May 19, 2019
Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35
So, who here likes to create? I know there must be some creative people among you here.
You can create out of anything! The construction of a house is creation. Making greeting cards is definitely creation. Planting your garden and caring for your flowers is an act of creating and caring for creation. We create on a daily basis and some of us may not even be aware of it.
One of my first memories of creating was playing with Lego bricks. I had quite the collection of Lego sets when I was younger, and I would spend hours putting them together and playing with them. The real creation would start when I left the instructions behind and just used my own creativity to create something new out of the various bricks that I had in my inventory. I would make buildings, cars, spaceships, and anything that came to my mind as I locked the pieces together. I had thought that it would be cool to be a Lego Master Builder. Imagine, building with Legos all day long and getting paid for it!
Everything that we are surrounded by, or pick up, or even our own bodies had to be created in one way or another. There is also the creation that is yet to come.
This season of Easter our second readings have came from Revelation. It is important to remember that Revelation is a piece of apocalyptic writing based on a vision of the author John. The message of Revelation takes two forms. First, the terrifying visions are warnings to those that are falling away from the faith. Second, the glorious visions of triumph offer encouragement to those who are oppressed, persecuted, or feeling powerless in a hostile world. 
The message this morning comes to us in the form of hope for the kingdom to come. God promises that all things will be made new and in this promise we are welcomed into a creation that is unfolding before our eyes.
We must remember that we are already living in a glorious creation! Looking back at Genesis, when God creates everything, it is regarded as good! From the seas to the land. From the animals to the birds of the air. From plants to the very creation of humanity itself. It is all very good!
However, we know that over time humanity has taken dominion over the earth in ways that are not beneficial and has eventually led to death and destruction. We look at this destruction and become numb to it. An apathy sets in and we turn inwards and just worry about our immediate surroundings. We forget about our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world that are dying from hunger. We forget about wars happening around the world if they do not immediately affect us. We lose sight of what it means to care for creation as it has been given to us. As we worry about things falling apart, we turn even more inward and close off the outside world instead of trying to create change.
In our gospel lesson this morning, the disciple’s world is starting to fall apart around them as well. We enter the reading just after Judas receives the piece of bread from Jesus and he exits the supper to betray Jesus. While the disciples may not know exactly what Judas is up to, Jesus has already been predicting his death. There is a sense in the room that things may be headed in a different direction than what they would prefer they had.
Judas’ betrayal is part of that same brokenness that is reflected among us in the very care of creation. Judas is taking things into his own hands; however, it is unavoidable. It is part of the procession that we have become familiar with during the passion. It points to the ways that we too will betray Jesus in our sinning. Jesus is present in the very creation that we have turned our back on, yet in our own brokenness, we must come to realize that Jesus is standing there feeding us the bread of life.
That bread of life comes to us is a new creation. The new heaven and the new earth that John writes about in Revelation is a hope that comes to us through Jesus Christ in the present time, but also in the time to come as we encounter a new kingdom. The heavens and the earth as we know them today will pass away. That does not mean that the earth as we know it today is disposable. We still have the call from God at the beginning of Genesis to care for creation and not to take advantage of it. Every time that we exploit the earth and any part of creation, we are sinning and revealing our own brokenness to those around us.
Not only will the old pass away, the sea will be no more. Now, this does not mean that the oceans will evaporate or completely disappear. The image of the sea in the Hebrew scriptures is a reference to the chaos of the world and the brokenness and the sin that lies within it. In the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, that means that chaos as we know it will vanish.
In the meantime, Jesus has risen, Alleluia! In this very action, God has already shown us the wonderful and mysterious that can be done in creation. The new heaven and new earth are already on their way as we move ever closer to the kingdom of God. In the midst of it, we too, can help in the very creation.
Patrick Carolan wrote in a newsletter this past week, “What if the purpose of the Incarnation and Resurrection was not so we could go somewhere else, but rather so we, with God, could create a new earth.”
Imagine what that would look like. The chaos would be gone. And even more importantly, we would be fully living into the teachings of Jesus. In the gospel lesson he instructs his disciples to “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What if we were to begin creating a new earth today and approached everyone with love. Not judgement or scorn. But pure, simple love. The love that Jesus showed to us by his death on a cross. The love that he wants each and everyone of us to experience through the grace of God. It is a love that knows no end and a love that pulls us into the very being of God.
Let us pray. Creator God, you give us the opportunity to reach
out in love to our neighbors and be a part of the breaking in of your kingdom
into this world. May we walk with creation in love and care as we are guided
along our path by your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Lutheran Study Bible, Augsburg Fortress
 Patrick Carolan, Franciscan Action Network newsletter, May 13, 2019.
May 12, 2019
One class that is not offered in seminary is how to care for a church cemetery!
As a new pastor, it is important that it is properly maintained. Mowed on a regular basis and ensure that it looks like it is in decent order. Not to mention that proper records are maintained. Also, you better make sure that there are flags on all the graves of the military veterans on Memorial Day. How this became part of the pastor’s job I was never sure. It did not help that the cemetery was located a few miles from the church on a dirt road near the original church.
Every year when we come to this point in the lectionary, I am reminded of my first call and their cemetery. Why? Because it was not just known as Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery, but also the Swedish Lutheran Cemetery and more importantly, the Sheep of the Good Shepherd Cemetery. There is a metal archway over the entrance that reads, “Sheep of the Good Shepherd.” It was a serene spot. A place that I truly enjoyed visiting and being surrounded with the saints of the congregation that had already entered the church triumphant. If I was lucky enough, I may be visited by livestock whose grazing area butted up to the cemetery. I walked along the Anderson’s, Nelson’s, Sandahl’s, Hanson’s (you know all those good Swedish names), and many more while praying. I especially enjoyed going out there on Easter Sunday just as the sun was rising and rejoicing in the Resurrection.
In John’s gospel this morning, we enter the story in the midst of The Good Shepherd chapter. Therefore, the 4th Sunday of Easter has come to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus, the good shepherd, knows each and every one of us and calls us by name to follow him and have life eternal.
While Jesus knows us and calls us, that does not mean that we fully understand what is taking place. We too often attempt to make Jesus into the very thing that he is not! Don’t think that we are the only ones. There was confusion in Jesus’ time as well. The Jewish leaders in the temple wanted to know who Jesus was. In our lesson this morning, they cannot stand the waiting. It’s like waiting for the name of the latest royal baby that was born. Ok not really, but those talking to Jesus this morning really wants to know if he is the Messiah or not!
We are told that it is winter and the time of the festival of the Dedication. We know this festival better as Hanukkah. It was a celebration of not only the rededication of the temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt, but also a celebration of liberation. As they gather for this festival, the Jewish people are looking towards the coming of a Messiah, and are waiting for Jesus to respond and tell them the truth. However, he chooses not to answer in the affirmative because he does not fit into the box in which they are trying to place him.
They are looking for a Messiah, who will save them from the Roman empire. A conqueror who will destroy all that is in their way and will bring them to a place of peace. Their concern is around earthly matters and not the promise of salvation that the Messiah can provide eternally. They desire someone that can conquer their oppressors and bring them back to a point of nationalistic pride.
Wow, we do not learn from history, do we?
Time and time again, we gather around political leaders that we think are going to bring great change and we remove our eyes from what truly matters in Jesus Christ. We want them to save us from what we think is wrong. We look for leaders in businesses to save them from failure. The church is even guilty of this! Congregations call pastors in the hope that they will turn everything around. Sunday school classes will be back to levels of the past, the sanctuary will be full, and the offering plate will be over flowing. In all of these cases, we look past what truly matters in Jesus Christ. Not to say these things cannot be done, but they are done in community. We are not called to conquer. We are not called to save anybody from anything. That is the calling of Jesus Christ!
Jesus is the Messiah! He just is not the Messiah that the Jewish leaders are looking for. He does conquer. But he does not conquer the Roman Empire as they are hoping. He conquers what truly matters. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, conquers sin, death, and evil! It is this Messiah that we are called to follow. We follow him and he tends to us as his flock.
More importantly, he reaches out to those that need him the most. He looks to welcome all of humanity. Especially the part of humanity that is abandoned, thrown out, cast out, and tossed out. Those that are on the fringes of society. His concern is not with political parties or the bottom line. Jesus’ concern is for his flock. To care for and love us as children of God.
While we may have no clue how to be a shepherd in the literal sense, we can learn from Jesus and reach out to the same people that he ushers into the kingdom of God. And you know what, Jesus does not exclude anyone. In his call to follow him, we too can learn to share the love and grace that is bestowed upon us by God.
This past week, as the church of Christ, we lost another great saint. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche Community for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. He is an example of what it means to truly follow Jesus Christ. He wrote the following in one of his many books,
To become a good shepherd is to come out of the shell of selfishness in order to be attentive to those for whom we are responsible so as to reveal to them their fundamental beauty and value and help them grow and become fully alive.
As we choose to follow Jesus, are we truly following him, or are we just giving him lip service? Are we being his hands and feet in the world or are we just talking the talk? The grace is that Jesus welcomes us in whatever we choose to do, however are we truly living in our faith? What are we choosing to shepherd?
Let us pray. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, you call us to follow you and you know us. You know our hearts and what is on our minds. May we continue to listen to that calling and be open to your movement in our lives and the life of our community. Amen.
May 5, 2019
There came a time in seminary, somewhere during my second year, that I started to wonder what I was doing. I questioned if I was truly following God’s call to serve in the church with the hopes of becoming an ordained pastor. I doubted myself because I did not come from the same background as most of my classmates had, since they mostly all grew up in the church and it was an incremental part of their lives from birth to the present day.
I began to wonder if it would just be much easier to return to my previous career. At points as I was challenged by Greek and Hebrew, and deeply immersed in heavy theological papers, managing a store and stocking shelves seemed like a much better option than to submit myself to an overwhelming class load and subjects that just made me go, huh, at times.
Perhaps this is how the disciples felt after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus has turned the world of the disciple’s upside down! Amid their uncertainty they return to what they know, only to find Jesus there to greet them and bring them hope.
In his gospel, John shares with us that the disciples have finally moved out of their hiding place. It is about time! Last week, Jesus appeared to the eleven for a second time after his resurrection and Thomas is welcomed into the fold and has received the Holy Spirit from Jesus just as the other disciples had a week earlier. Finally, we find them venturing out into the open. The fear may be starting to abate a little and some of them return to the only place where they feel comfortable! In such an uncertain time they return to the sea so that they can do the one thing they know how to do well. The only problem, they have no such luck catching any fish in their nets overnight. As much as the disciples want to move forward, they seem to be stuck. Their nets are empty, and they are struggling.
Let’s admit it, we do not have perfect lives. We struggle. We are challenged with family issues. We are challenged with finances at times. We are challenged with relationships. We are even challenged in placing a sure and definite hope and faith in God. While I stayed in seminary, went on to internship, and returned to finish my senior year, it does not mean that it was easy and without its challenges. At times I would have just loved to leave it all behind and return to what I knew and what I was comfortable doing.
However, Jesus challenges us! Yes, you heard me right. Jesus challenges us to look within ourselves to listen and discern who we really are as a child of God. I am sure that you have heard it said that Peter answering Jesus’ questions about whether he loves him three times is a reversal of the three times Peter denies Jesus. What if, it was about Jesus getting Peter to remember who he is? Yes, Peter has denied Jesus three times. However, in these denials, he is denying himself. He has forgot whose he is and who he is as a child of God. Jesus’ questioning could just as easily be a call back to Peter to remember who he is and not that he is called to love Jesus, but that Jesus loves him just as he is. His flaws, mis-steps and all!
The wonder of it all, is that Jesus keeps showing up. He has now appeared three times to the disciples and they are starting to be drawn out of their seclusion and be fed. While they return to what they are comfortable doing, Jesus is present in the lack of catching fish to ensure that they are fed and fed abundantly. Jesus instructs them to throw the net to the other side of the boat and they can barely lift the net back into the boat because it is completely filled. We are told that there are 153 fish in all. According to a commentary by St. Jerome, it was believed back then there were 153 different types of fish in the sea.
As the disciples are sent out to fish for people, this is a sign for them not to exclude anyone. God welcomes all people in, and all are part of God’s wonderful, beautiful creation. God will welcome and gather every single one into an embrace full of love and grace. And as we learn with Peter, Jesus looks beyond denials, mis-steps, and flaws. Jesus shows up. Jesus shows up to remind us whose we are and that we are called and sent out to a world in need of God’s hands and feet.
While we may not see Jesus face to face, or at least not in an impression that is reminiscent of famous paintings, Jesus still shows up. Jesus shows up in our friends and neighbors. Jesus shows up in the unexpected. Jesus shows up in the exact places where he needs to be. Places where his love flows over, and we experience a grace that is both mysterious and wonderful. Once again, I ask you, where have you seen Jesus this Easter season? Earlier this week, I was at the Institute of Liturgical Studies and on the closing day, I witnessed a Valpo student paying for the lunch of an older couple. He did not know them. He barely said anything to them. However, you could visibly see their appreciation and Jesus in this very simple action of the young man that generously touched two lives that will be remembered for some time to come.
This is Jesus at work in our world today. This morning, I invite you to come forward to receive Christ in the bread and wine. These are the visible signs of Christ with us this morning and in the breaking of the bread and sharing of a meal, we take Jesus into our very selves so that we can then go out into the world and be Christ for those that need a sign of hope and a promise that all will be made new.
Let us pray. Ever-present God, you come to us in the most unexpected places. May we welcome you to call us and send us out to do your very will in the world. May we bear the signs of hope that you bestowed to us in Jesus and carry out your love for all to see and feel. Amen.
April 28, 2019
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
As we enter this second Sunday of Easter, we are confronted with the same gospel story that we hear every year on this day. The story of Jesus first appearing to the disciples and then again to Thomas in John’s gospel which continues the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Many of our sisters and brothers also celebrate this Sunday as Holy Humor Sunday or Laughter Sunday. This celebration actually goes all the way back to our early Greek Christian sisters and brothers in the faith that used the days after Easter Sunday to have parties and rejoice with joy and laughter. Why? It is an ongoing celebration of the resurrection and “the custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. “Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it.”
Now, there seems to be one person that is not laughing. That is Thomas.
Thomas is skeptical of what has happened. Really, can we blame him? All the other disciples were present when Jesus came into where they were hiding, and Thomas did not see Jesus for himself. He had to be upset with himself. What was he doing in the first place? Maybe he was going to pick up supplies. Maybe he was gauging the tension that hung in the air after Jesus crucifixion. That is totally left up to our imaginations.
Because of his questions, Thomas gets framed with the title “Doubting!” Imagine having to travel around with that moniker attached to your name. However, while Thomas does appear to doubt, the question could be raised, who is he doubting? Is he doubting that Jesus actually returned and appeared to the disciples? Or is he more in question of the disciples themselves?
So, let’s get this straight. The disciples were just hiding out in the house and Jesus appears to them. John tells us in his gospel that when Jesus spoke to the disciples, he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Now, a more accurate translation would be that he breathed into them. He gave them the Holy Spirit to reside within their very being. This could be what Thomas has an issue with! If Jesus has done what they say, then why are they still hiding out? Should they not be going out and proclaiming the good news as Jesus as told them to do. Thomas wants the same experience as those that were present. Thomas does not see anything different in the way they are acting to lead him to assume that Jesus was actually present. He does not doubt Jesus; he is in doubt of the actions of the disciples.
We can relate with the Thomas that wants to experience everything the way the disciples supposedly said they did. We want to be present when important things happen. We get jealous when we miss out and sometimes even question the authenticity of an event if we were not present to witness it. Events cannot be repeated just because we missed out on them the first time. Just because we were not present, does not mean that a particular event did not happen.
Fortunately for Thomas, Jesus does return a week later. He already senses what Thomas is about to say and offers the wound in his side for Thomas to touch. We assume that he touched the wound. All of the paintings show us that he touched the wound. Honestly, I do not think Thomas would have had to follow through. He is now experiencing Jesus as the disciples did a week earlier. In the peace that Jesus gave him may also be the breath of the Holy Spirit that he breathed into the disciples.
And how does Thomas respond? “My Lord and my God!” It is a proclamation of his faith. A proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord, and also God. Human and divine. Thomas now knows and believes in Jesus as the Messiah and is empowered with the Holy Spirit to move forward. The doubt that had arisen in the lack of action of the disciples has now vanished. Perhaps this is even enough now to get them to move out of the space they are hiding and begin to spread the good news that Jesus has instructed them to do.
The same Jesus that appears to his disciples and a week later to Thomas, with scars and all, is the same Jesus that comes to be with us. Jesus is with us in hunger, brokenness, hopelessness, disappointment, anger, despair, and much much more. Jesus is present when we least expect it and even in times when we would like to see him get lost. When we think that we know better, Jesus is present to remind us that there is something much greater. It is this same Jesus that comes to our side to be with us in darkness so that we can encounter the light. And what should our response be? “My Lord and my God!” God is visible all around us. For in the story of the resurrection we are reminded that all things are made new! During Easter you are encouraged to write on the back door where you have seen God this Easter season and where you can be God’s hands and feet in the world. For, we too are being sent to proclaim the risen Lord!
Let us pray. God of wonder, you appear before us at times we do not even recognize. May our laughter remind us of your saving grace and may our eyes be open by your light as it spreads to the darkness in our own lives. Amen.
April 21, 2019 Easter Sunday
|Alleluia! Christ is Risen! |
Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Hell took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!
For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!
-John Chrysostom 347-407
The Easter Homily
This Easter Homily from John Chrysostom is wonderful; however, I don’t quite think that is the first thoughts that the women that encountered the empty tomb were feeling. Honestly, they were more confused as to what was going on. The two men that show up in dazzling clothes, most likely angels, ask them “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” They are looking because they were just at the tomb right before the Passover had begun! They had seen the body of Jesus laying in the tomb where Joseph of Arimathea had placed him. They were perplexed because things like this did not happen. Surely, someone must have stolen the body!
They looked past the promises that Jesus had made and what would happen once he arrived in Jerusalem. Perhaps they just thought that he was speaking metaphorically. They were not expecting to find Jesus outside of the tomb where he had been laid. They may have recalled his talking about a resurrection, but did he really mean a bodily resurrection?
It is easy for us today to look past where God is working in the world as well. Especially given the war and turmoil that we are witness to on the news. The violence that pervades the daily news stream can bring us down in a darkness. We get frustrated when church attendance declines and we are left with more questions than answers.
Some biblical scholars even argue about whether or not there was a physical resurrection. Does it matter whether Jesus was physically resurrected or not? YES! Paul shares this in 1 Corinthians right before the reading selected from there this morning: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).
The women’s initial perplexity at what had happened to Jesus’ body flows over to the disciples when they proclaim to them that he was no longer there. While the women recalled what Jesus has proclaimed to them about being raised on the third day, the disciples are still perplexed, and Peter had to go and see for himself. His faith did not initially carry him, he had to see for himself! How often do we let stumbling blocks get in the way of our own faith?
Perplexity is an honest human reaction. The disciples had spent the last three years learning from Jesus and even began teaching themselves as they went out into the surrounding villages. Jesus had always been there to ask questions of and now they were perplexed in not only his body missing from the tomb, but who are they supposed to turn to now? It is at the empty tomb that the women and Peter began to encounter a new reality.
Jesus promised that he would bring new life and, in the resurrection, we find the promise that God has been sharing with humanity from the dawn of creation. This is not an “idle tale” as the disciples had feared. This is what propelled Peter to get up and see for himself. Once again, we would probably be found in the same place if not for our faith. Resurrection seems incomprehensible, yet God conceives it and comprehends it for us!
The disciples will never be the same! They have been transformed in that very moment when they come to believe in the resurrection and give thanks that Jesus Christ points to new life in creation. God gives us the gifts to help lead us to faith and hope in the new creation to come. We are gifted with sacraments that makes God present for us daily. In the waters of baptism, we become members of the body of Christ and die our own death to only be restored to a new and wonderful life in Christ. Every time we come in contact with water we are reminded of the grace and love of God that washes us clean.
Every time we come forward to the table for holy communion, Jesus Christ meets us. He meets us in the elements of bread and wine to let us know that he is very much a part of us. By eating the bread and drinking the wine, we welcome Christ into our lives and his very presence lets us know that he is alive and well. When it is hard to see God’s activity in the world, know that God is present always, and the physical reminders of the sacraments bring us face to face.
Coming face to face with Christ in the sacraments gives us a peace to go out into the world to proclaim the good news!
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Christ is risen, Indeed!
It helps us to find God in everything that we encounter, from the beauty of nature on a long hike, to the cats and dogs that curl up on our laps or couch next to us. God is present in our very breath and the winds that blow over this very creation. God is with those that are naked, hungry, thirsty, mourn, and grieve. God has never left us and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord, we are ushered into a new creation that unfolds in front of us.
Let us pray. Creator God, you bring us to new life through the death and resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ. Let us rejoice in this new creation and the light that vanished death so that we too will come to know life eternal. Amen.
April 10, 2019
I am stepping away from the typical sermon this week and giving you more of a short reflection as we enter one of the most sacred weeks of the church year. The gospel of Luke can speak for itself and appears full of desolation as we await what we know happens following Jesus’ death on the cross.
Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people as he entered Jerusalem one last time. Brian McLaren, in his book We Make the Road by Walking, imagines what that entry may look and sound like,
A reverent silence descends upon our parade. It’s a sight that has choked up many as a pilgrim. But Jesus doesn’t just get choked up. He begins to weep. The crowd clusters around him, and he begins to speak to Jerusalem. “If only you knew on this day of all days the things that lead to peace,” he says through tears. “But you can’t see. A time will come when your enemies will surround you, and you will be crushed and this whole city leveled …all because you didn’t recognize the meaning of this moment of God’s visitation.”
You didn’t recognize the meaning of this moment of God’s visitation!
These are the words of Jesus speaking the harsh truth to the people of Jerusalem that have gathered to welcome him into the city with fanfare and celebration. He could just as easily be saying, “I’m sorry, I think you are a little too late for that.” When do we ourselves fail to see Jesus in our midst? Do we look beyond the visitor and not welcome them in? Do we turn up our nose to the gentleman that walks into our community seeking assistance? Do we jump to quick conclusions when encountering someone that is not like us, whether they are a different gender, race, ability, or sexual orientation? Do we disregard our migrant neighbors that are escaping crime, persecution, and even death? Jesus can and will be found in all of these circumstances.
We are not much different than the crowd that has gathered around Jesus, full of excitement. As a community we are welcomed into something much greater than us over this next week. We are together because God has called us all to be a part of this community. Some of you have never known any other place. Some of you had significant life events that brought you here. Some of you have only been here a short time. It does not matter. We are all called into community to love and support one another. We are called to love and support each other in times of joy as well as times of sorrow. You are called to support those that are leading the congregation. You are called to care for this space like it is your own home. Why? Because we are in relationship with one another and we are community. In this community we welcome Jesus Christ in any and all forms.
together as a community. This week as a community we are invited to walk in the
steps of Jesus’ last days. Thursday we will gather to lay down our sins at the
foot of the cross, be reminded of Jesus’ love and service for all through the
washing of feet, and finally we will break bread with one another as we receive
Holy Communion. Friday, we come together as we recognize those last breaths of Jesus
on the cross. Breaths that are held until we gather for the Easter Vigil on
Saturday evening. These three days seamlessly flow together, and as a community
we live out these days with the anticipation of what is to come. You are
invited to come, and be fully present, and live into community this week as we
embrace Jesus’ last days and anticipate the new life to come.
 Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, pg. 149.
March 31, 2019
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
You have probably heard this parable countless times over the years. I am sure there are just as many interpretations of this parable as there are preachers. Ok, that may be taking it a little far, but you get the point. Is this a story of greed, sloth, wastefulness, envy, anger? Yes! We can find all of that within the parable. Looking beyond that, the parable of the prodigal son can call us into ourselves to explore and discover where we may find ourselves in the story.
Do you see yourself as the prodigal that has all of a sudden came into a great fortune and are now looking for ways to go out and spend it? Or, do you see yourself as the older brother that appears to have come to the point where he despises his brother and is angry at his return? Maybe you see yourself as the father that welcomes the prodigal home with a loving embrace, the finest clothes, and a feast fit for royalty.
The father looks past the fact that in his culture his son shamed him when asking for his inheritance, already writing his father off as dead. The older son is disregarded by his father and feels that he has never had the same attention paid to him. When we encounter them upon the prodigal son’s return home, they are both outside of the house. They are both left searching for something and one of them finds it. Through it all, we are reminded of the grace that God is there to welcome us home.
It is possible, that you do not feel anything when hearing this parable. Maybe it does not resonate with you. What if we were to hear a modern version of this parable? Scott Higgins shares this modern day version:
Jenny grew up near Portland, Maine. In her early teenage years, she fell into a pattern of long running battles with her parents. They didn’t react too well when she came home with a nose ring. They were furious when she stayed out all night without so much as a phone call to tell them where she was. Her friends weren’t exactly her parent’s first choice.
One night Jenny and her folks have a huge fight. “I hate you!” she screams at her father as she slams the door to her bedroom. That night she acts on a plan that’s been forming for some time. Once everyone has gone to sleep, she gets dressed, packs a bag and goes into the kitchen. Opening the kitchen drawer, she rifles through her parent’s wallets. She takes the credit cards, the cash, and their bank book. She hops on a bus and heads for New York City. When she gets there, she waits on the doorstep of the Bank so she can be the first through the door. She forges her mother’s signature and withdraws $12500 her parents had in their investment account. She grabs a cab to the airport and uses the money to buy a ticket to Los Angeles, the last place she figures her parents will look for her.
She arrives in Los Angeles, and pretty soon she’s enjoying the high life – a new group of friends, plenty of booze, late nights, sleep all day, no school, no parent’s hassling her about a nose ring, let alone her experiments with sex and drugs. It doesn’t take long until the $12500’s gone and the credit cards have been cancelled.
Back home her parents are frantic. Her mom had to start stocking shelves at night to pay off the credit card debt, and the $12500 set aside for her sister’s university tuition is gone. The police are notified, the streets are searched – first Portland, and then the greater New England area. Her parents don’t know what’s happened. They fear the worst.
Meanwhile down on the streets of LA things aren’t going too well. Jenny’s soon addicted to heroin and the money she stole doesn’t go too far. She moves into a tiny apartment and starts selling herself for sex.
One day she’s walking down the street and sees a poster on the electrical pole. It’s headed “Have you seen this girl?” Below the heading is a photo of her – at least as she used to look. The poster’s got her parent’s phone number on it and asks for anyone with information to call. Jenny rips the poster down, folds it up and puts it into her pocket.
The months pass, then the years. Jenny’s been careless one time too many. At first, she writes off her sickness as just another bout of flu. But the illness persists. She goes to the free clinic to discover she’s contracted Hepatitis C and HIV. Nobody wants her now!
As she sits lonely, tired and hungry in the tiny apartment, she looks at the poster she’d rescued from that electrical pole and saved for the last few years. She thinks back to her previous life – as a typical schoolgirl in a middle-class suburban Portland family. It triggers memories of the famous family water fight one steaming summer day when she was 12; and of crazy moments dancing together; of her sister’s comforting arms when she broke up with David. “God, why did I leave?” she says to herself. “Even the family mutt lives a better life than I do.” She’s sobbing now and knows that more than anything she wants to go home.
Three straight phone calls, three connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Mom, dad, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a flight to Portland. I’ll be at the airport about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well I guess I’ll just stay in the airport until morning and then find some place to crash.”
The next day on the flight Jenny thinks about all the flaws in her plan. What if mom and dad were out and miss the message? And what are they going to do if they heard it anyway – after all, it’s been 10 years and they haven’t heard a word from me in all that time. How are they going to react when they discover I’m a junkie with AIDS? If they do show up what on earth am I going to say?…”
The flight lands at ten minutes past midnight. She hears the cabin pressure release as the door to the plane opens and she exits and heads toward the gate. “This is it. Oh well, get ready for nothing.”
Jenny steps out on to the concourse not knowing what to expect. She looks to her right and sees no one, but before she can look to her left, she hears someone call her name. Her head whips around and there’s her mom and dad and her sister and her aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmother. They’re holding a banner that reads “Welcome home”, and everyone’s wearing goofy party hats and throwing streamers and popping party poppers, and there’s her mom and dad running towards her, tears streaming down their face, arms held wide. Jenny can’t move. Her parent’s grab her with such force it almost knocks her over.
“Dad, I’m sorry. I know…”
“Hush child. Forget the apologies. All we care about is that you are home. I just want to hold you. Come on, everyone’s waiting – we’ve got a big party organized at home.” And Jenny finds herself awash in a sea of family and love that she has not known for over 10 years.
Today we find ourselves in the fourth Sunday of Lent. This season of Lent, we have been talking about those things in our lives that we want to let go of so that we can begin to foster a deeper relationship with God. By letting go, we begin to cultivate areas in our lives that essentially lead to new life. A new life in Jesus Christ.
The answers for what are you going to let go and what are you going to cultivate are not a one size fits all answer. We are each on a different part of our faith journey. Some of us may even feel like we are on a different path completely. Don’t lose hope in this. No matter where we are at in our faith journey, God is present. God is present when we are greedy and want to walk off into the distance. God is present when we are wasteful and find ourselves wallowing in the mud. God is present in our anger and envy and even when we go as far to seek vengeance.
More importantly, God is present to welcome us home. This Lenten season is all about repentance, or letting go, and returning to God. May you feel the warming embrace of Christ these next few weeks as we walk towards the cross with Jesus and be prepared to encounter his suffering. For in his suffering, death is conquered, resurrection triumphs and we all will find new life.
Let us pray. Welcoming God, we
are so quick at times to turn others away and not give them the time of day. May
we learn from you what it means to open our hearts to all and proclaim your
gospel message. Amen.
 Source: A fictional story by Scott Higgins modelled on a similar story in Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace and paralleling the story of the prodigal son