned or provided for ourselves. We take credit for what has come from God. And God provides so many resources! God gives us management not only over our time, talents, and financial resources; but also over the opportunities and the connections and the many circumstances of our lives. We live in a country where there is freedom, prosperity, education, and concern for the “common good.” Law and order, roads, schools, rules for commerce and fair trade, parks to preserve the beauty of creation, libraries, and an economic safety net are all resources God provides for us in this place, so that the fruit we bear might be a source of blessing for the world.

Stewardship also includes the responsibilities God entrusts us with. This includes caring for our own personal well-being and that of our families; it incudes caring for our neighborhoods and communities; it includes establishing the “common good” for our state, our nation and for people throughout the world; it includes caring for creation; and it includes spreading the good news of God’s abundant love and grace for all people everywhere. The thing about stewardship is that it is not just about how I support the ministries of the church, but it is the way we live our whole lives – everything we have is a resource from God for our stewardship and everything we do bears fruit for the well-being of the God’s world.

Yes, Because God provides us with so much, we know that we are blessed – and we are blessed so that we can be a blessing. That is the theme for our stewardship emphasis this year – blessed to be a blessing. And how do we pass on the blessing? A recommendation I have long heard for faithful stewardship is the 10 – 10 – 80 rule. Give away 10%, save 10%, and live on the remaining 80%. And the question is: “where does your tithe go – the 10% you give away?” What part of that goes to the church, what part of that goes to other charities, and what part do you keep for yourself? I challenge you to think about it that way. And then I would encourage you to pray and ponder about how you might make adjustments in your life so that you don’t need to keep for yourself a portion of the tithe that God urges you to give away. Certainly for some, it is very difficult to give away 10%, because I know that there are people who have to choose between buying needed prescriptions and buying food. And for people in those circumstances, it is important for you to use the resources God gives you to tend to the responsibilities in your own home. But for many, I believe, you can be challenged here to grow in your giving as a sign of thanks to God – to grow in your giving so that you can be a blessing.

And the real gospel here is that God, the landowner, is persistent. And even when we rebel against God’s ownership of all that we have, God does not give up on us. Because the crucified and risen Jesus is the true vine in God’s vineyard, and he is also the vine dresser (Jesus always seems to turn into some kind of mixed metaphor), but he takes our dead branches and he grafts us into the resurrected and living vine that is himself, and we are given new life so that we can faithfully bear the fruit of the kingdom.

May you feel the life of Christ flowing through you so that you can be the faithful stewards God calls you to be – blessed to be a blessing. Amen.

Sunday Sermon – Pr. Loren

  1. 1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

You may remember the scene at a political debate a few years ago:

  1. Question: a young man with not health insurance becomes sick and needs medical care to stay alive
  2. Candidate: In a free society people are free to take risks and live with the consequences
  3. Question Pressed: should we let him die
  4. Audience: before candidate can figure out a response someone shouts “yes” and the crowd cheers and applauds
  5. Paul says to the Philippians:
  1. “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

A Christmas Carol

  1. Gentlemen come to Scrooge’s office to “raise some money for the poor”
  2. Scrooge inquires whether the poor laws—which imprisoned the poor in work houses—were still operating—these Scrooge already supported with his taxes
  3. When the gentlemen say, “many can’t go there; and many would rather die;” Scrooge response: “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.
  4. Later, when Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Present, he asks about Tiny Tim—his clerk’s crippled son, with some compassion in his voice.
  5. The Ghost answers:

Ch. Present : “I see a vacant seat, in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”

Scrooge: “No, no. Oh, no, kind Spirit! Say he will be spared.”

Ch. Present: “If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race, will find him here. What then? ‘If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’ Your own words, are they not? Do not say such words again until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide who shall live, who shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child!”

  1. Scrooge learns:
    1. On Christmas day he finds the men who asked for his contribution the day before, and he arranges to supply them with years of back payments
    2. And he endeavors to assist his clerks struggling family,
    3. And as Dickens concludes his story, “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, … and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”
  • “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

The Christ Hymn

  1. Let the same mind be in you as was in Jesus
  2. Jesus—equality with God
  3. Not something to be exploited
    1. How easy we “exploit” for ourselves any resources or advantages that come our way – talent, work opportunities, money, positions of power, our birth in free and wealthy country,
    2. Global Poverty / Hunger – 80% live on $10 or less a day / half on less than $2.50 / 30,000 children died every day because of hunger
  4. Yet in the face of these statistics we do little to change the hunger statistics – we look to our own interests and exploit our advantages
    1. Adam Smith (18th century economist) – we want to believe his idea –
      • when everyone looks after their own self-interest, it creates the greatest good for everyone.
      • Over 200 years of that thinking has only increased wealth for the rich and powerful, and left the poor more and more destitute.
      • Subsistence farming – once a viable option for the poor – is no longer an option, because land for such living is no longer available.
      • Basing our economic thinking on Adam Smith’s principles, means that we encourage an economy that is based on greed, and if I am not mistaken that was once considered one of the seven deadly sins.
    2. Stewardship recognizes that God gives us resources to tend to responsibilities—well-being of family, community, environment, world
    3. Paul encourages the exact opposite of Adam Smith
  5. “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

Emperor Julian (4th century grandson of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor)

  1. Julian sought to outlaw Christianity and bring back the older state religion of Rome.
  2. The big problem was the generosity that Christians had learned from Jesus to look to the interests of others — and they made that caring concern a deep part of their way of life in those early centuries of the church.
  3. Julian: “It is disgraceful, that, when no Jew has to beg and the impious Christians take care not only of their own poor but ours as well, all see that our people lack aid from us.”
  4. The generosity of Christians was the chief reason people were turning to the Christianity faith and deserting the ancient Roman religions.

May you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others, and may you be filled with the spirit of generosity and compassion, so that like Scrooge and those early Christians, you may have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not regard it as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, in compassion and in love. AMEN

Sunday Sermon – Brenda, AiM

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)15th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST – Sept. 21, 2014                          

Texts:Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16                                                             

Themes: God’s scandalous love and grace…how are we to respond to that when it is given to others?

Opening Prayer:   Gracious Lord, when we wander off, you find us. When we harden our hearts against our neighbors, you call us to account. When we hold back forgiveness, you send us in peace to love and serve all in need. Help us to pay attention and to seek out the least among us, leading them to safety and giving them hope. So nurture and protect all who are in need that they might know they are first in your kingdom. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, our rock, and our Redeemer. Amen.

“CAUGHT & CALLED”

The story of Jonah is extravagant, ironic, and playful hyperbole. In that time, the words of the prophets were not always respected or followed amongst their own people. So you can only imagine what might have been going through Jonah’s head when “The Word of the Lord” came to him to preach to his people’s mortal enemies.

Jonah ran the other way.

After running in the opposite direction of where God had called him to go – God literally “caught” Jonah’s attention. If we get sidetracked on whether or not it was a whale or the size of the fish that “caught” Jonah, we miss the main point. We worship a God who is without dimensions. A God of abundant grace!

The story of Jonah shows us that “You can run but you cannot hide from God.” And so, Jonah finds himself (after several uncomfortable detours) back on the road to call his enemies to repentance. Put into our modern day context – it might be similar to you hearing God tell you to walk right into the middle of an ISIS or Al Qaeda headquarters and tell them God wants them to shape up. Are you getting the picture in understanding why Jonah the Israelite was looking for every excuse in the book to not “preach” to his Ninevite enemies?

What to preach? (That’s the same question I’ve been asking myself all this week!) Should Jonah go in and blast the wrongdoers, the “evil ones” with judgment for justice’s sake, which if he really had to go there, is what he wanted to do. Or, should he preach love?

Hmm…what would you do?

Here is a story where an “insider” reluctantly becomes the instrument of God’s warning for “outsiders.” Jonah barely pronounces the prophetic call in a foreign culture…and they “caught on!” The shortest sermon ever recorded in scripture brought about some amazing results. One sentence! The text tells us that even the animals repented! Jonah didn’t preach longer and he didn’t preach much because deep down, he had been hoping for some of God’s fire and brimstone to rain down on his enemies. Instead, God rained down grace and mercy.

Put yourself in Jonah’s sandals. Deep down, could you ask God to rain down grace and mercy on our national enemies? Or, bless the kid in class that picks on you? Or, the company you work for that keeps cutting back on its promises to the workers? How do you respond to God’s call? Run in the other direction? Hide? Finally give in and answer? Is there anyone in your life that you would not want God to bless? Think about it. And, hold that thought as we take a glance at the parable of the vineyard.photo

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In Jesus’ day, field workers/day laborers would gather at the marketplace in the early morning hoping to be chosen for work. If you weren’t picked, you had no work. That equals no pay. In the subsistence living world of peasants and migrant workers (which still happens today and even in our own country), that meant, no money for food, no paycheck – going home to your family empty handed.

Perhaps the other workers who were overlooked in the first round of hiring were older, or too young, or perhaps they didn’t have “connections.” Maybe they had made some mistakes in the past and were trying to get their life back together. Or, maybe some health or ability issues left them waiting to be hired even though they were willing to work to provide for their families.

Hired/or called to the work field at different shifts, the land owner chose to be generous toward the workers.

As is often the case with Jesus’ parables, the point hits home somewhere underneath the obvious. This is not just a “nice” story about economics or good business practices. It seeks to teach us something about God’s field, God’s kingdom and the work we are called to do. When the paychecks were passed out to the workers at the end of the day, each received a fair day’s wage.

The land owner in the parable followed through on all of his agreements with the workers. He did not short change anyone of them!

Somehow, God’s salary schedule is different than our understanding. Full day and just a part of the day worked and all equal pay? Had there been cell phones back then, you can bet the speed dial call to the Union Steward might have been made immediately! Would we be grateful for the full day’s work and the full day’s pay to provide for our family’s needs? Of course! So, why is it so hard to be thankful when God’s mercy and grace is shown to others? Is it a question of justice or love?

Whether we have had times in our lives wandering off from God, God waits patiently and God still calls. God welcomes us and loves us, offering forgiveness, fresh new starts, grace and mercy. It doesn’t matter if our grandparents were charter members of this congregation – or any congregation – or, we are brand new to faith and a faith community. We are called to welcome all people and encourage them to share their gifts in this field, in this body of Christ without harboring resentment or envy. Envy simply robs us of the present joy we have. The gifts are God’s to give. Every person has value and is loved in God’s eyes – no matter what age, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.

As followers of Christ, we are “caught” in God’s love and “called” to live out of the generosity of God through gracious hospitality in welcoming all people. We are called to live into the generosity of God when reaching out to others in service and in help. We are called to trust in the God whose love and forgiveness, grace and mercy are without dimension.

We are called to share “the scandal of grace,” inviting others to work alongside us – no matter what time of the day they arrive – to bring God’s love to all people: even to our enemies, even to those who prefer judgment and begrudge God’s gift of forgiveness to “the other.”

The scandal of God’s grace toward the Ninevites and to Jonah, to the workers in the vineyard and to you and me, might be summed up by a favorite quote from former ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. Many of you will recognize this as we had it in our bulletins for quite some time. It goes like this:

“We finally meet one another not in our agreements or disagreements, but, at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.”

May we answer the call to live lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry
– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)Genesis 50:15-21

Lectionary 24 A

September 14, 2014

Because we have been forgiven – because we have been wrapped in the arms of God’s love and filled with unexpected blessings, we, for our part must also forgive – as we say in our pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son.  There were ten older brothers, but they never quite won Jacob’s heart in the way that Joseph did.  And the reason goes back to their mothers (as in mothers plural)—because we are dealing here with a time when it was a normal practice for a man to have as many wives as he could afford.  Jacob had two wives—Leah and Rachel.  They were sisters, daughters of Jacob’s uncle Laban.  Jacob fell in love with Rachel when he met her watering sheep at a well, but because she was his younger daughter, Laban exchanged Leah for Rachel at the wedding, leaving Jacob married to the sister of the woman he loved.  But once the older sister was married, Laban agreed to let Jacob marry Rachel as well.

Then came the children.  Leah was not the wife that Jacob loved, but she was the one who was able to conceive and bear his children—Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah—to begin with.  Rachel did not conceive; and she was jealous of her sister—as you can imagine might be the case in that kind of marriage.  Now, the sisters each had a handmaid as a slave, and Rachel, to claim children for herself, gave her handmaid Bilhah to her husband and she bore two sons for Jacob—Dan and Naphtali.  Not to be outdone by her sister, Leah gave Jacob her handmaid Zilpah, who also bore two sons for Jacob—Gad and Asher.  Then Leah conceived again and she bore more of Jacob’s children—Issachar and Zebulun, and finally a daughter Dinah.  Then, after the other women who shared Jacob’s bed had given birth to eleven of Jacob’s children, Rachel—Jacob’s beloved—finally conceived and gave birth to a son—Joseph.  Rachel was also the mother of the last of Jacob’s children, Benjamin, but in giving birth to this last child, Rachel died.

So Joseph, the eldest of Rachel’s children, was Jacob’s favorite—and should that come as a surprise.  Choosing favorites sort of ran in the family.  Jacob had been his mother’s favorite, and his brother Esau was his father’s favorite. Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had chosen between his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, and Ishmael had been sent away to make a life for himself as best he could.

As a teenager, Joseph would sometimes help his brothers with the sheep, and when he came home he liked to tell his father how badly they did things.  Then Jacob gave Joseph a beautiful robe of many colors.  Soon after that, Joseph started telling his brothers about his dreams.  “We were binding grain into sheaves in the field, and all your sheaves of grain bowed down to mine” he told them.  Then he told another dream, “The sun, the moon, and eleven stars all bowed down to me.”  And all the while, e can imagine, he was dancing around in that beautiful many-colored robe, just to remind his brothers that “daddy loves me more than all the rest of you put together.”  And so, is it any wonder that his brothers hated him?  Not exactly what you would call a healthy family system.

And you know how the story goes.  The brothers gang up on Joseph one day when he far from his father’s protection.  First they throw him in an empty well, planning to leave him there to die, and then they change their minds and sell him to some passing Midianite traders who take him to Egypt where he sold into slavery.  The brothers take the coat, stain it with goat’s blood, and bring it back to their father, convincing him that Joseph must have been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph’s fortunes in Egypt take several turns.  First he is a slave, but gets promoted.  Then he is accused of sexual misconduct with his master’s wife and thrown into prison.  As a prisoner he gets a reputation as someone who can interprets dreams, which eventually gets the attention of Pharaoh.  After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, he gets a top administrative position in change of gathering and distributing food.  Famine hits the whole region, so that Joseph’s brothers come, bowing down to him as they ask for grain from Egypt.  And what should Joseph do with these brothers who hated him so much?  They do not recognize him; but he knows them, and so he accuses them of being spies and throws one of them in jail until they can prove their story by bringing their little brother Benjamin to Egypt when they come again.  And when they do bring Benjamin to Egypt, Joseph plants evidence to accuse Benjamin of being a thief.  It is test, because Joseph knows that Benjamin will have inherited his role as his father’s favorite son, and he wants to know if these brothers will treat Benjamin as badly as they treated him.  But the brothers have changed.  They have lived with the grief of their father and the guilt of their own hatred, and they plead with Joseph to take any one of them, but to let Benjamin return to his father.  And that is when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, forgives them, and welcomes them to come and live with him in Egypt.

Joseph recognizes that out of all the evil that we do to one another, God always opens up possibilities that can transform evil into good.  And in the story of Joseph, there is more than enough evil and blame to go around.  All are guilty; all have sinned against one another; generations of parents choosing favorites among their children; jealousy within family systems; Joseph, full of pride and dreams of glory over his brothers; and the brothers, nursing their envy and turning it into hatred and violence.  Yes, all have sinned; all have done what is evil.  All deserve to be punished for their sins.

And when Jacob dies, the brothers come to Joseph and ask for his forgiveness.  They believe that it is only because of their father that he has not taken vengeance on them for what they did to him so many years before.  But Joseph had long ago forgiven them.  What was meant for evil—including Joseph’s own pride and his brother’s hatred—God transformed into something good.  God does not plan the evil.  We are in deep trouble if we pray to a god who orchestrates terrible events in this world in order to bring about good.  The evil that is done in this world happens because God allows us the freedom to make bad choices.  But out of our bad choices, God always opens up the possibility of good coming out of the evil we do.

Joseph finally figured that out, and so he could let go of the evil his brothers had done to him.  The cycles of “getting even”—an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth—always spiral out of control, and we hang on to  grudges and resentments and anger; and they control us and shape the terrible future we make for ourselves and others—and it is not good for anyone.  But letting go and forgiving, opens up the possibilities for a different future—a future that God imagines for us growing out of the troubles we have created for ourselves.  That is the gift God gives when we learn to let go and to forgive one another from our hearts. AMEN.

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren

1502435_488720847898065_5065822072428423218_o (1)Matthew 18:1-5

Rally Sunday

September 7, 2014

God’s work.  Our hands.  Many of you are wearing that theme on your yellow t-shirts today.  And it means that as disciples of Jesus, we know that God is active in the world every day – that God seeks to repair the brokenness of creation, that Jesus is present among us so that we might have life and have it abundantly, and that the Holy Spirit energizes us to participate in God’s creating and redeeming work.  Yes, we offer our hands for God’s work.  Or as Theresa of Avila put it:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world,

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

And the truly amazing thing about God’s way of doing God’s work in this world, is that God trusts you and me to be the instruments through which God’s work is done.  This church thing, as I’ve said before, isn’t about getting ourselves saved.  It’s about being on a team with God as God seeks to give life, hope, joy, and peace to all creation.  At the end of the gospels Jesus gives his disciples work to do.  “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”  “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  And because we have been given the Holy Spirit, God trusts that we are capable and that we will do the work we have been given to do.

And this work begins with welcoming.  When we welcome the children, we welcome Jesus.  And to welcome someone means to make room for them – it means paying attention to them, listening to them, and making a space for them that is truly a place for them.  We had a small dinner party at our home on Friday.  We live in a fairly small apartment, and the table we eat at normally sits up against a wall.  But we needed more space since there would be six people at the table, and you don’t just let your guests squeeze in or find a place for themselves.  No, we cleared the table and moved it away from the wall to make room for more chairs, so there was a place for everyone.  It’s a simple way we welcome people into our homes.  And Jesus calls us to welcome children and all sorts of others into the community we share with Christ.  And that usually means making some adjustments in the way we do things, so that everyone we invite will know that they are truly welcome.

Another image for the work of God we do is the one Jesus gives his disciples when he puts on an apron and washes their feet.  We are called to serve one another.  And I believe that we can all find ways of participating in that service.  Our worship is one way we practice the servant discipleship Jesus call us to.  Worship is not primarily a time for us to receive something, but it is an opportunity to participate in the work we do together.  When you usher, or greet, or prepare the elements for communion, or help serve communion, or read the lessons, or count the offering, or help lead the music, or prepare and serve coffee fellowship following worship – you are practicing the servant work that Jesus modeled for his disciples.  Now I understand that the fellowship team leaders have a hard time getting volunteers for these tasks each month – I find that hard believe, because I see all of these as symbolic servant tasks that everyone who worships should be able and eager to take their turn in doing.  Such service in worship is a symbol of the deeper service that Jesus calls each of us to engage in.

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to nourish our faith and to serve others.  In the words of the Affirmation of Baptism service we are “to live among God’s faithful people, and to hear the Word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper.”  This is how we nourish our faith, and while prayer and reading scripture are things we can do alone, mostly we come together, and we are nurtured through our fellowship and worship and community time.  And that prepares us for service.  “to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”  This is God’s work, and it is our hands and minds and energy that does this work.  And each of us takes a different piece of this work.  Some do this work mostly with their hands, some do this with their minds, some do this work through prayer, some do this work through physical labor.  We do God’s work through our work and through our play – as we provide needed goods and services to our neighbor, as we renew our lives through rest and recreations, as we build community and relationships through conversations and activities, as we volunteer for projects and programs that help people in need.  The thing is, whatever we do, with our whole life, as we act in ways that build up God’s kingdom and increase God’s will happening in this world, we do God’s work.  God’s work is what we live and breath every day of our lives.  As Paul says to the Colossians, “whatever you do in word and deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  God’s work.  Our hands.  All the time.  Amen.

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren

Matthew 16:21-28

Lectionary 22A

August 31, 2014

You have probably heard the question before.  “If you died today, do you know where you would spend eternity?”  It’s the fear question that sometimes gets asked to encourage people to think about their religion, and to dedicate themselves to truly believing in Jesus as their personal savior.  I mostly want to just walk away from that question; because I think it just gets us completely off track in the whole business of “taking up our cross and following Jesus.”

The question about where I’m going to spend eternity only gets me focused on me – it’s all about my faith, about what I believe, about what I need to do so that I will be saved.  But doesn’t Jesus say that those who want to save their life will loose it.  So if we start getting all concerned about measuring up – either in what we believe, or the good works that we do – so that we will be saved, then we are in real danger of loosing our lives completely – and being completely out of step with the walk Jesus is calling us to walk. And that’s not our worry; we live with the promise that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God.

This is the way Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians:  “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.”  That emptying of ourselves for the sake of others is how we lose ourselves for Jesus’ sake.

One of the not-so-helpful images for the church is that the church is of a kind of rescue boat.  People are all drowning in a sea of sin and separation from God.  Then we get ourselves saved by the church and climb aboard the rescue boat.  And once we’re safe on board, all that’s left is to enjoy the ride as we sail our way into eternal life.  But that focus on our own salvation doesn’t fit well with what Jesus says, that if any want to become his followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him.

And let me say a little about what it means to take up a cross.  It’s not just the aches and pains or inconveniences of life.  A cross was the Roman instrument of execution for those who opposed the authority of the Roman Empire.  It wasn’t used for common criminals – not even those who committed murder – but only for those who instigated and participated in insurrection and rebellion against Rome.  And Rome represented a world order opposed to God’s way for the world.  Roman peace was achieved through conquest and victory rather than justice and patronage rewarded those with power and wealth.  Taking up our cross means participating in the overthrow of the patterns of civilization that create injustice, violence, and isolation.  Taking up our cross means participating in the work of Christ to bring healing, hope and life that is abundant and whole for all people in the world.  Taking up our cross means allowing God to use us as answers to the prayer that the church prays continually, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Because when we dedicate ourselves to God’s kingdom and to God’s will happening in the here and now, we will find ourselves opposing the structures of injustice and violence and individualism that penetrate so deeply the world in which we live.

Taking up your cross, usually means putting your own life and your own interests aside for the sake of another.  And while it may mean getting involved in organizations that work for justice and peace, it also means setting your own life aside in order to tend to relationships that build community and hope for people around us.  I remember Bruce and Rita, who were farmers in the parish my wife and I served in South Dakota.  Bud and Francis were their neighbors; they were a generation older than Bruce and Rita and lived a very isolated life.  They had no children and pretty much stayed to themselves on their little farm. When Francis was diagnosed with cancer, Bruce and Rita found themselves setting aside their own lives in order to be the friends that Bud and Francis so desperately needed in that time.  Field-work was left undone, and during Francis’s last months, Rita and Bruce made the two hour trip to Souix Falls at least three times a week in order to just sit in the hospital room with Francis and with Bud.  And after Francis died, there were the months of helping Bud put his life back together. So during all that time, Bruce and Rita literally put their own lives “on hold” in order to live as neighbors to Bud and Frances.  They could have done much less. They could have looked after their own busy schedules. They perhaps had a choice—but as Rita told me later, “we just had to do everything we did, we were their neighbors, we were their friends.”  And that’s the thing—we don’t plan or calculate doing the good works we do or the crosses we bear, we just find ourselves doing it.  When we set aside our own life to be neighbor to someone in need, that is when we discover the life God intends for us, and God’s kingdom comes closer to us and God’s will is done in and through our lives.

For Sister Teresa it was a matter of listening to the voice of Jesus calling her to deeper service to the poor.  First it meant leaving her home in Albania and teaching at the school of the Sisters of Loretto in Calcutta.  But in that school, she was teaching mostly those how could afford a private Catholic school.  Then she heard Jesus calling her into the slums, and there she taught children who were living in deep poverty.  But then Jesus called her more deeply into her care for the poor.  She said that one day she came upon a woman, half eaten by maggots and rats lying in the street.  Sister Teresa went to her and sat with her stroking her head, until finally the woman died.  And this was the ministry for which Mother Teresa established an new order, the Missionaries of Charity – to minister to the unwanted, the unloved, and the uncared for – to give shelter and comfort to the sick and dying destitute.

When we are baptized into Christ we are called to follow him as his disciples.  We are called to live in ways that bring in his kingdom and in ways that oppose the injustice, violence and self-centeredness of our world.  The way of Jesus is the way of justice, peace and caring community.  When we take up our cross and follow Jesus his compassion for all the victims of our self-centered world becomes our passion.  And in that compassion we become companions of one another and such companionship has the power to transform the world

So may you be filled with the deep compassion of God, so that you may set aside your own self-interests for the sake God’s will.   May you become instrument of God’s compassion for those in need, whether across the street or across the oceans.  And may God so wrap you in God’s own compassion that you find there the person God truly made you to be.  AMEN

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren

Matthew 16:13-20

Lectionary 21 A

August 24, 2014

 

When you look back at your life, are there moments when you just had a real sense of clarity?  Perhaps when you fell in love and realized that this person was the person you were ready to commit yourself to as a faithful companion for the rest of your life.  Perhaps it was sorting out your skills and passions and focusing on the career you were committed to pursue.  Perhaps some experience was for you an encounter with some great need in the world, and you were overcome with a passion to do something about it.  I think we have such moments of clarity in our lives when focus and commitment give direction and purpose to our lives.

That was the kind of moment the disciples experienced with Jesus as Caesarea Philippi.  Jesus is leading them to that point of clarity.  He has been teaching and he has been demonstrating God’s will through all kinds of signs and wonders.  And a number of times, when the disciples are close getting it, they still just don’t understand.  So Jesus withdraws.  He goes away where he can be alone with his disciples.  According to Matthew, Jesus has been trying to do this for two whole chapters – ever since the report of the death of John the Baptist in Chapter 14.  But the crowds keep following – into the wilderness, across the water, and even into the Gentile districts.  But finally, in this thoroughly Roman city north of Galilee, Jesus is able to be alone with his disciples for some clarity and discernment.

And it is a catechism session – questions from the teacher.  Time to test the students and find out what they understand.  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  “But who do you say that I am?”  And Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

It would take an intensive Bible study session to unpack the meaning of all these titles.  But to say Jesus is Messiah or the son of God means that he has authority over our lives — he has authority to transform our lives so that we might enter into life in the kingdom of God.  The early church was known as “The Way,” because they followed the authority of Jesus as the way to entering the kingdom of God here and now.  And it’s not just getting to heaven when we die.  The way of Jesus is how God’s kingdom comes alive in this world.  When Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah and son of Giod, he means that Jesus is the one whose command he will obey and the one he trusts to bring God’s kingdom to life.  It is a moment of clarity for Peter and the disciples.  If Jesus is the Messiah, he has authority to direct their lives into the way of God.

And Jesus responds saying, “you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church.”  And it is within the church that we grow in giving Jesus authority in our lives.  Because Peter isn’t the only rock; in his letter he says “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”  So together, as we seek to live the way of Jesus, the kingdom of God comes near to us.  And what is that way?  I like to think about the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.”  So, how do we envision heaven?  Will there be poverty there?  Or hunger or war or sickness?  Will there be wealthy gated communities with many roomed mansions for some, while others in heaven sleep in cardboard boxes?  And if that’s not the way God will arrange things in heaven, why do we permit such conditions, such inequality, here on earth?  The task of the church is not to just sit back and feel good about God’s love for us.  The task of the church is to let God’s love flow through us and empower us to transform the world around us.  As Paul says to the Roman’s, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.”

I like a cartoon I once saw.  The first character says, “Sometimes I’d like to ask God why he allows poverty, hunger and injustice, when he could do something about it.”  The second character asks, “Well, what’s stopping you?”  To which the first character replies, “I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.”

The thing is, we have the capacity to live in ways that bring God’s kingdom to life.  We can make a difference – and Jesus shows us the way.  When we follow Jesus, when we bring our whole lives in line with the way he leads, the kingdom of God is present for us.  For the disciples at Caesarea Philippi it was a moment of clarity – of knowing the work God had given them to do – of coming together to become the church where the way of Jesus was lived – of being transformed and becoming the body of Christ.

May that moment of clarity come for you so that you can become the living stones you are called to be and the Body of Christ, so that God’s will might be done through you on earth as it is in heaven.  AMEN. 

Sunday Sermon – Pastor Loren – August 17th

Lynne hadn’t been to church for a long, long time.  But for some reason, on a cold winter day and a new baby daughter in her life, she decided it was time to connect with the church again.  Maybe it was just that she knew she needed to find a church where she could have this baby baptized – her son from her first marriage had been baptized, and she had sent him to the release time program at one of the churches in her little town.  But Lynne wasn’t a member of any church and she hadn’t been to church for a long, long time.  It takes a bit of courage to go to church when you haven’t been there for so long; but she was determined.  She checked the worship time for the church that had her son’s release time classes, she bundled up the baby, and she drove over for the service.  But when she got there, the ushers looked at her and told her that this worship service was only for members.  Now, I suspect there was some miscommunication here – that it was only the communion part of the service that was only for members, but the impression Lynne got was that she was not welcome to attend that church.  She went back to her car, she told me, and just sat there and cried.

Now those are the kind of experiences that pretty much put an end to any kind of involvement in the church, except for those who are very, very determined.

The Canaanite woman in today’s gospel has such determination.  Her daughter is tormented by a demon, and this mother knows that in Jesus there is hope for her daughter.  She comes, shouting her need before Jesus and his disciples.  But the disciples know right away – she is not one of us.  She is a Canaanite woman, an outsider, and the healing of Jesus is only insiders – for members of the Jewish community – no outsiders are to be included.  And to our surprise, Jesus acts out the prejudices of his community.  He tells her that he was sent “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Now, there are a couple of ways to understand what Jesus is doing here.  Some would say that Jesus is simply acting out the prejudice that his disciples live in – that he resists her request so that she will demonstrate her persistence – that the disciples need to recognize that he is intentionally including people that they would automatically exclude out of their long-standing cultural prejudices.  This understanding suggests that Jesus intends all along to heal this woman’s daughter, but needs to draw out the woman’s faith and demonstrate to his disciples that they needed to include all people – especially those they would otherwise tend to exclude.  Another interpretation argues that Jesus actually learns from this woman – that she convinces him that God’s grace is to be extended to all people.  Some people are rather uncomfortable with this interpretation because it suggests that Jesus grows in his own understanding of God and God’s grace through his years of ministry.   His first reaction to the woman is his automatic prejudice against Canaanite people, which was just so deeply a part of his Jewish culture.  This woman’s insistence on being worthy to receive at least a morsel of God’s grace forces Jesus to go behind the cultural prejudice of his people and remember God’s love for all people and that the prophet Isaiah said of God’s servant, “it is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise of the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

But however you understand what’s going on with Jesus in this story, the end is the same – all are welcome!  And our work as disciples is to insist that all are always welcome in our churches – that we do everything we can to remove the barriers that make some people feel like that are not truly welcome – that we work diligently to weed out any prejudices we might hold that might exclude anyone from God’s grace – that we strive always to welcome the stranger and those who are different and to bring them into the circle of support and love we share together through Jesus.  Yes, that is the point – all are welcome, no exceptions, and we are the hands and voice of welcome that God uses so that God’s salvation may reach to the end of the earth and everywhere in between.

Ruth Rudnick was one of those faithful disciples who understood this gospel and did what she could to live it.  She was a member of the congregation I served in Bovey and she was the unofficial greeter at that church every Sunday.  And Ruth’s way of doing that was to make sure that everyone who walked through the door of that church was greeted by her with a hug.  She was there on the Sunday that Lynne was crying in her car.  And for some reason that Sunday morning, Lynne did not give up on going to church.  She perhaps shared some of the determination of the Canaanite woman in our gospel.  She cleared her eyes and thought that maybe there might be a church in the next town where she could worship.  So she drove to the next town and stopped in front of the Bethel-Trinity Lutheran church Bovey.  She was a bit apprehensive as she got out of her car, not knowing whether this church would be any different from the one she’d just been at.  But when Lynne came through the door of the church, there was Ruth extending her generous hug of welcome to this stranger and her baby.  Then Ruth introduced Lynn to the others already gathered, and then she took little Samantha around to meet everyone in the church.  Lynne had more tears that morning as she sat in the pew; but this time they were tears of joy, because she had been welcomed into this church with such open arms.

May we become God’s arms of welcome, and may this house proclaim from floor to rafter; all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.  AMEN.

Wednesday Sermon – Brenda Tibbets, AiM – August 13th

THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL

Wednesday Worship, August 13, 2014                                                                                      

Text:    Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Next to the story of The Good Samaritan, The Parable of the Prodigal is probably one of the most well known teaching stories of Jesus.  So well known in fact, that often when we come to hear it told again, we have already arrived at our own interpretation and our own conclusion as to what the point is.

The richness of the Parables, however, is that they constantly challenge us to listen again – to think again.  It is as though Jesus holds a mirror to our face and says, “Come closer.  Let’s take another look.”

So because this story is so familiar, let us take another look to see what God wants us to hear in this place and in this time.

In taking another look, we notice that this parable takes place in a particular context.  How shameful and shocking that Jesus is sitting with…well, you know, people that are less than “desirable” in a proper society.  Not only was he sitting with them, but he has also eaten with them.  Really!  How could he?  Table fellowship with people who did not follow the holiness codes or proper etiquette?  Unthinkable!  Simply scandalous!

Jesus’ behavior and the company he kept provided “The Good Proper Folk” with a smorgasbord of gossip.  Certainly, there was no end to the speculation as to what Jesus might do next.

Luke’s gospel tells how Jesus handled the grumbling Pharisees and scribes.  “So he told them this parable…”  Not only did Jesus tell them the parable of the shepherd seeking out the lost sheep, he went on to include the story of a woman who searched high and low to find a lost coin.  In our modern day context, how far would we go to search for a lost pet?  How many times would we turn our homes inside out to find a lost diamond from a wedding ring or a hunting compass given by someone special?

Those parables hold up a mirror that is clear.  Yes, we would all do that!  We understand the panic that comes in losing some THING that is precious.  We would certainly call or tweet all of our friends and post it on Facebook that we had finally found what we had been looking for.  Kind of a “No Brainer”, wouldn’t you say?

And then, Jesus holds the mirror a little more closely.  OK, you show all this concern for animals and objects.  What about people?  In particular, people who make poor choices?  People who live lifestyles that you don’t agree with?  People who end up in less than desirable circumstances  whether by choices made by themselves or choices made by others that affect them?  Then what?  Do you care or would you rather label them and stand away from them?  Then,  Jesus upped the ante.  This time it wasn’t livestock or pets or personal property.  He challenged them by saying, “There was a man who had two sons…”

How we hear and understand the parables depend so much on our own context, our personal and community life experiences.  As such, our understandings can change as to which character we might identify with at different times in our lives.

Mark Allen Powell, a contemporary theologian, did an experiment on the story of the Prodigal.  He did a controlled study of 100 students in St. Petersburg, Russia, in Tanzania, and in the United States.  Powell asked them what this biblical text meant to them.  The Russians focused in on the dire affects of the famine.  The Tanzanians focused in on the failure of the surrounding community that allowed someone in their midst to be starving and no one gave him anything to eat.  Probably this should be no surprise to us, the U.S. students zeroed in on the money – and how it was spent.  How about you?  What do you hear in Jesus’ Prodigal story and with which character do you identify?

The longer we’ve walked on earth, it is very possible that we have, at some point or another, identified with all three:  the reckless younger son, the resentful, responsible elder son, and the waiting parent.  In the past couple of years, I have heard this story in a new light as the mirror was held ever closer to my own household.

+++

God, has an impeccable sense of irony at times.

It was a beautiful spring day and I was down in the West Wing getting set-up for a Wednesday night worship.  We were going to begin a 3 week series on “The Prodigal Son.”  I was diligent in doing my prep work.  I had read the scripture text multiple times.  I read what the commentaries had to say about each of the characters and the possible meanings, customs, etc.  I had the DVD cued up to the proper place.  I had even consulted Webster’s Dictionary on the meaning of the word “Prodigal” (which by the way, means extravagant…)

And then, my cell phone rang.

It was my sister-in-law wondering if I had heard from one of my adult kids.  The tone of her voice warned me it wasn’t good news for me and my husband.  The story unfolded.  Our son had been arrested and was in jail.  My first thought was, “Come on, God!  Now?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  He’s arrested right now as I’m getter ready to teach on the Prodigal son??!!”

Suddenly, the parable was no longer about someone else’s family.  The parable was becoming all too real, all too close for comfort.

Due to circumstance beyond our control, we were not allowed to have contact with our son until the day of his court date and he was brought in front of the judge to hear the charges against him.  It takes time for court systems to process paperwork and there are specific rights under the law as to how long a person may be detained.  But the weekend was coming…we hadn’t heard and we were nervous.  Finally, a hearing date was set for Friday morning.  After the hearing and after being interviewed by the probation officer, our adult son was relinquished into our custody.

Never before had I witnessed such a visible change in a person’s demeanor and body language as when my husband and I walked the long, marbled courthouse corridor to the place where our son was waiting on the hard bench.  Total abject shame.  And all I could think of was, “This is our boy.  This is our son.  This is the one we have worried about and prayed for – and loved…That hasn’t changed nor will it change.”

I walked over to him where he was sitting and quietly said his name.  He wouldn’t look up.  So I told him to “Stand up!”  He did.  And all I could do was to put my arms around him, crying, and tell him, “Don’t you know how much we love you?  We love you and we’ll get through this together.”  In that instant, the Parable of the Prodigal became totally real in every sense.    Rather than teaching it, I was being taught.

+++

God is actually “The Prodigal” throughout this parable Jesus told.  Our heavenly Father is the One who is the source of prodigal/extravagant love.  The source of extravagant forgiveness.  The One who waits and watches…and welcomes, with outstretched arms telling all of his children, the reckless and the resentful alike, God calls each of us by name and asks us to look up as well.   “Don’t you know how much you are loved?  Come in.  Let me take you home.  Let’s get you put back together.  You need a bath – and in my baptismal waters, all shame and disgrace are washed away.  I will clothe you with the clean clothes of new life and fresh beginning.  I bet you are hungry, too.  Here is my table and the meal is ready.  This is what love and forgiveness look like.  This is what it tastes like: and I want you sitting with me and with the entire household.  You are marked with the cross of Christ forever.  You belong to me.  Trust me.  We will work this out – together.”

Life experiences change the context in which we hear scripture and see ourselves in the parables.  The Parable of the Prodigal is your story.  It is my story.  It is God’s story.  People in trouble who make the news are now seen as somebody’s kid.  And God knows that somebody’s kid’s name and waits for them with open arms, too.

I’m not here to judge the parenting they’ve received or the choices that have been made.  Consequences still happen and restitution must be followed through.  But God’s invitation is for all people.  God’s grace goes above and beyond what we understand or can even imagine!  We need only look up and accept his invitation, his pleading to come.  St. Paul writes, “So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 

God’s prodigal love and forgiveness is for you!  We must celebrate together when the lost are found and the dead are brought back to life!  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry

Rooted in Faith

Growing in Christ

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