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Easter Reverberations

21 I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.

I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.

3-5 I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”

6-8 Then he said, “It’s happened. I’m A to Z. I’m the Beginning, I’m the Conclusion. From Water-of-Life Well I give freely to the thirsty.

(Revelation 21:1-6  The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

“I am making all things new.”

How many times do we hear God say those words in scripture.  We saw God in action when he spoke creation into being.  We saw them in the many covenants God made with God’s people.  God freed God’s people people, provided in the wilderness, brought us back from exile.  God continually works to make all things new.

The ultimate, so far in history, is a child born to a poor family, revealed to the most reviled in society (shepherds) while heaven’s messengers announced “tidings of great joy.”  That child grew to bring us the same message, but this time he put feet on those words.

When he died, he was risen again to defeat death.  We would think that we’d have nothing further to worry about.

And God continues to be at work.  So today we read in Revelation these words, one more time:  “I’m making all things new.”  God continues to redeem and provide and liberate.  The promise is that God is at work in God’s creation because in the end, God will bring it to conclusion.

Not with destruction, but with a new heaven and earth.  The old will pass away and the new world order will be ushered in by none other than God.

What have we to fear?  God has a plan and God will continue to work that plan.  Our place in creation is set.  What have we fear?

Well, war, poverty, immigration, food insecurity, illness. To name a few.

Daily we see a backdrop of evil, hurting and injustice.

The hope is this: God really does continue to be at work.  God really does continue to make all things new.  Our world is getting better because people like you refuse to ignore the issues and get involved.  Whether writing a check or hands one.

We help make the difference through prayer and discernment.  We allow God to use our gifts and talents and our passion to move forward.

God will dry every tear.  God is making all things new.  God will break down the chasms and walls that keep us separated.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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A Promise We Can Trust

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
    he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

Psalm 23 (NRSV)

The Shepherd’s Psalm.  Many of us memorized it as children.  We carry its words with us in dark times.  Perhaps we don’t remember it word for word.  Yet, we know the phrases that hold meaning for us.

“I shall not want.”  What would you want for if it wasn’t for the shepherd?

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (KJV)  We need those words when a friend or loved one dies.  There are also times in our life when we feel as if death’s dark shadow will overwhelm us at any moment.  The Psalmist reminds us that even in these moments, the shepherd won’t abandon.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…”  Follow me.  Lead me.  Cover me.  Goodness and mercy is everywhere we can possibly be, because the shepherd never abandons.

What phrases stand out for you?  Read the Psalm again, slowly.  Read it out loud and listen to the phrases.  What stands out for you?  Close your eyes for a few moments and consider those particular words.  Why do they hold meaning for you at this time and in this place?

Read through it again.  Slowly.  What is the Shepherd saying to you?  Sit quietly for a few minutes.  Allow the words to speak to you.

Now, one more time.  One more reading.

If you were able to go deep, you’ve experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit speaking to you words you probably needed to hear.  Were they comforting words? Guiding words?  Stirring words?

What will you do with what you’ve discerned?  How will you respond?  Write it down and carry it with you this week.

The 23rd Psalm provides peace and comfort, even serenity.  It’s words can be trusted and believed.  The Shepherd doesn’t let us down, but provides for our needs and gives us rest when we need it.  Believe these words.  Rest in them.  Feel their comfort.  And when you’re ready, go out to live your faith, knowing the shepherd won’t let you down.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Faith Inferiority

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”  (Acts 9:1-20 NRSV)

How did you become a Christian?

Perhaps you had a dramatic experience on your own road to Damascus.  Perhaps you had a specific date and time when you gave your life to Christ.  Or you may not remember a time when you weren’t a Christian and since your infant baptism you have steadily grown in your knowledge and faith.

Whatever you’ve experienced, I suggest you’ve had many moments in your life when you experienced the eye-opening.

One of the surprises in this text is the person God calls.  While the disciple Steven was stoned for professing Jesus as Lord, people laid their coats at the feet of the very person who had organized the stoning, Saul.  There’s no question what kind of man he was, “breathing threats and murder” (v. 1).  He was a first century terrorist.

And that’s who God chose to spread the Good News.  Out of all of the people of the day, it was Saul that God chose.  Saul had been pursued by a God who never abandons anyone.

Does that make your calling from God inferior?  Is the lack of a burning bush or Damascus Road experience significant?

Not in the least.

If you did experience a major moment like Saul, what does it mean to you?

Ron sat in the choir loft one Sunday morning listening to the sermon.  When he happened to look up he noticed a shadow on the opposite wall that wasn’t usually there.  He knew that no one else saw what he did and he realized it was Jesus.

When he related the story to us later, he said, “I don’t see myself honored to have received this sighting.  Instead, I wonder if I had been running so long, that God had to get dramatic.  I respect others more who didn’t need a sighting to follow our Lord.”

God forgives betrayers and doubters and deniers and murderers.  God doesn’t call the worthy because no one is worthy.  We don’t earn it.  We are called into the experience and invited to say, “Here I am, Lord.”

The Good News is that our God is merciful.  God offers mercy and forgiveness to a wide variety of people.  We resist the Good News because we think we’re not good enough, that we have to earn it.

But, Christ hopes we will look at our own moments of conversion and how our own blindness has been lifted by a forgiving, merciful God.

What are your moments of conversion?  When have felt the peculiar presence of God come in and un-blind your eyes to truth?  That makes your experience with God just as important as anyone’s else’s experience, even Saul’s.  God pours out Godself in love and mercy.

We can’t begin to know the mind and heart of God.  What we know is that we have experiences of God more often than we may realize.  When you gained insight that changed your views on that heated topic; when God whispered your name; when you look back on a past experience only to realize that God was involved all along.

How you experienced Christ’s call doesn’t matter.  How you responded and answered the call does.  Saul could have said no.  Ananias could have said, “Are you kidding!? Not on your life!”  But both said yes.  And the world changed forever.

Every time you answer with, “Here I am, Lord,” you, too, respond to the life-changing grace of God.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Seeing Jesus

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.  (John 20:19-31 NRSV)

Where was Thomas?  Why was he missing from the group when Jesus showed up?

Perhaps it was his turn to get food for the group assembled behind the locked door.  He had to take the back roads, trying not to be noticed  by the authorities.  His circuitous route delayed his arrival.

When he finally arrived, later than usual, he must have been so disappointed.  He’d missed something momentous!  Rumors had begun that morning about Jesus’ resurrection, but he didn’t believe them.

Now his friends and colleagues have more to report.

“He came into this room despite the locked door.”

“He greeted us just like he used to, ‘Peace be with you.'”

“He told us to continue his ministry.  That God had sent him and now he was sending us.”

“He breathed on us.  We received his Spirit!”

“He reminded us that we have the power to forgive sins or not.”

Thomas couldn’t hear any more of this.  This isn’t right.  People don’t resurrect.  He saw the dead body.  There was no sign of life in it.  It didn’t happen.  The disciples are mistaken.

“I need proof!”  The conversation ended abruptly.

For the next week, the disciples prayed and made plans and prayed some more.  They worshiped, while outside they heard the sounds of the pilgrims to Passover packed up to return home.  They discussed how to go about moving Jesus’ ministry forward.  While, outside soldiers marched passed keeping Roman peace.

And Thomas yearned.  He yearned for the experience of Jesus that his comrades had experienced. He felt as if he’d missed the boat.  His mind shut down to the possibilities of  miracles and new things.  He became confused and dissatisfied.

We know all about yearning, don’t we?  We yearn for an end to abuse of any kind; for an end to terrorism; for diseases to go away and stay away; for political leaders to come together for the good of all; for the end of mass migration from dangerous conditions.

We yearn for peace.  Peace that surpasses all understanding.  Peace that Jesus gave his disciples that day.  Peace of mind.  Well-being.  Peace with our neighbors and enemies.

It finally happened for Thomas.  Jesus appeared.  Despite the locked doors, he appeared and greeted them as always, “Peace be with you.”  That’s when Thomas saw with his heart and fell to his knees.”My Lord and my God.”

As the soldiers marched past the disciples’ hiding place searching out insurrectionists, he received Jesus’ peace.  In the midst of fear over the future, the disciples received peace.  Bolted doors and closed minds couldn’t hold peace back.Thomas yearned to see Jesus just one more time.

We don’t know where he was during Jesus’ first visit to that locked room.  What we can surmise is that it served to increase his yearning.  Despite his disbelief Christ entered in with his message of extraordinarily good news and breathed peace.  Thomas’ response was filled with awe and submission.

Wherever you are in your journey, know this: Jesus can enter locked doors, locked hearts and locked minds; Jesus breathes peace while the world breathes hate and retribution.

Whatever you yearn for,  know that Christ enters in breathing peace.

All glory and honor be to God.Amen.


God Moves…Out of the Tomb

NOTE:  There are several people in the following all too familiar reading.  As you read, consider the viewpoint of one of the women (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, or all the rest) or Peter or one of the disciples.

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.[e] (Luke 24:1-12 NRSV)

The women arrive at the tomb.  They expect to find a body to prepare for final burial.  What they get is two men in dazzling clothes, an empty tomb and a reminder.

What they get is resurrection.

Unexpected.  Unbelievable.  Confusing.

What does it mean?

The women are perplexed and then terrified.  When they report back to the men, they’re met with disbelief.  Peter runs to the tomb and returns home amazed.

What does it mean?

It means that everything has changed.

Should they grieve or celebrate?  What happens now?  Will the apostles return to their fishing boats and their tax collector’s booths?  They feel as they’re standing on shaky ground.  The future that held grief holds…what?

The world has never seen anything like this before.

“We’ve never done it like this before.’  These are the seven deadly words of the Church.  The church watches their numbers move steadily downward.  Churches close while Mega Churches open.  Members come in the front door and leave through the back door.  Arguments ensue about worship style.  Contemporary bands versus organs and pianos.  Hymnbooks are replaced with screens and graphics.

“We’ve never done it this way before.”  Brave churches allow themselves to die.  They give up all the sacred cows: the old-style worship, the women’s Study Groups, the family night dinners, Sunday school curriculum that should have died twenty years ago.

Theses churches risk an early demise.  Doing church the old way isn’t working, so they give it up and turn to God for leadership.  In many cases resurrection happens!  They discover ministry outside their front doors.  A new vibrancy occurs that becomes electric.  Their excitement spreads and they enter into one new thing after another.

Resurrection.  A new thing.  Resurrection. We’ve never done it this way before.  Resurrection.  A future with the risen Christ that begins with amazement and terror.

When you read this scripture whose point of view did you take?  Was it the women?  Or Peter?  Or one of the disciples?

What did you notice?  How does that speak to you?  What did you read in this text that you never noticed before?

How might this change your perspective? your life?  your future?  Perhaps you’re ready to enter into a hazy future that will become clearer with each new step.

Easter people live that way.  Easter people allow the risen Christ to change who they are in order to serve the people Christ loves.  Easter people like who they have become and seek to follow Christ into new places.

Jesus is Risen.  We’re still confused at this new reality that is born every Easter morning.  Change will continue for these disciples and will cost them their lives.  Change will continue for us whether we embrace resurrection or hang onto the past.

We can wander away in confusion or we can continue to live and move and serve our risen Lord day by day.

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen Indeed!

Hallelujah! Amen!


Jesus Moves Us…To Empty Ourselves

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them[a] with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it[c] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8   (John 12:1-8 NRSV)

It’s a loud, raucous party.

Lazarus sits with his friends, including Jesus, celebrating his return to life. It wasn’t so long ago that he had died.  Jesus brought him back and now Lazarus spends his days with a fresh sense of life and joy.  His priorities have shifted.  His corner of the world is in need of repair and he does what he can to make it a better place.

Martha joyfully scurries from kitchen to table with baskets and bowls laden with food.  She calls out orders to the servants while laughing with her guests at the table.   The wine and food are flowing.  One would think it was the Messianic Banquet at the end of time!

Judas sits back eying everyone with suspicion. He thinks everyone around him is just as much a liar and a cheat as he is.  The purse is getting low and Judas has expenses to pay.  He needs to find a way to make more money.  Maybe he can hit Lazarus up for another donation.  He’s always good for a denarius or two .

Mary disappears for a moment and returns with a pound of expensive perfume.  She kneels at Jesus’ feet.  The party sounds subside as quickly as the cloying perfume odor fills the air.  Within seconds the guests are quiet and watching with a mixture of awe and wonder as she anoints Jesus feet.

Part of the surprise is her hair.  It shouldn’t be flowing like it is when men are present.  Most surprising is that she uses it to wipe the dirt and sweat and fatigue from Jesus’ feet.  You can tell from the expression on Jesus’ face that it feels very good.

He’s been tired of late.  The disciples have noticed him retreating more than usual to be alone.  He’s quieter than usual.  Since raising Lazarus from the dead, the authorities have been out to get Jesus.  He can no longer go out in public.  His life is on the line and everyone knows it.

So when they see his expression of enjoyment and relaxation, they’re happy for him.  They won’t disturb this strange scene.

Judas can’t take any more.  Where did she get the money to buy that perfume?  It should have been used for the poor — the usual talk of an embezzler.  He grinds his teeth with anger.  How dare she!

Who are you in this scene?

Perhaps Lazarus’ story resonates with you.  You’ve experienced hard times in one way or another and you’ve come out the other end ready to reinvent your life.  Ready to pour yourself out to make a difference in your corner of the world.

Many of us probably identify with Martha.  The organizer and worker who loves serving.  Sure, sometimes she overdoes it.  Us Martha’s are like that.  Still, she enjoys pouring herself out to feed others and provide a festive atmosphere.

And then there’s Mary.  Not very good in the kitchen although she’s good in a pinch.  She’s a bit introverted and quiet.  Everyone knows her as the “spiritual” one in the family.  She’s bright.  She’s insightful.  She knows scripture as well as any rabbi.  There’s something about Mary that’s hard to explain.  There’s something about Mary that draws people to her.

We don’t like Judas.  Mainly because we’ve known liars and cheaters.

I worked with a non-profit organization, serving in a refreshment stand to make money for special projects.  We knew we were losing money, but we couldn’t figure out who it was.  The keeper of the treasury seemed to be careful and diligent.  He even reported that he had been so busy working, he had put a $100 bill in his pocket for safe keeping and forgot to put it in the cash drawer before he left that evening.

One night someone else was asked to watch the cash drawer.  Ray was furious.  I stood next to him drawing pop into cups.  He groused and growled.  Suddenly, he pushed me out of his way and I nearly fell to the dirty floor.  He was wrapped up in himself that he didn’t notice what he’d done to me.  Soon after, he was asked to relieve the person at the cash drawer.  Ray was suddenly happy and lighthearted.

He was the embezzler.  He managed to steal over $1,000 from our treasury.  He was a broken man who needed money to make him feel secure.  He was a fake and a phony.  He acted as if he was better than the rest of us.  He really didn’t feel that way, though.  He was too broken.  He was our Judas.

Judas is furious.  You can see that vein in his neck pulsing madly.  His lip curls and he calls out, “Why wasn’t that perfume sold and used to support the poor?!?”  All eyes turn to him.  Even Mary stops what she’s doing in embarrassment.

“Don’t go there, Judas!” Jesus responds.  “She’s honoring me as I head to the cross.  Leave her alone.”  Mary returns to wiping his feet.

“Look everyone.  You know the poor will always be with you.  And you’ve worked hard with me to alleviate their suffering.  I want you to continue doing that.  But, for this evening, in this extraordinary time, let Mary poor herself out for me.”

Jesus’ crucifixion is only a few days away.  He knows what will happen.  This is probably the last good day of his life on earth.  In a few days he’ll pour himself out for Mary and Martha and Lazarus and, yes, even Judas.  In his resurrection, he’ll invite you and me to pour ourselves out for him and his kingdom.

We resist.  That expensive, lavish perfume.  A year’s salary spent on perfume to wash someone’s dirty feet.  We worry about that.  We worry about wasting our time, so we get to work like Martha did.  We worry about a lack of money and start cutting back on mission budgets in order to pay the utilities.

As Lent comes to a close and we enter into Holy Week, I wonder how your Lenten Journey is.  I wonder if you’ve learned something new about yourself.  I wonder if you’ve stumbled along the way.  Did you give up?  Or were able to stay at it?  Whatever the case, it’s good that you put the time and energy into the process.  You’re better off for the effort, no matter the outcome.

There’s a time to be frugal and wise stewards of God’s provision.  There’s a time to hear Christ’s hope for each of us.  Christ hopes for us a life of extravagance with each other; to poor ourselves out for repairing the earth from hunger and want and hurting to filled and loving and beloved.

Jesus was extravagant in healing and feeding and living.  He calls us to be extravagant with our time and energy and resources to pour ourselves out for him.

When we pour ourselves out for him, we are repairing this broken earth.  This pouring out is available to all of us.  Even the broken Judas’ among us.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.,


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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