Make Us Clean!

“Make Us Clean!”

Psalm 51:1-12 (51:2) – February 17, 2021

            The marvel and puzzle of adults with smudges on their foreheads – on purpose! – is a wonder to many children. Why would adults have dirt or ash crosses put on their foreheads? And why wouldn’t they wash it off to make it all clean?

            It takes a while for young people to learn, “yes, I am a sinner, too.” Doesn’t it? Sometimes it is difficult for grown-ups to state plainly that they sin, too. They fall short of what God would have for them in this life. They mess up the clean sheet of paper. Isn’t that what sin is? Falling short, missing the mark, washing away the guilt and stains of sin. However we describe it, we know very well when sin happens. King David knew when he was dirty on the inside from sin, too.

            It does not matter whether King David was remembering the women of the village where he grew up, washing, scrubbing and wringing out their families’ clothing in tubs outside their homes, or whether we think of the agitator on those automatic wringer washers of yesterday, we all need to be cleansed from the wrongs we commit, on a regular basis.

            Today is the first day of Lent, that penitential period of forty days before Easter when the Church all across the world begins to journey with Jesus towards the Cross. Many people use external things like food or drink or certain practices to show their observance of Lent. This is a good thing, and I do not want to cause anyone to rethink their Lenten practices. However, King David here in Psalm 51 had something far more radical in mind. He wanted more than just his exterior cleaned. He wanted his insides cleaned up, too. Cleaned, and renewed!

            Ash Wednesday is the day in the liturgical year when we concentrate on renewal—the messing-up we have done, on the inside as well as the outside. Whether large or small, we can all be cleansed and renewed deep down on our insides. The psalmist uses that most intimate of all things, first-person pronouns. “Have mercy upon me,” “blot out my transgressions,” “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “I know my transgressions,” and “my sin is ever before me.”

“We are all first marked with the cross using water (and sometimes oil) at our baptisms.  At that time to be marked with the cross is a wonderful thing.  We are identified as the beloved children of God.  On Ash Wednesday we are marked with the cross using ashes and the words, “remember you are dust.”  The ashes and words remind us that we are not so wonderful.  In fact, we are all sinners.  The sign is not an X, marking us as [mistakes or] hopeless rejects, but a cross reminding us that God loves and forgives us, sinners though we be.” [1]  

We are not perfect believers in God. But, God says that is okay. God loves us just the same. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, and to become aware of our turning-away from God. This understanding of the messing-up we have done and are continuing to do—prepares us to receive the forgiveness and joy of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. And the cross of ashes on each forehead is a reminder of that blessed forgiveness in each one of our lives. Praise God, we can be restored to a close relationship with God.

Hear the Good News! In Jesus Christ, we all are forgiven! Amen.


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/01/years-abc-ash-wednesday-february-18-2015.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Temptations

“Temptations”

Jesus The-Temptation-of-Christ-Botticelli

Matthew 4:1-11, Genesis 3:1-7 – March 1, 2020

Different people are tempted by different kinds of things. I suppose most everyone here has been tempted at one time or another. Not necessarily with big stuff, or important things, but somewhere, sometime, there has been some kind of thing that has tempted you sorely. Maybe it was something as simple as a plate of freshly baked cookies on the kitchen counter. You knew that dinnertime was in only half an hour, but that plate of cookies looked so tempting. Or, perhaps cutting corners at work in order to save time, not quite following procedure. Or, maybe telling a little fib. You know, something that nobody else would know about. Except for you.

Of course, these are small kinds of temptations. Not quite the big, huge temptations we just heard about in our two Scripture readings this morning: the original temptation, with the special fruit and the snake from Genesis 3, and our Lord Jesus at the beginning of His ministry, tempted by Satan from Matthew 4.

This is the first Sunday of Lent, and we begin our journey with Jesus through these next weeks, until Holy Week, that time we remember the Passion of Christ. In these weeks of Lent we will look at different Scripture readings that hold the “Stories that Shape Us:” our Lenten series for this season. Today, we take a closer look at Temptations.

Are you and I tempted by the things we do, say, and think that really aren’t “too bad?” You know, all that stuff that the world tells us is okay? What about telling little fibs? Or, actions that seem like little speed bumps, or that we explain away by saying “everybody’s doing it—it’s okay! Isn’t it?” Aren’t those temptations, too?

Today we are going to zero in on our Lord Jesus, just after His baptism, as He withdraws into the wilderness to fast, pray and prepare for His years of ministry.

While Jesus is there, He’s tempted by Satan. That part is important, too. Just like the original temptation, of Eve and Adam at that special tree in the garden, so long ago.

Let’s look at Matthew’s take on the temptation. He doesn’t waste any time, but plunges right into the meat of the narrative. Verse 1: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Here is the ultimate faceoff, between the Son of God and Satan, the tempter, trying to make Jesus fall or trip up.

Again, in our second reading from Genesis, we find ourselves at the tree, with Eve and the serpent. This is Genesis explaining the origin of sin, true. But, isn’t it also a way of showing each of us how human we are? Sure, God showers many blessings upon each of us, every day. But, the serpent questions that blessing, that trustworthiness of God, even quoting God’s own words back to Eve with a sly smirk in its beady eyes.

Aren’t both Bible readings communicating similar narratives? There is a lack, a hole, a need for something in our lives. And, Satan—the devil—the serpent can give it to us. Or, show us where to get it.

Think about Madison Avenue, and advertising on television, in print media, and now, on the computer. More and more, advertising plays upon our emotions, showing us our supposed “needs” or “lacks,” and then quickly following up with just what we need to fill that hole!

Jesus must have been the most self-assured, self-possessed human being, ever. He wasn’t like the typical human, feeling alone, incomplete, having a hole inside our heart and spirit. Isn’t that what each of us typical humans feel like, at least some of the time? Maybe, even, a lot of the time? Yet, our Gospel reading today tells us that Jesus was, indeed, tempted by the devil.

The first temptation was hunger. Or rather, for Jesus to use His power to take care of His own needs, His own hunger. I can just hear Satan say: “Come on, Jesus! You’re miles from anywhere. No one will see You do it! C’mon, turn these stones into bread. After all, You’re human. You’re hungry. Feel those hunger pangs in Your stomach? You know You want to.”

Yet, as commentator Carolyn Brown said, Jesus had been led out into the wilderness to learn something important. He wanted to be obedient to God and do as God asked, even if it meant being hungry in the wilderness. [1] And what was Jesus’ response? ““It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The second temptation was Satan encouraging Jesus to use His power in stunts, almost like a circus performer, to get attention and show everyone how important He was. Satan even added the heavenly icing on top of this temptation: saying that angels would come catch Jesus if He threw Himself off the top of the temple. What was Jesus’s response? “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, Carolyn Brown tells us that God did not want the human Jesus to show off in such a flashy way, or prove how powerful and mighty God is. Instead, Jesus was sent to love and forgive people, have caring relationships, and be a visual example of what God was all about. [2]

Satan’s last temptation must have been tempting, indeed. Sure, lots of kings and rulers had tried to rule large parts of the world, but they were all fallible humans, with sins and shortcomings and all kinds of flaws all over the place. When Satan offered Jesus the opportunity to be King over the whole world, it must have been some temptation. Since Jesus was the perfect human, He would have been the absolute best King of the world. Oh, yeah. Plus, Jesus needed to bow down and worship Satan in order to become an instant King.

But, this wasn’t in God’s timetable. And, Jesus knew that.

What was Jesus’ response?  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

We can see how Eve and Adam were persuaded by the serpent to give in to temptation, and eat the apple. We can see how Jesus defeated Satan, the tempter. Jesus trusted and obeyed God His heavenly Father. This struggle, this faceoff with Satan was the important thing. He showed that to Satan by responding directly and clearly, quoting Scripture passages with which all believers in Israel were familiar. [3] And after the tempter left Him, Matthew lets us know that Jesus was ministered to by angels. Like a boxer, after a hard-won fight in the ring.

For us, today, temptation is a regular part of our lives. “I’m only human!” some say. Our lives as Christians do not eliminate doubt, lacks, needs, or a sense of incompleteness. Satan will zero in on those so often! However, we can embrace our relationship with God as that place where our needs are indeed met, where our lives and very selves are made complete.

Sure, we are descendants of Adam and Eve, and as such we can be needy and lacking, searching for that God-shaped filler for the hole inside each of us. Thanks be to God that Jesus has come into our lives. We can trust Him to pick us up when we fall short from temptations’ snares. We can confess our failings and sins, and trust through the crucified and risen Jesus we indeed have the promise of forgiveness and eternal life. Amen!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(I would like to thank the Rev. Dr. David Lose. For this sermon, I have borrowed several extended ideas from his article http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1488  “Into Temptation,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.  Thanks so much!)

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/02/year-first-sunday-in-lent-march-13-2011.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2007-03-01

“Jesus Put to the Test,” Commented Bible Passages from Taize, 2007.

Cleanse Me, Wash Me

“Cleanse Me, Wash Me”

Psa 51-2 wash me, cleanse me

Psalm 51:7 – February 26, 2020

Some people do not care for washing clothes. I don’t mind it. In fact, I rather enjoy the whole process. I remember both of my parents—who grew up in Chicago during the 1920’s and ‘30’s, told me about their moms who had wringer washers. Their moms would wash the families’ clothes, and wring them out down in the basements of the buildings where they lived. My mom had a wringer washer, too, until she died in 2002. I used to run clothes through the wringer sometimes, when I went to her house to help out.

As we read the Psalm for this evening, I wonder—did King David think of the times he watched his mother and other women washing the clothes in the village where he grew up? The words David uses are so vivid and descriptive, I can’t help but wonder!

But more than just washing clothes, King David was dealing with some pretty serious sins. He had lusted after a married woman, summoned her to his palace, slept with her and gotten her pregnant, and then killed her husband. All with little or no apparent guilt—at first.

When the prophet Nathan called out King David for all of these compounded sins, David finally gets it. He finally is overcome with the audacity and hugeness of his sins. It is then he comes to God and begs God to forgive him of his sin.

As I just said, I do not think any of us has committed sins of the magnitude of King David. However—that does not change the fact that all of us, each of us, sins. Each of us does things, says things, even thinks things that displease God.

I suspect when King David was a boy, he would watch the women of his village washing their clothes in a stream, or perhaps in a vat of water. Perhaps if the clothes soaked in a vat of soap suds, the village boys might be asked to lend a hand and stir the wet clothes awhile, to agitate them and loosen up the dirt. When we consider ourselves and the sins we commit against the Lord, is this similar? Are our sins agitated by a heavenly agitator? Is all that dirt and sinfulness loosened up in the soapy suds of our lives?

What about the things we do, say, and think that really aren’t “too bad?” You know, all that stuff that the world tells us is okay? All of the sins or transgressions that are just little fibs, or seem like little speed bumps, or that we explain away by saying “everybody’s doing it—it’s okay! Isn’t it?”

Here in Psalm 51, David is filled with remorse at the gravity of his sin. True, fornication, adultery and murder are pretty big whoppers in anyone’s book. But, if we read the words of this psalm, they are hauntingly familiar to us and our broken hearts. “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;”

I don’t know about you, but when I read these words, I feel the sin and yuckiness of my iniquities all over me. I need to have the forgiveness of God wash me clean and make me whiter than snow. That’s what King David asks for, too.

David goes even further, and asks “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” The plant hyssop was used in David’s day as an aromatic purifier, in a similar way that people used mint, marjoram and similar scented herbs. When Martin Luther translated this psalm, he used the phrase “un-sin me with hyssop.” Take my sin away, Lord! Make me smell minty fresh and clean again!

I know for a fact that Martin Luther had many, continuing struggles in his life with his personal sin. He regularly confessed his sins to God and to his spiritual director, his father confessor. Translating Psalm 51 was probably a very intense, personal experience for him. We can say with Martin, “un-sin each of us with hyssop, Lord. Cleanse us, loosen the dirt of sin with Your heavenly agitator, and make us whiter than snow.”

Please turn to hymn number 436. Let us read together the first verse of that hymn, “Whiter Than Snow.”

“Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole; I want Thee forever to live in my soul. Break down every idol, cast out every foe. Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow—Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”

The best part is that our God welcomes everyone who comes with a contrite heart and spirit. Come to God now, confessing those dark places and spaces in our lives and hearts, those times we have said unkind words, and done thoughtless actions, even thought evil thoughts. Bring them to our Lord, knowing that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Amen, and amen!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Patient, Forgiving and Welcoming

“Patient, Forgiving and Welcoming”

Luke 15 prodigal son sketch, Rembrandt

Luke 15:20 – March 31, 2019

What do you think of when I mention the black sheep of the family? The kid who went astray? A really rough customer? A person you would not trust an inch with any amount of money? Someone who you wouldn’t want any children hanging around?

This is the kind of person we are going to meet today in the parable of Jesus we read from Luke 15. Some people call the parable “The Prodigal Son.” Remember the Rabbi Jesus was having dinner with some people the good, righteous synagogue-going people did not approve of? They were sniffing and clucking and making a big stink about Jesus and His dinner companions. So, as a response, Jesus tells three parables in Luke chapter 15, the last of which is the parable of the Prodigal—or the Lost Son.

The parable begins: “Then Jesus said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.”

This younger son was a brat. Or, worse, he was an ungrateful wretch. Do you know what he asked for? In that day, the son essentially told his father he wanted him to drop dead. That was the only way the younger son would have gotten his inheritance, in the normal order of things. What an ungrateful, selfish so-and-so! The father—amazingly—liquidates a third of his assets, giving the younger son his share of the father’s property. Perhaps you haven’t been as crass or unfeeling enough to walk up to one of your relatives and shout, “I wish you would drop dead!” and really mean it. But, that is exactly what Jesus begins this parable with.

Back to the parable: “It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.”

Going to a faraway, distant country. Sounds sort of romantic, doesn’t it? However, it does not take too long for this black sheep to run through all his money, lose all his fair-weather friends and end up on the streets as a homeless person. Plus, a famine struck the country he was living in. Consequences! What should he do now?

Let me step back from our parable for a moment—away from the younger son in the pigsty. I invite us to reflect on the church season we are presently in, Lent. Lent is a season where we are invited to reflect on our personal brokenness, and the need for God’s redemption.

This Lenten season we are also considering the different sentences of the Lord’s Prayer. This week, our sentence is “forgive us our debts (or, sins) as we forgive our debtors (or, those who sin against us).” I have a question: have you ever been so angry with someone that you have said (or thought) “I could never forgive him/her!” What is even worse is if you—or I—turn our backs, fold our arms across our chests and stubbornly insist, “I will never forgive her/him!”

What kind of unforgiving attitude is that? If we expect to be forgiven by God for all of the sins we commit daily, isn’t that unforgiving attitude a bit hypocritical? Rather a lot, really? What would God say about that ungodly attitude? What would you say about that attitude, now?

Back to the parable. “That brought him to his senses. The son said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.”

“The son’s repentance is implied, even if it is not clearly named by the ambiguous expression he came to himself (verse 17). After all, he hits rock bottom, longing to eat what unclean animals eat, once he is done in by a trio of calamities… As signs of contrition, he confesses sin and plans to ask his father to welcome him home as a slave instead of a son.” [1]

Now our parable shifts its point of view. We see the father: “When the son was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, the father ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

Remember, we are in the middle of Lent, a season when we are thinking of how much each of us sins against God and against others. We journey with Jesus towards the cross in Lent, but we also take the time to think about how much each of us need God’s forgiveness, grace and redeeming love.  What is more, “Lent helps us see when and how and where we think only of ourselves. Lent helps us see our true motivations for our actions and our true motivations for apology or repentance. Lent helps us see when we truly are in the depths of despair. Lent helps us see our deep longing for love.” [2]

Let’s look at the father’s response: “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.”

Almost any parent knows the feeling that if your kid really screws up, no matter what, the father (or mother) has the same love towards him, regardless of sin and unforgiveness. One might say any parent knows the feeling that even if the child goes off the rails and repeatedly misses the mark, the father is especially joyous to see the son who returns. But—the parable does not end there. Oh, no! We see the further unforgiving attitude of the elder son.

“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done, he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the servants, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’”

The elder son says “It’s not fair!” Well, guess what? The ways of God’s kingdom are NOT fair. True fairness leaves NO room for grace. Yes, God’s redeeming love for us is not fair. Would we really want it to be absolutely fair, all cold, legal rules with no grace and love at all?

The elder son is just as much as lost as his younger brother, isn’t he? Lost in his resentment, anger and alienation. “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

Whoa! “No one bothered to call [the elder son] in to join the party! Accordingly, he does not enter the house. He does not address his father as “Father” and speaks to him about “this son of yours” instead of “my brother.” His refusal to celebrate stems from his deep resentment. Why is he resentful? He is taken for granted. No extravagance celebrates his reliable service. He accuses his father of showing preferential treatment.” [3] But, I ask again—do we really want God to be absolutely fair, in a cold, legalistic manner? With no grace or love at all?

Yes, “forgive as we wish to be forgiven” is a great lesson. But, I think the parable of the two Lost Sons has much more for us this week. Jesus told this parable to illustrate the boundless love of a parent for their children—the love of God the Father for His wayward sons and daughters. If you have really messed up, and you don’t think God could ever, ever forgive you, isn’t it wonderful to hear that the Prodigal’s father welcomed both His sons back home?

In this parable, Jesus tells us that God is patient, welcoming, and forgiving. God loves each one of us, forever and ever. Talk about good news! Isn’t this the best news in the world?

(Thanks to Eugene Peterson’s wonderful modern translation “The Message” for the use of this scripture reading. The parable of the two Lost Sons is from Luke 15:11-32.)

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=533

Matt Skinner  Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4553

“Perspective Matters,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2016.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=533

Matt Skinner  Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Your King Comes to You

Matthew 21:1-11 – April 9, 2017

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

“Your King Comes to You”

Has anyone here ever been at a really big “welcome home” celebration? I am thinking really, really big! Like, after the Cubs won the World Series last fall, and they returned to Chicago in triumphant victory. Or, after the Black Hawks, the White Sox or the Bulls won their championships. Has anyone experienced the joyful, expectant feeling of the crowd? The wild cheering and celebration as the focal point of the parade came into view?

Imagine that level of celebration, and then add an additional layer. The country of Israel had been under the heel of various world powers for several centuries. The Roman government was the current dominating overlords, and an ever-present occupying force. By Jesus entering Jerusalem in the way He did, He fulfilled a well-known prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures. In addition, by doing this He was claiming the mantle of Messiah, the Anointed One of God. As Zechariah said, “Tell the city of Zion, ‘Look, your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey.”

What about the crowd gathered there in Jerusalem, for the Passover holiday? Emotions run high when you are in the midst of a crowd. Higher highs, lower lows, all kinds of extremes. As Rev. Adam Copeland said, “Whether they are for sport, political protest, or public worship, gathering with thousands inevitably changes our mood and actions. I have never felt as alone as in a rival team’s stadium filled with thousands of home-team fans. I rarely feel as important as when I’ve gathered with others to protest unjust laws or call for social action. I get Goose bumps when I’m able to recite the Lord’s Prayer with a few thousand other worshipers.” [1]

What was the crowd looking for from Rabbi Jesus? This Messiah, Anointed One?    

A companion question: what were the disciples looking for from Jesus? From their Rabbi and leader, whom they had been following for months, even years? I remind everyone that there were more than just twelve men following after Jesus. There were more. Maybe Peter’s wife, maybe others’ wives or sisters. Women, other men, maybe even some children and youths. Many of these had been faithful in following Jesus for some time, and they were true believers. Faithful followers.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was a man of deep prayer. He instructed many in the way of deep, significant prayer. He had a special way of praying, which can also be used for reading the Bible. Ignatian spirituality, prayer and bible reading have been adapted from his instructions.

St. Ignatius would have us put ourselves into the biblical scene. Imagine yourself right there, on that Palm Sunday morning. I invite you to choose a place to stand: either among the crowd, observing, cheering; or among the disciples, close in to Jesus and the donkey. Perhaps even take the donkey’s point of view! Let us all immerse ourselves into the narrative. Hear the raucous noises and roar of the crowd. Feel the jostling shoulders as we jockey for position, to get the best view of the parade. Because, that is what it is! A procession! A joyful entrance into Jerusalem, the historic capital city of King David!

Can you feel the energy of that immense crowd? Jerusalem was full to bursting! People of Jewish ancestry had come to Jerusalem from all over the known world, to commemorate the Passover holiday. And, here were people welcoming this Messiah, this Anointed One, into the city like a king.

Can you feel the emotions of your fellow crowd members? What expectations are rising to the fore? Some desperate to throw off the heavy yoke of the Roman occupation, and so are delighted to see someone, at last, taking up the mantle of the Messiah! To call together the men of Israel and lead the Jewish army to victory! Some, I am sure, leery of this upstart Rabbi, and wondering how far He is going to get before the Romans scare Him off. And others, simply caught up in all the excitement of the moment, welcoming this Holy Man, this Miracle Worker, into the city of Jerusalem.

What were the expectations of those there, on that Palm Sunday morning? Sure, as our Gospel reading tells us, there was a large crowd around the city gate, ready to cheer and wave and make noise. The noise and celebration put the whole city into an uproar, turning things inside out and upside down.  In fact, the Greek verb in that phrase, “uproar,” is the same word used for an earthquake. Jesus shook up the people of Jerusalem, and He certainly stirred up the religious leaders and priests.

Let us fast forward, to the present. What are our expectations, right here, right now? What are we to do with this Jesus, riding in on a donkey?

Sure, there are many people in churches across the world today who are excited to celebrate another Palm Sunday. A highlight of the liturgical year, the beginning of Holy Week. Some are caught up in the pageantry and celebration. Others are content to wave their palms and observe things from the sidelines. Many, even, feel the solemn beginning of that sorrowful Holiest Week of the liturgical year. But, is there more?

The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem was so typical of Jesus. He did not blindly accept these short-sighted expectations that were foisted upon Him. Instead, Jesus knew who He was, and did not need to clutch any lofty or power-hungry or mean and angry persona to Himself. No, Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing exactly who He was. God’s much beloved Son, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. He had all that kingly authority already.

Let us remind ourselves exactly why Jesus had come into the world, exactly why He began His preaching, teaching and healing ministry. He came preaching forgiveness and mercy. He came teaching love and reconciliation. He came healing people from physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual diseases. Jesus came to give us life, and life abundantly!

But, today, Jesus’s voice gets drowned out by countless distractions. “Choked as we are by all of our distractions and tranquilizers—our cars, our houses, our 60-inch televisions and 6-inch computers, our smartphones and gizmos and gadgets, all of our conveniences and drugs and entertainment—we are likely to lose sight of the gate into heaven.” [2]

So often today, many people’s attention gets pulled away from things of God. Some are too busy to see Jesus. Some are too worried to listen to His voice. Some today couldn’t even care if Jesus lived or died.

Let’s focus on people within the church, worldwide. Some celebrate and wave palms on Palm Sunday and are content to let the whole rest of Holy Week slide right by without it registering on their hearts, then slide right into the following week’s celebration on Easter Sunday without a second thought. [3]

Jesus rides into our midst today, humble and seated on a donkey. He asks us the pointed question: what is it we seek in Jesus? Have we lost sight of the forgiveness, mercy, love and reconciliation He offers? He offers it to us, freely.

We can ask our Lord Jesus to enter our hearts, and to help us to lay at His feet all that we have and are today.

God willing, may we say “blessed are You who comes in the name of the Lord.”

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-adam-j-copeland/palm-powered-protest_b_5106331.html

“Palm Powered Protest,” Adam Copeland, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2014

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/palm-passion-sunday1; The Preaching Notes are written by Dawn Chesser, Director of Preaching Ministries, Discipleship Ministries, dchesser@UMCdiscipleship.org

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1546 ; “To Be Continued…” David Lose, WorkingPreacher, 2011.

Be Reconciled to God

2 Corinthians 5:20b – March 1, 2017

2-cor-5-20-reconciled-words

“Be Reconciled to God”

Saying “I’m sorry.” People can say “I’m sorry” for all kinds of things, from stepping on the back of your shoe on accident, to crashing into your car and totally destroying it. Sometimes, people think it is okay to accept an apology, and other times, it isn’t.

Did you ever think what God’s thoughts are? On us, saying “I’m sorry” so often, for almost everything, it seems? How does God feel when people ignore God’s rules for days, weeks, even years—and then, once one of God’s big rules—the Ten Commandments—get broken, people sometimes say, “I’m sorry.” And then, expect everything to be all right with God!

It was kind of that way with King David. He was a powerful king later on in his reign, commanding great armies that conquered large areas surrounding Israel. As with many really powerful people, David felt more and more like he was an absolute ruler, and nobody could give him counsel, or tell him “No, you can’t do that,” or “That’s a bad idea.”

Remember how King David saw the young, beautiful Bathsheba, wife of one of his generals, Uriah? Uriah and the rest of the army were away fighting a war, and King David had Bathsheba brought to him. King David slept with the beautiful Bathsheba, she became pregnant, and David ultimately had his general Uriah killed because he wanted to cover up his sin.

But, God knew what happened. Eventually, God told the prophet Nathan, and then everyone in Israel found out what happened, too. And, the baby died shortly after he was born.

King David was devastated. As a result of his grief and shame and guilt, he wrote Psalm 51. This is most of that psalm. I want everyone to listen for the grief David feels, as well as his guilt, and sadness at disappointing God, and how he says “I’m sorry” to God.

51 Be merciful to me, O God, because of your constant love.
Because of your great mercy wipe away my sins!
Wash away all my evil and make me clean from my sin!

I recognize my faults; I am always conscious of my sins.
I have sinned against you—only against you—and done what you consider evil.
So you are right in judging me; you are justified in condemning me.
I have been evil from the day I was born; from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful.

Sincerity and truth are what you require; fill my mind with your wisdom.
Remove my sin, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness;
and though you have crushed me and broken me, I will be happy once again.
Close your eyes to my sins and wipe out all my evil.

10 Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence; do not take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
13 Then I will teach sinners your commands, and they will turn back to you.

For millennia, the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament traditions have highlighted  this penitential attitude. King David’s eloquent request for God to hear him and forgive him stands as one of the most moving expressions of “I’m sorry” ever penned.

But, what if people can’t quite relate to rich and powerful King David? What then? What if David seems too high and mighty, or a bit too distant, too removed? I was just a mom and a housewife for years, before I went to graduate school in my forties. I didn’t think I had much at all in common with David.

Or, did I? You and I all know that people have a tendency of being self-sufficient, self-involved, going their own way, pushing others away, and often not particularly caring about others. God has a name for this kind of attitude, and it is sin. I bet you can recognize it.

“I don’t need any help! I can do it on my own! I’ll do it my way! I don’t need God. I don’t need anybody else meddling in my business, either.”

You and I—we may not have openly been involved in adultery, or murder, or a cover-up on the scale of a congressional investigation, like King David. But, that does not matter to God. Sin is sin. We have been talking about sin for the past few weeks, in our services centered around Jesus and His messages from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus always wanted us to focus on our inside attitude and reception to God.

It is that sinful, selfish attitude that separates people from God. And what’s more, it separates people from one another. It is a barrier that separates each individual from every other individual. However, let’s look at this verse from 2 Corinthians 5. “God is making His appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Did you hear? God wants to overcome that barrier of our sin, of self-involvement and self-sufficiency. Paul says that God took all our sin and put it on Christ, so that we could be clothed with His sinless righteousness.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” So, God is not counting trespasses! God is merciful and forgiving! God wants to be reconciled to us! God’s arms are indeed open wide! Our Lord wants us to come close.

Paul says, “Now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation.”

God is waiting with open arms. We can’t receive God’s forgiveness if we aren’t familiar with God ourselves. Do you know Jesus? Are you close to Him?

Now is the acceptable time. Now is a good time. God is waiting.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

Faith Begins at Home

“Faith Begins at Home”

2-timothy-opening-page

2 Timothy 1:1-5 – October 2, 2016

Today is the day we celebrate our children’s first communion. What a happy day! We all join together in praise for Claire, Edward and Noah. They learned more about the why of it, the beginnings of Communion yesterday, in the choir room.

We went through the events of that Passion Week two thousand years ago, and concentrated on that Maundy Thursday evening, that Passover seder our Lord Jesus and His friends celebrated. We talked about the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus. Then, we talked about how Jesus ascended into heaven and is in heaven right now. And, that Jesus gave us the practice of communion—of the Lord’s Supper—for us to remember Him and to join together as a congregation of believers in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross.

Another really important thing we talked about was how Jesus forgives us for the bad and angry words we say, and the bad and wrong things we do. That is another important part of communion, too. We need to confess our sins before we come to the Lord’s Table. Then, just as I remind us all in the Assurance of Pardon each week, God will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Believe the good news! In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.

These are central foundations of our faith. The Christian faith. That’s the same faith the Apostle Paul talked about in our Scripture lesson today, from 2 Timothy. Paul says to his protégé Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”

This same faith, in these same things. Except, everything was very recent. There were still a number of people living who had actually seen Jesus and the events in Israel. (Can you imagine that?) So much more immediate.

Timothy was one of the first Christians brought up in a believing family; he received sound teaching about God from his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois. Yes, Paul was very close to Timothy, a young man whom he took under his wing. But we see here that Paul gave credit where credit was due: Paul raised up Timothy’s careful teaching from a believing family, and the sincere faith of both his grandmother and mother.

Eunice, Lois and Timothy were Jewish. As in any careful Jewish home, the mother and grandmother had a good deal to do with teaching the children. The Hebrew Scriptures are careful to tell faithful people to share about the ways of God within the home. Deuteronomy 4:9 reminds us, “Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Worship services in the Temple were not sectioned off, with a separate place for babies and toddlers, and a junior Temple, and then Temple for adults. No, there were multiple generations present at all worship services. What a great way to celebrate the family of faith, the larger faith community.

Praise God for families that strive to live for God, and to raise children in the nurture and fear of the Lord. Wonderful opportunities to learn more and more about God in a familiar setting, and how to walk in God’s ways and will.

But—what if a person does not grow up in a believing family? What then? Can someone be raised in a secular family, or a non-Christian family, and still come to know God?

I did. I grew up in a home where there was no mention of God at all. When I was a preschooler and into my primary grades, I don’t believe I ever when to church at all. Maybe, once. (A vague memory.)

I’m the youngest of six children, and I grew up on the northwest side of Chicago. My parents were both raised in Catholic parishes in Chicago, but they stopped attending the Catholic church while they were in college. And, they never renewed their acquaintance with the church.

It was a combination of things that started me attending Christ Lutheran Church in Chicago when I was in elementary school. My older sisters sometimes went to the youth group of that church because their friends attended there. The church also had a volleyball team, and one of my sisters loved to play. They would occasionally go to church, and my mother pushed me out the door to go to Sunday school with my sisters. I found I liked it. I really liked it, more than anyone ever expected.

That congregation became my family of faith. I not only attended Sunday school and youth group, but I learned all about the Christian faith while at that church. The pastor, Pastor Wold, was a faithful and conscientious teacher in confirmation classes. I remember attending confirmation every Wednesday afternoon for almost two years after school, and we carefully went through Luther’s Small Catechism.

Just like Timothy, with a sincere faith living in him passed down from his blood family, so I had a sincere faith living in me. It was passed down to me through faithful Sunday school teachers and youth leaders. I remember with gratitude people like Pastor Wold, Mrs. Pabst and Mrs. Smallman. People who carefully taught me how much God loved me.

Here, at St. Luke’s Church, we have the opportunity to teach our children about the Christian faith. Not only Miss Karen teaches our young people, in Sunday School, but all of us do as we gather together in worship, sing, pray, repeat the stories of our faith. Even sit together in silence. All of these are ways we come together as a family of faith, before God. We all have the opportunity to learn from each other on a regular basis, when we gather for worship.

Today is a special day. Yes, it is the first communion of Claire, Edward and Noah. Praise God! We do rejoice with them! But, it is more than that. Much, much more.

Please take out your bulletins. Look at the front page. What does it say on the bulletin? World Communion Sunday. “World Communion Sunday (originally called World Wide Communion Sunday) is a gift of the Presbyterian Church to the larger ecumenical church.  The first celebration occurred at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933 where Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr served as pastor.”

“World Communion Sunday grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.” [1]

So, not only are families interconnected by blood ties. Not only are congregations connected as families of faith. But, a multitude of congregations, of churches, are interconnected with each other. All over the world.

This celebration of the Lord’s Supper—called in different places Communion—or the Eucharist—is as different as are the many varied cultures where the Lord’s Supper is commemorated today. Some people today will meet out of doors, under a tree. Others will meet in a plain structure with only a roof over their heads. Some will meet in a fancy, ornate sanctuary, while still others will creep away by ones or twos to a hidden place for fear of being arrested, or worse. All of these are remembering our Lord Jesus as He instituted this holy meal, this sacrament.

We meet each Sunday as a family of faith. And, we meet today as fellow members of the family of Jesus Christ. Praise God for friendship, for fellowship, and praise God for the marvelous diversity of the families of faith throughout the world, in cities, small towns, rural churches, across denominations, transcending barriers and dividing lines, all through the power of the love of Christ. Truly, our sisters and brothers, all around the world.

 

[1] http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/special-days-and-emphases/world-communion-sunday/  John A. Dalles, a PCUSA pastor who has researched the history of World Communion Sunday notes this in his blog entry, reprinted from the October 7, 2002 Presbyterian Outlook.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Pierced by Love

“Pierced by Love”

Crucifixion woodcut

Isaiah 53:5 – John 19:37 – March 25, 2016

This service tonight is brought to you—to me—to all of us—by the word “LOVE.” All through Lent we have been following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, following Him as He expressed that love to all He met, in various ways.

On the first Sunday in Lent, Valentine’s Day, we looked at Jesus as He was tempted in the wilderness. While He was here on earth, Jesus made sure His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, And, He advised us on where our hearts ought to be, too. Loving God.

This giant Valentine heart I’m holding is a conversation heart. Can we think of it as a Valentine from Jesus? On one side, it says “Be mine.” On the other, it says “I’m yours.”

Who—or what—do we give our hearts to?

            We heard Jesus compare Himself to a mother hen. Jesus welcomes us into His embrace, into His community of love and caring. Just as a lost little chick who finally finds the way home into the nest, into his or her mother hen’s warm feathery embrace, so we can find our way into a community of caring, love, nourishing and belonging. I hope our church community extends that caring and loving welcome to everyone. Jesus wants us to know that we are welcome with Him, loved by Him, always.

We followed the thread of covenant love given to King David. Are we sharing God’s covenant love with those who need to hear? Many are hiding in loneliness and desperation thinking that no one loves them. We can introduce them to our Lord Jesus. We can tell them of the love of God that we have received through Christ. With our Lord Jesus we can find acceptance and security, and most importantly, love. The thread of covenant love, traced down to today. God is offering that love to us, today. Can you feel it?

Then, the parable of the Prodigal. Jesus gives hope to all those who make bad choices and run away to a far country.(Including us.) God the heavenly Father—the heavenly Parent—is actively looking for us when we make bad choices. When we come to our senses and return to God for forgiveness, God comes running to meet us, from a long way off. If that isn’t love, what is?

We come to Mary of Bethany, anointing Jesus with a whole bottle of unbelievably expensive perfume. She intended this gift as a token of her extravagant love for Jesus. We know Jesus had given real expressions of His love to her and her family, in the raising of Lazarus.

Can you believe, spending a whole year’s wages on a small bottle of perfume? Astronomically expensive. Do you understand why I called Mary’s expression a gift of extravagant love?

I think Mary understood the warnings Jesus had been giving, about very soon entering Jerusalem. About the path He must travel—to the cross. Passover was coming! The Gospel tells us so. She is not only showing her extravagant love, but preparing Jesus for whatever it is that He will face—very soon.

Now, today, Good Friday, Jesus is facing that ultimate gift of love.

When I was in my twenties, recently graduated from a Christian college, it was this time of year. Holy Week. I had connections to several different churches around Chicago, in different denominations. I took the opportunity to attend a service each day at this time, at each place of worship. Thursday night, Maundy Thursday, I attended a Lutheran church. The night our Lord Jesus instituted the Eucharist. We celebrated the Lord’s Supper that night. Good Friday, I went to church at an evangelical church. The church celebrated communion that night. On Saturday at that time, I was in the habit of occasionally attending a Messianic synagogue. I attended that Saturday, and they celebrated that commemoration of the Passover dinner where Messiah Yeshua instituted the Lord’s Supper. And on Sunday morning, Easter morning, I went to a Presbyterian church, where we celebrated Easter communion.

Four very different services at four diverse places of worship. Four separate occasions where I had the opportunity to partake in the Lord’s Supper. With each renewed reminder of the Words of Institution, where we remembered that on the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread and took the cup at supper. Said, “This is My body, this is My blood, broken and shed for all of you.” And St. Paul in 1 Corinthians reminds us when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we remember the death of our Lord until He comes again.

As each service washed over me, my consciousness of my sinfulness and how unworthy I was also washed over me. I love this reading from the prophet, Isaiah chapter 53. This chapter of Isaiah keeps breaking my heart. It broke my heart in my twenties, and still continues to break my heart today. I bow my head in grief as I read about our Lord Jesus, despised and rejected of humanity. A man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Acquainted with grief.

On that Holy Week in my twenties, with the repeated communion services, my sin was repeatedly put before me. Extreme grief and sorrow came over me each time as I repeatedly considered my sins, my transgressions, and these words from the prophet Isaiah.

Jesus was, indeed, pierced for my transgressions. Through His death on the cross, through those wounds He received, I was healed. Healed from all iniquity!

These words of the prophet are not just words on a page. They became vividly real to me some years ago. Just as they are still vividly real, today. Real for me, for you, for everyone. Jesus was pierced for all of our transgressions. Jesus was crushed for all of our iniquities.

“On Thursday—yesterday, Jesus ate with His disciples.  He knew it would be His last meal with them.  When no one washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus did the job.  He even washed the feet of Judas who would turn Him in to the soldiers and Peter who would pretend he did not even know Jesus later that night. That is love!

“On Friday, Jesus endured whipping and being nailed to a cross.  He forgave the soldiers who did the job.  He endured the crowds who mocked him as He died and forgave them.  He watched His mother watch Him die on the cross, and even asked his friend John to take care of her.  That is love!

“By the time he died on Friday, His heart was broken by his enemies, by the crowds, and even by His friends.  But Jesus kept on loving them all.  That is love – God’s love!” (from Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.)

Yes, our Lord Jesus did die on the cross. He took upon Himself the sins of humanity, willingly. Lovingly. He was pierced, because of love. The best news of all? Jesus did it because He loved us with God’s love. Boundless, abundant, transforming. Jesus loves without limits.

We have been forgiven. Just as the prophet says, through His wounds we are truly healed.  That is indeed something for which we all can thank God.

That is not the end of the story. No! Jesus may have died that Good Friday afternoon, but He did not stay dead. He rose from the dead! Sunday is coming! However, it is not here yet.

Yes, we sorrow with the women and with John, there at the Cross. Yes, we bow our heads in anguish and shame, guilt and grief.

When someone asks us, “How much did Jesus love people?” We can say, “Jesus loved us this much.” (holding up outstretched arms)

 

(Thanks to Carolyn Brown, for her excellent ideas for a Lenten series on Love! I borrowed freely from  Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-palm-passion-sunday-march-20-2016.html )

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Love, Despite Bad Choices

“Love, Despite Bad Choices”

Luke 15-20 prodigal, father, brother

March 6, 2016 – Luke 15:20

Most of us—maybe even all of us—have some experience with a prodigal child. Either one of ours, or one of our close friends’ or relatives’ children. Are you familiar with the parents, loving their child enough to let him or her go away? Go far away, cross country, or even into a foreign place? This might be familiar. It can be very sad. Heart-breaking, in fact.

We have the familiar parable of the Prodigal as our Gospel reading today. What is the setting for this parable? In verse 1 of chapter 15 we see Jesus sitting down to dinner with a bunch of social outcasts. As far as the scribes and Pharisees were concerned, that is—they were outright offended! How could Rabbi Jesus, a self-respecting, reputable rabbi, be associating with riff-raff, with undesirables, with people like that?

Tax collectors and sinners. The upright Pharisees even had rules about associating with those people. They just didn’t. They were forbidden to have any dealings with them at all. But—Rabbi Jesus welcomed the tax collectors and sinners. Get this—He even ate dinner with them!

The Pharisees and scribes (teachers of the Law of Moses) were judging Jesus for some bad choices they saw Him making, according to them and their strict rules.

You know what Jesus’s response was, before I even tell you. Jesus said, “Let me tell you all a story. A parable.” Except, He didn’t just tell one parable, He told three of them, all about similar things. Luke chapter 15 is called the chapter of lost things. Jesus tells three interconnected stories about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Today, we are focusing on the lost son. Our Sunday school gave us a wonderful retelling of the gist of this story!

The parable of the lost son is a parable about bad choices. As the story continues, we see that the younger brother made a series of bad choices. Wanting to leave home. Asking his father for his inheritance. Going to the far country and blowing all the money in fast living. All of these decisions were bad choices.

Let me expand on just one of these bad choices. According to the inheritance rules of the time, the younger son was to receive one third of the total assets of the father, after his death. (The oldest son would get two thirds, just because he was the eldest son.) But—this shouldn’t have happened until after the father died. The younger son was so uncaring, so disrespectful to his father, that he essentially said, “Dad, I wish you were dead already, so I could have all of my inheritance now. In fact, I want you to cash in all your assets and give me one third, right now. I can’t stand around waiting for you to die for me to get my hands on your money!”

The amazing part, the unbelievable part of all this? That’s exactly what the father did.

We all know what happened. The younger son goes to the far country. (A Gentile country.) Is estranged from his father and family. He mismanages and squanders his inheritance with debauchery and fast living. The far country has a famine descend upon it, which makes the younger son lose his money even more quickly. Finally, he becomes completely poverty-stricken. Runs out of funds, and is forced to hire himself out as a pig herder. (A surprising occupation for a good Jewish boy.)

If you ask me, these all sound like pretty bad choices.

I posed the question at the beginning of this sermon: do you know some young person who has been making bad choices? I want you to keep that person in mind.

Then, the good choices start happening. The younger son “came to himself.” This phrase means so much! It could mean that the young man had taken leave of his senses, at one point. Yet, now, he makes a good choice. A sensible choice. He remembers that his father’s servants—even the most lowly servant, on the bottom rung of the ladder—had enough to eat. That lowest servant was not starving, even though he was a servant.

If you or I were in that desperate situation—practically starving in a famine-torn land—I would suspect that thought would sound pretty good to us, too! Moreover, the younger son makes the decision to ‘fess up to his father. He realizes that he has acted in a really bad way towards his father. Plus, he acted in a really bad way … towards God, too. He returns to his father, and in so doing, returns to God, too.

We all know very well that the younger son made some really bad choices. Yes! And, isn’t there just a little bit of self-satisfaction at how bad things got for the younger son? “I told you so!” “I could have predicted that!” and even, “Just what you deserve!”

Yet, how many of us make bad choices from time to time, too? Once in a while, or even a little more often than that? How many of us come to our senses, and realize we have acted badly? We return to our heavenly Father, hat in hand, tail between our legs, and ask for forgiveness. We repent, just as much as the younger son did.

Yes, the younger son finally made a good choice! He gets up, leaves the far country, and returns to his father. His faithful, loving, compassionate father.

The absolutely joyful part of this is the father’s reaction. The father sees his son coming from a long way off. All the time the son was gone, the father kept looking for the far-away son. The father kept hoping that the son would return! And when he finally sees his son in the distance, the father throws away all concern for propriety and loss of dignity. He runs down the road in the middle of town to meet his son! Embracing his son, showering him with kisses! So relieved and overjoyed at having his beloved son with him again!

But, wait! That’s not all! The father restores the son to his place, puts shoes on his feet, a ring on his finger (showing his status in the household), and gives him the best robe (a restoration of position). Reconciled! Restored! On top of that, he throws a big party!

If we celebrate the recovery of a lost sheep or a lost coin, how much more should the father celebrate the recovery of a lost son!

I don’t have time to go into the bad choices of the elder brother. That would take a whole other sermon. Suffice it to say that the disgruntled older brother made a bad choice or two, himself, even though he stayed at home. Remind you of anyone? The Pharisees and scribes, perhaps, keeping all their strict rules to the letter, but not having compassion, love and forgiveness?

So, Jesus hits the Pharisees and scribes where they live, with their own disgruntled remarks and attitudes. And, Jesus gives hope to all those who make bad choices. Including us.

God the heavenly Father—the heavenly Parent—is actively looking for us when we make bad choices. When we come to our senses and return to God for forgiveness, God comes running to meet us, from a long way off.

If that isn’t love, what is?

 

[I am indebted to R. Alan Culpepper’s commentary on Luke, chapter 15, found in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series (United States of America: Abingdon Press, 1996). Thanks for several insights interwoven into this sermon.]

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Whiter Than Snow

“Whiter Than Snow”

Psa 51-7 whiter than snow

Psalm 51:1-3, 7 – February 10, 2016

Have you ever made a mistake? I mean, not just like an ordinary mistake, like in addition or subtraction. I know we all made those while we were in grade school. That’s what erasers on pencils are for! I mean, a whopper! A mistake that is so bad, so huge, you wanted the earth to open up and swallow you? The kind that when you remember and look back on it, you want it to be permanently erased off the face of the planet? A mistake that big. That horrible.

Maybe you and I have never made that huge of a mistake. Maybe we have. But, I suspect all of us can relate to that kind of negative feeling. That horrible, gut-wrenching, sinking feeling. That “I wish I had never, ever been born!” feeling.

The psalm we consider tonight is all about this kind of negative, sinking, yucky feeling. This psalm is written by King David after his affair with an attractive married woman, Bathsheba, and his subsequent murder of Bathsheba’s husband (David’s general), Uriah.

Adultery! Attempted cover-up! Plotting and murder! And, another cover-up! Sounds like it’s right out of a soap opera script. Except, it really happened. And, it happened to a man after God’s own heart. A man with a close, personal, even intimate relationship with God. This all happened to King David, some years into his reign over Israel.

So, David has sinned. I mean, really sinned! I can see people shaking their heads, even now. David had a close relationship with God. God called him “a man after God’s own heart.” And some people might say, “David should’ve known better!”

Looking at us, today, we sin, too. We are often in a similar situation. We say we have a close relationship with God. We know the commandments, God’s rules, we have Jesus Christ and His example for us. Some people might say of us, “they should’ve known better!”

And what is David’s response? Verse 3, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” He does not pull punches. David comes right out and says it. He sinned. He knows it. He knows very well that God knows it, too.

We know we make mistakes, too. We know we mess up. We say mean things. We don’t tell the truth. We cut off people in traffic. We slam doors in anger. Who hasn’t bitten their tongue the second after saying something unfeeling? Or nasty? Or stupid? And, there are larger mistakes, too. Mistakes like, breaking the law. Theft. Embezzlement. Various felonies. Or like King David, with adultery, cover-ups and murder.

The psalm writer freely acknowledges his sins. Not even using euphemistic phrases like “wrong was done,” or “mistakes were made.” David is amazingly clear in stating “my transgressions,” “all my iniquity” and “my sin.”

Listen again to the verbs David uses – “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “cleanse me from my sin,” purge me with hyssop.” To “wash” in verses 2 and 7 could better be translated “scrub,” as one scrubs dirty clothes. (I wonder whether David was remembering his mother, scrubbing the family’s dirty clothes when he wrote that verse?) “Cleanse” in verse 2 and “be clean” in verse 7 is the same word used for washing clothes in a river (Leviticus 13:6, 34, 58). (Perhaps when David was a shepherd for his family’s sheep, he would go by the river and watch the women from his village washing—cleaning or cleansing—their families’ clothes.)

One commentary I read mentions “sin as a kind of figurative stain on her life and conscience that she needs God to scrub away. After all, [we] beg God to ‘blot out,’ ‘wash away’ and ‘cleanse me.’ It’s the image of ancient people washing dishes or clothing and modern people using various detergents and stain removers on stubborn stains.”[1]

In other words, my sins are washed away, and though I may still be in the (figurative) spin cycle, yet shall I dry. I can freely confess my sins, too. Here, tonight, we all can acknowledge the wrongs we do.

At the beginning of each regular service, we gather together and have a corporate time of confession. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, confess our sins to each other, and to understand we are sinners. This understanding of our sin—of the mistakes we have made and are continuing to make—prepares us to receive the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ. And the cross of ashes on each forehead is a reminder of that forgiveness in each one of our lives.

Yes, there IS good news! We can ask God to take away our iniquity. God’s abundant mercy will forgive. We can be sure of God’s unfailing love towards all of us.

Believe the Good News of the Gospel. In Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-5b-2/?type=the_lectionary_psalms

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey. Pursuing PEACE. And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!