You Have a Choice!

June 30, 2019

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Growing up I would say that I had the greatest freedom I could imagine. Probably the only thing that could have made it better was if my parents had been millionaires. Still, I would usually receive what I asked for within reason. Of course, it helped that I am a white male that lived in a predominantly white town. 

My parents gave me the freedom to make many of my own decisions and befriend whomever I wanted. I had the freedom to choose to attend Central Michigan University and the freedom to discern and decide to go to seminary and become a pastor.

Some of these freedoms may come to us because of where we live. As we approach Independence Day, it is important to be reminded of the roots of our country and the many struggles that we have been through and will continue to go through. We give thanks for the freedom that has come to us through the sacrifice of many generations, however, we must remember that the ultimate freedom we encounter is not our American concept of individuality, autonomy, and self-determination.

As Christians, in Jesus Christ we have been given the gift of freedom. What we choose to do with that freedom is reflective of our life in Christ. You have a choice!

If you read in entirety, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, it will not take too long to figure out that Paul is not too happy with the community that has started following Jesus in the city of Galatia. They have been arguing amongst themselves. They have been bickering about the proper practices that they should be carrying out as followers of Christ. They have probably used not so kind words for one another as they have failed to live fully into a new community. One of their biggest arguments has erupted over the necessity of circumcision.

It was disagreements like this that threatened to tear apart the early church. Paul’s letter was a response to all that was happening. It came to a point where he even wrote, “If however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (vs. 15). Perhaps Paul needs to write a letter to our modern times, or we could simply use the Letter to the Galatians.

The arguments and disagreements that Paul writes to are not any different than those that we have today. We turn on the news and we view what this one group did to another group just because they did not agree or simply did not like them. We witness it to an extreme in the violence that we encounter in our culture. We witness it on Capitol Hill in our elected leaders and their failure to work together for the common good of the people. We see arguments over whether we should care for our neighbors.

One of the biggest places to see this occur is on social media where people seem to think that they have more freedom to say anything they would like since they are not in front of those that they are criticizing. The thing that has amazed me is that there is an ELCA Clergy group on Facebook and it seems that even pastors feel they can let all their nasty out on one another through social media.

All of this is part of the nastiness of the flesh that Paul writes about in our lesson from Galatians. The flesh that he is referring to is our self-oriented selves that disregard others and turn inward to our own personal desires. Now, desires are not a bad thing. It is a matter of what light that desire manifests itself. The flesh that Paul writes of pulls us away from our life in Christ. Once we are pulled away, it can be easy to stay in that and thus we must be intentional in repenting and turning back towards God.

So, the freedom that is given to us in Christ can be seen as a two-edged sword. We have the choice to follow the desires of the flesh or to follow the leading of the Spirit. We are given the freedom through the grace of God to follow or not follow Jesus. Wow, how very overwhelming that can be at times and we know that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and following completely in the way of Jesus.

In the freedom found in Jesus Christ we are showered abundantly with the fruit of the spirit to live out the lives he has called us to live. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (vs. 22-23).  When we live with this fruit, it does not mean that we will not have conflicts and that everything will be just the way we want it to be. When we live into this fruit, it means that we live into relationship with one another and approach each other with love and respect. Imagine what would be of this world if we kept the fruit of the Spirit near us and did our best to live out that fruit daily.

Psalm 16 concludes, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (vs. 11). The path has been laid down for us in the life of Jesus Christ and the freedom that he has given to us through his death on the cross. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited competing against one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:24-26).

As Paul comes near to the end of the letter, he re-emphasizes the importance of the love found in Christ. We are reminded that love is to be given away as Jesus gave away his love for all of humanity on the cross. It is a love that blankets us for all of eternity. It is the love that comes to us and the same love that we have within us to give away to others. To follow Jesus Christ means to live fully into the freedom he has given us by giving away the very love he has given us. A love that is meant to be shared with all.

Jesus has asked each of us to come and follow him. What is your choice?

Let us pray. Great and gracious God, you teach us to walk in the way of Jesus. We pray that we are not tempted to walk alone desiring the works of the flesh, but that we are open to the Spirit weaving through our lives and communities to guide us in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Amen.

The Gospel of Inclusion by Brandan Robertson, Book Review

There are many books available on the market that explore what it means to be part of the LGBT+ community in the Church of Christ. Those that are opposed to full LGBT+ inclusion often use scripture to make their point known for all that will hear. In the process they often neglect that everyone is created in the image of God.

Brandan Robertson presents a well-researched proclamation as he advocates for a full inclusion of LGBT+ people in the church today. He brings to the forefront that we are all called to be in relationship with God and it is of great importance how we live out that relationship in the rest of our lives. He addresses the six “clobber” passages that have been used time after time to berate the LGBT+ community. These passages have always been taken out of context when used in this manner and as people of God, we have learned a lot as we grow into relationship with one another. Robertson writes, “Any relationship centered on a consensual commitment to sacrificial love for the good of another is a holy relationship, and any attempt to break that commitment is seen as less than God’s desire for humanity.”

This resource compliments his previous offering, True Inclusion, which discussed what it truly meant to be a welcoming church in the world today. Doing such, requires change among our thought patterns and the denigration of those that we see as different. This is not just true for the LGBT+ community, but also for immigrants, gender, race, and any other way that we as broken people decide to divide.

This is not an easy step for the church to take, because of the damage that has been done over time. The Gospel has been co-opted by humanity to use to its own advantage in various times and places. It is time to speak up and be bold in our proclamation. Robertson shares, “We must know that our silence is being complicit in oppression. Silence is opposed to the gospel. We must, in Christ’s name, speak up. We must be willing to sacrifice our positions of privilege, power, and comfort in order to lift up the oppressed and give the voiceless back their voices.”

There is redemption to be found in Christ and we are not called to get in the way of the Holy Spirit working among the people of God. We are called to love and inclusion. Brandan Robertson’s book shares this in a way that is full of wisdom as well as from a full heart that has experienced many things. It speaks boldly and calls us forth in love.

“one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”

June 2, 2019

John 17:20-26

This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to take Emali to Central Michigan University for orientation. After all the visits to different schools over the last couple of years, you would think that I had been ready for this point in time to occur. As many of you know, sending your first to college is a scary, yet wonderful experience. I am excited by the diversity that she will encounter and the sense of community that is to be found on campus.

Unity seems to be a common theme of all the schools that we have visited. Every single one of them have promoted their inclusiveness and diversity that can be found among the many organizations on campus. I know that diversity is something that is hard to come by in our rural communities, and especially the Lutheran church. Did you know that the ELCA is the most segregated denomination in the United States on any given Sunday? We are the whitest denomination in the United States. Part of me wants to say, “what do you expect when you were founded primarily by Germans and Scandinavians.” Another part of me is upset by this fact and desires the diversity that is found in the university environment. We cannot live fully into unity until we meet our sisters and brothers of every race, religion, sexual orientation, and ability, with a warm embrace and loving welcome. Jesus Calls us to live into unity with one another. Are we welcoming our neighbors into that unity as Jesus leads us?

This morning we come to the end of Jesus’ last prayers before he is handed over to the authorities. It is a prayer that challenges the disciples as well as those believers to come. It is a prayer for all to become united in Jesus Christ so that they may come to know his love and grace. His prayers are evoked from the experiences he has had with the disciples and the challenges he knows future believers and seekers of the divine will encounter.

He prays for unity because he has experienced division among the disciples. There are several times within the gospels that the disciples appear to be divided. Peter shows his division with Jesus when he tries to sweep Jesus’ talk of crucifixion under the rug. He does not want to hear about it and does not want Jesus to talk about it. We witness James and John arguing about who is going to sit at the right and left hand of the Lord. Jesus is not even dead yet and they are arguing about who will be with him in his glory and how they will be present to advise him. This is not much different than the disciples arguing about who is the greatest. And don’t forget about the disciples insecurity when others are healing and casting out demons in the name of Jesus. They seem to think that they are the only ones worthy of performing these mighty acts.

When it comes to Christian unity today, in certain circles, that can sound like an oxy-moron. We argue and bicker among ourselves over orthodoxy and doctrine. We overlook the teachings of Jesus Christ to simply help support our own points of view. We choose not to worship with this group or that group. Of course, I am speaking in broad sweeping strokes, but we can experience this in our own community. While our table is open to all, we find the table closed off to us in other congregations in town. I am sure that there are even certain practices and actions that we do that make others feel excluded that we may not even be aware of. We create division when that is not even our intention.

Fortunately, we can find the grace in the prayer of Jesus. A prayer that begins with prayers for himself, flows into prayers for his disciples, and concludes with prayers for all believers that are yet to be. This prayer flows down to us in this time and place so that we may be one with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is praying for us! It is a prayer for unity that we are still seeking to fully live into. It is the promise of the kingdom of God to come into this world as we look forward to a new creation.

Jesus’ prayer is not for one single group. It is for all of humanity that is formed in the very image of God. Jesus’ prayer is a sign of the love that he has for all of creation. Bede Griffiths is quoted in Pathways to Peace, saying:

Love is invisible, but it is the most powerful force in human nature. Jesus spoke of the Spirit which he would send as Truth but also as Love. “If anyone loves me, my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” This is the love, the prema and bhakti, which was proclaimed in the Bhagavad Gita, the compassion (karuna) of Buddha, the rapturous love of the Sufi saints.

Ultimately a religion is tested by its capacity to waken love in its followers, and, what is perhaps more difficult, to extend that love to all humanity. In the past religions have tended to confine their love to their own followers, but always there has been a movement to break through these barriers and attain to a universal love.

As the ELCA, it is our hope to reach out to all people in love and compassion. We join with our ecumenical partners to share the love of Jesus Christ. We reach out to dialogue with our interfaith partners to see how we can live into unity with one another. Love is the one language that transcends all religion. It is this love that Jesus can be found praying for his disciples as well as the believers yet to be. It is a reciprocal love that Jesus prays for us to live into. It is a love that is reflected in the words of the Apostle’s Creed, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” The catholic in our creed simply means universal. We are called into unity with one another to be one holy church.

Thursday was Ascension Day. The day that Jesus ascends to be with us in the bread, wine, water, word, and even the stranger. In Jesus’ ascension we hear the promise of unity and eventually all will be made one. May we continue to live into that unity while continuing to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. Ascended Lord, we give thanks for the teachings that have remained with us through your first disciples. May we be guided in the time to come as we attempt to live into that unity and be directed by your ever-present love. Amen.
  

Let us Create

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. [1]

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.”[2]

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.


[1] Lutheran Study Bible, Augsburg Fortress

[2] Patrick Carolan, Franciscan Action Network newsletter, May 13, 2019.

Comfort in Uncertainty

May 5, 2019

John 21:1-19

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.

Cultivating Forgiveness

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.[1]

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.  


[1] 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

Book Review: Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber

In her latest book, Nadia Bolz-Weber, opens up a topic that many in the church attempt to stay clear from. While the entire basis of our life on earth is contingent upon our ability to have sex, it has often times been a taboo subject within the church. Many times the church has went to extremes to steer clear of the topic or at its worse, to speak of the evils of it.

I did not grow up in the church and therefore was not too aware of the purity movement that happened within it. I heard a few things along the way, but at that time it didn’t affect me so I did not pay too much attention. It is the purity movement that she directly addresses in the beginning of her book and bringing to the forefront the harm that is has caused over the years.

Like many of her other books, she brings in many stories from her parishioners that help support her thesis. She also speaks of the holiness of being with God and each other. As she compares the two she says that “holiness is about union with, and purity is about separation from.” I believe that it all comes down from this as we are a holy people that are called to live with union with one another.

To attempt to say what is holy and not holy of others is in direct competition with God. God has created each of holy. Every sing part of our bodies. To be with another person in being welcomed into a holy experience. There is nothing that we should be ashamed of. We should not let others make us feel any less.

There is no shame to be felt in our bodies. “God is made known: in the miracle of our infant bodies, so recently come from God that you can smell God on their heads; in the freedom of our child bodies as they were before shame and self-consciousness entered into them; in the confusion of our pubescent bodies and the excitement of our teenage bodies as they become familiar with desire; in the fire and ice of our young adult bodies as they connect with each other; in the goddamn mind-blowing magic of our baby-making bodies; in the wisdom in our aging bodies; and in the so-close-to-God-you-can-smell-God beauty of our dying bodies.” God wants us to be one with our bodies and to know them intimately as they are created in the image of God.

This is a tough message to share as we have avoided the conversation for far too long. It is about time that someone like Nadia brings it the forefront. She has also included some great resources for individuals and congregations to reach out and learn more.