Monthly Archives: March 2019

God Moves…Down the Road

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[c] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[d] 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father[e] said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32 NRSV)

Prodigals are spendthrifts.  They are reckless, lavish, extravagant. 

This scripture has more than one prodigal.

The prodigal friends of the younger brother.  They used him as long as he had money.  When the money ran out so did they. 

The younger son shamed his father.  He might as well have said, “I wish you were dead!”  His father sells some of his property to give to his playboy son.  Within days he’s out of there!  He wants out of this family, out of this backwater town.  He can’t get far enough away. 

He has a great time.  For awhile.  Eventually, his greed and lavish living catch up with him and he ends up in Babylon.  Dirty, poor, living with unclean pigs. 

Some would say he got what he deserved.

The elder son is steady, dependable; does everything right; has decorum.  His life is one rule after another.  Have-to’s rule his life:  I have to do this, then I’ll have to do that.  He’s prodigal with his lack of love.  He has no joy.  He’s greedy for love and feels he’ll only find it in his inheritance. 

Now we come to the father.  The one who was shamed by his younger son.  The community looks upon him with a lack of respect: he shouldn’t have handled his son with kid gloves.  No wonder he left his father. 

Every morning the father gets up and looks out the window.  Waiting for his son’s return, praying for it.  He gazes with his nose pressed up against the window pane.  The elder son scoffs at him as he heads out to the fields.

One day he sees a glimmer in the distance.  He looks carefully and lo and behold it’s him!  He’d know that body language anywhere!  The father shames himself, again, by hiking up the skirts of his robe and running like a fool to meet him.

The younger son, starving, sick, worn out, falls into his father’s arms.  Together they stumble towards the house.  The servants catch up with him and begins issuing orders.

“Get him a bath.  And get the good robe out– no, no, not that one.  The one I use for special occasions.  A ring. He needs a ring.  You’ll find one in cupboard.  Go get it.  Hurry.  There’s no time to waste.”

Then the invitations go out and the fatted calf is on the spit.  Friends begin to arrive and hesitantly welcome the young man home.  As time passes, the celebration heightens. 

The elder son arrives home late that night.  He arrives home late every  night.  After all, the farm’s been left up to him.  If it weren’t for him the farm would be in ruins. 

That’s when he hears the music and the party  noises.  He receives word from a servant that his brother is home.  His anger rises.  How dare he!

The father shames himself, once more, by leaving his guests to go after his elder son.  “There’s plenty enough for all of us!  We had to celebrate for your brother was lost and now is found!”

Prodigal friends.  Lavish with someone else’s money only to leave him high and dry.

Prodigal younger son.  Lavish with his inheritance.  Greedy to see the world and have people like him and his playboy lifestyle.

Prodigal elder son.  Greedy with his love.  Grasping every penny.  Hoping his brother never returns. 

The biggest surprise is the the prodigal father.  Lavish with his love for his family.  Forgiving of sons who wish he were dead.  Waits and waits for the lost one to return.  Cares nothing about the gossip from the neighbors because he has more important things to attend to.

The prodigal father.  Waiting while you and I get over our anger because someone came out on top who didn’t deserve it.  Waiting for the sinner in us to show up and fall into his arms.  Forgiving and giving beyond our wildest dreams.

God.  Moving down the road at a double trot to catch us.  Moving out into the backyard to remind us who we are and to whom we belong.  Moving out into a God-hating world to give us God’s most valuable possession: his Son.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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God Moves…Over the Fence

55 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
    and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:1-9 NRSV)

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

I believed that in elementary school.  In fact, there were days when I felt as if I was the only child in the whole wide world who had a rough life.

Take my next door neighbor and playmate, Neil.  He had the coolest toys!  We always played at his house because his toys were neater than mine.   And then there was Sharon.  She had a horse.  Not just a pony.  A real live horse!  She rode it in shows and won awards and everything.

Babylon.  It’s a place we go to as captives.  We don’t want to be there.  It’s God forsaken.  “Is God still with us?” we ask.  “Has God forgotten us?”  “Will we ever return to the Land of Promise?”  We gaze over the fence.  The grass is surely greener on the other side.

We get to Babylon by a few different routes.  Sometimes life circumstances just happen.  Despite your careful driving, a patch of black ice sends your car up over the curb.  Sometimes, someone has made bad choices and their decisions inflict the pain on you.  The driver who ran into your car has no insurance.  Sometimes it’s our own bad choices that lead you out of freedom into the Babylon.  You’re the driver without insurance and you’re facing legal charges as well as medical bills.

Isaiah’s charges were more specific.  Judah had lost their focus on God.  The mandate to care for the widows and orphans, to feed the hungry, to do justice had been abandoned.  They believed they no longer needed God and quit depending on God.  While they weren’t looking, Babylon invaded Judah and carted the socially elite and the craftspeople back to Babylon.

Now they stand gazing over the other side of the fence.  The grass appears to be greener.  Where is God?

The truth is, God is crossing that fence to meet us.  God speaks to the exiles and to us through the prophet Isaiah saying, “Turn to me.  My food is spiritual nourishment; my cup will satisfy like no other.  And it costs you nothing.

“Quit wasting your efforts on what can’t provide lasting nourishment.  What God provides is healthy and good.”

God draws us close.  Listen to God’s words.  They are life giving.  God keeps the covenants made so long ago.  God judges and God is merciful.  God will cross those fences.

You see, those fences are what separate us from God.  Those fences are where our gazes should NOT be.  It’s so easy to draw our gaze away from God onto greener pastures and a past we grieve or a future we yearn for or an idol we crave.

God, in Christ, adjusts our gaze away from the impossible, the bright shiny idols, the falsehood of greener pastures.  God, in Christ, adjusts our gaze towards God who nourishes us with truth.  And that is the truth which sets us free.  The truth about our situation and who we are tears down those fences and returns us home to a richer, fuller life.  One that God will help us create.

As I look back on my childhood I realize that those green grass memories aren’t so green.  Neil’s mother had bad nerves and had to have a nap every afternoon.  We had to play quietly or go outside.  Sharon’s father was mean.  We never went to her house to play.  He was scary.  One day he got mad at my Dad and threw our pet dog over the fence for spite.

When the exiles returned to Jerusalem, they found the Temple completely leveled and would have to rebuild it.

The grass only appears to be greener on the other side.  And when we shift our yearning gaze the grass that  we think we need, we turn to God.  In God we seek wisdom that tears down those fences and nourishes us souls.

All honor and glory be to God.

Amen.


God Moves…Past All Obstacles

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when[ you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:31-35 NRSV)

I don’t know much about foxes.  I do know what happens when they get into the hen house.  In ancient Judaism they were a symbol of both deceit and maliciousness and intelligence and strength.  They were considered unclean and should be avoided.

We know about Herod Antipas: a petty tyrant in cahoots with Rome.  His religion is conniving.  He’s rich and he’s cruel.

“That fox” likes to get into hen houses and take what he can get.  He stomps and even kills in order to get his way.  He uses the “chicks” to gain favor with Rome.  He will stop at nothing.

He’s a conniver.  Perhaps he’s told the Pharisees to warn Jesus away from his territory.  Jesus is way too popular.  Let him stray into Pilate’s arena.  Let Pilate deal with him.

We meet Jesus in this passage confronting obstacles: threat of death, politics, religious rebellion, selfish ambition, even violence.  He won’t let it stop him.  He confronts it with courage, evidently understanding that it’ll probably be the death of him.

Go tell that fox what I’m doing.  “I’m casting out demons and performing cures…” (verse 32.)  What are you doing, fox?  What are doing to repair this broken world?  How are you making a difference?  I’m hurting no one.  Can you say the same thing?

Then he turns around an gazes on the beloved city, Jerusalem.

His vision has been the same all along: healing, freeing, teaching.  He’s traveled through Galilee fulfilling this mission.  Now he makes his way to Jerusalem, the very heart of politics and greed and hubris.  The place where prophets come to die.  The city that was meant to honor and worship God.

That’s his goal: Jerusalem.  Humanity.  You and me.

Last week we entered the Season of Lent.  A season marked by lengthening days while we watch the Light of the World being snuffed out.  A special season of opportunity to spend time with the Christ, working out our own salvation.  What is in the way of your fully enjoying Jesus?  This is a good time to work on it.  How is it going for you?

My own work is moving slowly.  I’m trying to make the change only to fall down.  I forgot to invite Jesus in.  In morning meditation I try to give it back to God so that God can provide what I need.

This passage reminds me of something very important and something I need to hear as much as I believe you need to hear.  Thankfully this is the scripture reading for this week: a reminder of just how much God loves you and me.

It’s easy to read about God described as silent distant, judgemental.  It’s easy to find scripture proving that God is loving, kind and merciful.

But, yearning?  Right here in front of us we read about God yearning to gather us under divine wings.  Later, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus will weep over Jerusalem and her destiny of total destruction.

God yearns.  God weeps.  God moves past all obstacles for all of us.  God moves past all obstacles, crossing over fences and boundaries to reach all of God’s people.

God, who is bigger than we can imagine.  This powerful God yearns for us.  Yearns to be in our lives.  Yearns to breathe new life into us.

I don’t know about you, but that brings me to my knees.  I’m humbled.  In response we bring to God our Lenten work.  We want to be closer to God to feel this yearning love.

It also scares us.  So much so that we hang onto our hangups and  idols for a little while longer.  It’s okay.  God is as patient as God is yearning.  Keep praying.  Continue to work out your salvation.  Do it knowing that on the other side of this chasm is a waiting and patient and loving God.

Blessed is he who comes in the name in the Lord.

May your Season of Lent be filled with the possibility of transformation and God’s yearning love for you.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


God Moves…Into the Desert

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil[a] led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil[b] said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil[c] took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to protect you,’

11 and

‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13 NRSV)

Jesus is still wet from his baptism in the Jordan River.  Water clings to his clothing; his hair is dripping wet.  And God’s words still ring in his ears: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22b)

Next thing he knows, the Holy Spirit that had descended on him during the baptism experience leads him into the wilderness: lonely, barren, rocky, and haunted by wild animals.  The outcome of the forty days will make or break Jesus’ new ministry.

“Since you’re the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus has no problem seeing the hunger in people’s eyes.  There’s not enough food for everyone.  If he could fix that, the world would be a better place.  He’s tempted by the instant remedy: let’s take all these stones and change them into bread.

It’s a creative solution.  It makes use of all those stones that have little purpose and people would finally eat.  Instant solutions are tempting.

We see hunger and poverty all around us.  If only we could find instant solutions.  People would no longer need to suffer. We would no longer need to feel guilty about our abundance.  It would be a better world, wouldn’t it?.

Jesus responds to the temptation: “It is written…”  In his most difficult moments he remembers scripture.  He has memorized scripture and it is a part of who he is.  How often have you quoted Psalm 23, “Yea though I walk through the valley of death…”  When have you found yourself reciting the Lord’s Prayer?

Jesus responds, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” (Luke 4:4b)

This vision isn’t enough.  Feeding people is important: physically, spiritually and mentally.  His ministry will  need to be bigger.

“I’ll tell you what.  If you’ll bow down and worship me, I’ll put you in charge of all the kingdoms of the world.”  There’s his chance!  To bring real peace to the world.  To spread his ministry of Golden Rule love to everyone.

This is an easy trap.  We worship lots of worlds: our nation in relation to the rest of the world, our pocket books and check books, even our church denomination and/or building!  We put these in between God and us and they get in the way of our relationship with God.

No.  This isn’t going to work.  Jesus quotes scripture again.  Love God and serve God only.  This vision is bigger, but it’s still not enough.  Jesus needs something bigger.

Instant remedies are too narrow.  World domination adds to the problem rather than solving it.

“Okay,” the Devil tries again.  “Let’s go to Jerusalem and remind those in the Temple who’s in charge.  Throw yourself down and show them that God has your back.  The angels will stop you from being hurt and everyone will want to worship you.”  The Devil even uses scripture to prove his point just like Jesus is doing.

Jesus, tired and hungry and worn out by temptation and trial, must have seen through this one more easily than the others.  God’s Spirit didn’t leave him alone in the wilderness, but remained with him.  God had had Jesus’ back all along.

“It is written,” Jesus  returns to his scriptural roots.  “Don’t test God.”

Spend enough time in the wilderness and humility finds you.  Spend time being beaten down from the desire for instant solutions to pressing problems with no relief in sight.  In the wilderness, you find yourself wondering if God would be generous enough to call you home tonight.  Or contemplate taking your life because you can’t take any more.

Try praying over and over again, “God, I can’t take it any more. Please do something!  Anything!”  Spend enough time in that kind of hell, demanding that God stay with you because God is all you have left.  Humility fills your starving soul.

Jesus stands there watching temptation walk away until a more opportune time.  Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, he returns to Galilee and begins his ministry.  Testing and temptation have strengthened him for the job ahead.

He now has a mission statement.  It comes from scripture, of course.  Most of his answers come straight out of scripture.  He shares his mission statement with his friends and family in hometown Nazareth:  “to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives andrecovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

That’s a large vision.  It’s God-sized mission.

Dear reader, before I end this, let me share one more thing.  Jesus didn’t just surmount temptation, he allowed it to strengthen him and to develop his sense of God’s call.  Often we do the same, perhaps without realizing it.  Often we leave the wilderness stronger for our experience, even though we went through it kicking and screaming.

Gut, here’s the thing.  Sometimes we fail miserably.  Sometimes we succumb to the instant solutions or decide for the political answer.  Some times we put barriers between us and God.

When you do, remember a couple of truths.  First, you’re not Jesus.  Second, God hasn’t given up on you.

When we can’t do what Jesus did, we pray, “What would Jesus have me do?”  Return to scripture.  Return to the stories that make sense to the situation.

Most of all, pray.  As we begin this Lenten season, what wilderness are you experiencing.  Take it to God in prayer.  Then see what comes from it.  You just might be surprised to at the discoveries you make.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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