Tag: Lent

The Prodigal Father

prodigal
The Prodigal Son. Painting by Geliy Korzhev

Our first reading is from the second letter we have from Paul to the church in Roman Corinth. In it, he makes the case that ALL are new in Christ – our pasts do not define our futures. Christ does. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Our second reading is Luke’s recount of Jesus telling the Parable of the Prodigal Son – the part skipped over for brevity is Jesus also telling the parables of the women finding a lost coin, and a shepherd seeking a lost sheep. This is the story of the lost sons… Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

What more can I say about this beautiful, full, story Luke recounts Jesus telling? Very little. I can just point out things in it.

 

Things like… this is a story about two lost sons. The father loses the younger to wantonness – to leading a sinful life. To getting wrapped up in bad deals and addictions. To getting in over his head and stuck in a worse and worse situation. He loses his son to the vices of the world. And before that – he loses his son to greed. The younger son wants his inheritance while his father is still living and breathing.

 

But the father also loses his older son. His older son is lost to industriousness. Lost to work. Lost to duty. While one son is living it large, the other is the chronically late to supper, over-worked, money concerned and a work-a-holic. In a way, the older son is greedy too.

 

And we hear – the younger son comes to his senses. He returns home. He was lost and now is found. He abandons everything to go home and face the music. Instead of being scalded, and punished, he is restored. The father rushes OUT to him. He is given fresh clothes, and called beloved child once again.

 

And we hear – the older son returns home. The father rushes OUT to him, also. And he is offered to come in, to join the party, to abandon behind his labor and celebrate the moment. To be a beloved sibling.

 

We do not hear what he chose.

 

The story ends with us in the tension. Will the father get both of his sons back? Will both give up their worldly pursuits and pursue the heavenly goal of life together?

 

Paul’s letter isn’t a finished story either. After hearing Paul and Timothy’s pleas, what did the Corinth church do? Did they welcome in those they had formerly cast out? Did they believe Paul was truly a new man in Christ and no longer the guy seeking to kill Christians? Did THEY change?

 

We do not hear what they choose. The letter is one-sided.

 

And it is rather appropriate that way. Each of us has this choice – over and over again in our lives – to choose to abandon what we once thought was so important for what God sees as important… or we can choose to keep to our own ways.

 

Again and again we face that choice. Again and again we chose to step towards God – and God runs the rest of the way to us. Or we chose to leave. And God permits us the space. But never once does God stop loving us, stop seeking to hear from us, stop working good for us, or shut the door and never welcome us home. Not once. The door is open and no one can close it. God is calling all home.

 

What will you choose?

 

We call this story the parable of the prodigal son. Prodigal means spending recklessly, freely, liberally, excessively. But this story to me is the story of a Prodigal Father. A father who recklessly loves his children. Who freely embraces who they choose to be. Who liberally welcomes them home. Who excessively forgives them again and again and says this generous, lavish, extravagant welcome is always available.

 

You are loved so much God is a fool for you.

 

Come home!

 

Amen.

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The Fragrance of Life

greenhousePaul writes from a Roman prison where he expects to be killed for preaching faith in Jesus as Messiah, Christ, and Lord. His letter is to the church in Philippe. Philippians 3:4b-14

John begins his story of the final two weeks of Jesus’ life by telling us of Jesus returning to Bethany, where Lazarus has been raised from the dead. John 12:1-8

Are some people more heaven bound than others?

Consider the child whose parents are both pastors, she went to a private Christian school. Her grandfather help found the Christian university she attends. She has all the best Bible apps on her phone and has never missed a mission trip.

On the other hand, consider the child whose parents are both in prison. She went to public school until she dropped out at 16. She sells drugs on a university campus. She has all the best dating apps on her phone and has never missed a good party.

Paul is like the first child. He lists out all the ways he is perfect. And then calls them rubbish. These are appearance things. Things of the flesh. And a lot of them are not due to any personal morals… but just luck and happenstance. Paul didn’t choose his parents any more than either of these children. And the situations we’re born into affect our whole lives: the social groups we’re in, the opportunities we have, and the ways we learn to get food, shelter, and love.

Press on, he says. Press on, toward the goal, for the prize of the heavenly call of God, known to us in the Christ, Jesus. The first girl may be doing that… or she may not. The second girl may be doing that… or she may not. We don’t know. We don’t know because people’s life situations, and births, and jobs, and families are parts of people… but not the whole of who they are.

Consider our second reading…

Judas is heaven bound, right? He is one of the 12 men following Jesus. One of the few who actually was verbally called by Jesus to be part of this new world from the very beginning. But we know, in his heart, he is a torn man who wavers between faith in Jesus and faith in money.

Mary does not look heaven bound. She takes a years’ wages and buys a pound of perfume. She puts that entire bottle on Jesus’ dirty feet and then uses her own hair to wipe the mud and camel poop from Jesus’ toes. Even today, a woman using her hair to clean someone’s feet makes us uncomfortable. Imagine how much more uncomfortable everyone at that table is, when custom was that a woman ought never touch a rabbi… let alone take her ‘crowning glory’ of hair – expose it from her head covering – and use it as a sponge on FEET. Sensual, taboo, wasteful.

But Jesus praises Mary and chastises Judas.

Jesus is concerned about WHY we do things. He’s concerned about what is in our hearts. If any of these people have good intentions and compassionate hearts – Jesus is happy. If any have bad intentions and callused hearts, Jesus is sad.

The saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” bothers me. Yes, often, “no good deed goes unpunished” but… our faith is about our hearts. So much in our life we can’t control. We can control trying to do good, love God and our neighbor and ourselves, and help one another. We can try in whatever situations we find ourselves in – great life set ups or poor life set ups. Great histories or ignoble histories.

Jesus is about hearts…. Because God is about hearts and writes God’s own love on them.

Mary’s heart is in the right place. Paul’s heart has moved to the right place. Judas’s heart wavers.

Mary’s heart came to this shelter of Jesus through her brother. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus – sisters and brother – live together. We know this story from the chapter before the part we read today. In the story, Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, dies. But Jesus raises him from the dead.

People were upset to see Lazarus return to life, and that resurrection is what began the plots to kill Jesus. They refused to celebrate.

People are upset to see Mary anoint Jesus, and Judas, who will betray Jesus for money, is introduced regarding money for the first time. The disciples refuse to celebrate.

Their hearts are not with Jesus and life and the moment. Judas claims he is only thinking of the poor.

Jesus replies, Judas, “you always have the poor with you.” For Judas is poor. Not financially, but spiritually. His heart has not moved from the death tomb to the lively feasting table.

“But you do not always have me.” Judas does not always have Jesus with him. Does not always have the heart of Christ. Sometimes Judas is a good disciple of Jesus. And sometimes he is not. Judas is… mixed.

Mary is shown as such a good disciple that Jesus follows HER example, and after this scene, anoints and washes the feet of his disciples, after Mary has done the same to him. Mary, we’re told, does not flee from the crucifixion. Mary is the first to see Jesus’ empty tomb, and first to know Jesus has come back to life. Mary always has Jesus with her.

And that heart of Jesus is what moves her to love extravagantly wherever she is, now.

In our reading we’re told they share dinner six days before Passover. Six days before the death of Jesus, Jesus shares life with these siblings. Perhaps this is the first time Jesus has spent time with them since bringing Lazarus back to life. In that meantime, Martha has worked to get the very best meal she can make to serve Jesus and her back-to-life brother. Martha intends a celebration feast. And Mary has taken a years’ wages and bought an anointing perfume for Jesus. Mary, like Martha, wants to show her love and gratitude.

In ancient Israel, people are anointed when they die, when they are healed, and if they become a king. The word for anointed one is ‘Christ.’ Jesus the Christ means Jesus the Anointed One. Mary anoints Jesus. Mary declares him her king. She also prepares him for death. Mary has been listening – she knows. She knows Jesus the Anointed Christ is also Jesus the Messiah, the Savior from God. And he has said he will suffer and die.

Mary knows this because Jesus is who healed her brother – her only beloved brother – and brought Lazarus back from the dead. He taught and she sat at his feet learning. Mary knows this because Jesus sees her not as a dangerous woman, lose even, and only as valuable as her womb for children… but Jesus sees her as MARY – beloved child of God.

Do you remember one of my favorite lines from the King James Version? “He stinkith, my lord!” Lazarus stunk in his tomb. The sisters warned Jesus not to open the tomb because it stunk so much. Their brother had been dead for days.

Now the house of Lazarus stinks. But instead of the sickly sweet smell of rotting corpses… it is the heady sweet smell of the perfume nard. Nard is heavy, sweet, spicy and woody all at once. Like crushed moss, wet dirt, or a wet woods.

Like… growing things.

Our brains are wired for scents. Scents stick in our heads and even though it can be hard to recall a certain smell, as soon as we smell it, we suddenly remember all kinds of things related to that scent.

I asked the children… what does Jesus smell like? And I ask you too: What DOES Jesus smell like?

I’m not asking about the historical man, who likely smelled like most people who live in hot places and bathe once a week.

I’m asking about the Jesus you know.

What smells invoke in your mind the memories and moments of when you have known God is with you as close as your own shadow? The very shade of your heart?

Jesus smells of Easter Sunday to me. Dizzying hyacinths and lilies. Jesus also smells of my mother’s hands after they’ve been in bleach – salty. Clean. Callused against my face tenderly. Jesus smells of Fast Orange garage soap on my Papa. And the lingering tinge of house fire smoke on my father. Jesus smells like the greenhouse in March, when the kerosene heater is struck and tinging, the planted tomato flats are filling the air with the smell of plants and humid soil, and life.

To me, Jesus smells of the fragrance of life.

A loving, hopeful, life that still grows even after the stink of callused hearts and cold graves.

An extravagant life that is found in every place – from the depths of the sea to the great cosmos – to the smallest bacteria of our own bodies to the great oak trees – life that, against all odds, comes back from the grave again and again.

That’s worth a year’s wages! Worth a victory feast. Life after death is worth extravagant celebration!

Praise God!

Jesus smells.

Praise God!

Amen.

Lent Devotional Activity

Lent Devotional Activity

Needed – 3×3 inch +/- scrap of cloth per person

Washable markers

Sharpie markers

Bowl of warm water per table

Dreft, soap, or etc. per table

Dry towels

 

We are born – all different sizes. All different and unique.

(give out the different sizes of white square cloths.)

 

Genesis 1: 26-28; 31

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

 

So God created humankind in God’s image,

in the image of God, God created them;

male and female God created them.

God blessed them,

 

… God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.

 

We are created – with God’s love written on our hearts.

 

(draw heart on cloth with a Sharpie)

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their spouse, declares the LORD.

 

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach their neighbor and each their sibling, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

 

And when we are baptized – A name is given to us.

 

(write your name on the cloth)

 

Isaiah 43:1-7

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,

they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire,

you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the LORD your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

I give Egypt for your ransom,

Cush and Seba in your stead.

Since you are precious and honored in my sight,

and because I love you,

I will give people in exchange for you,

nations in exchange for your life.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you;

I will bring your children from the east

and gather you from the west.

I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’

and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’

Bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the ends of the earth—

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.”

 

And then, we live! Life – gets us messy!

 

(Exchange Sharpies for washable markers. Draw on the cloth.)

 

The mess can be too much.

 

Psalm 22:1-

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the one Israel praises.

In you our ancestors put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them.

To you they cried out and were saved;

in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a human,

scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

All who see me mock me;

they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

“They trust in the LORD,” everyone says,

“let the LORD rescue them.

Let God deliver them,

since God delights in them.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;

you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.

From birth I was cast on you;

from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near

and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

Roaring lions that tear their prey

open their mouths wide against me.

I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted within me.

My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,

a pack of villains encircles me;

they pierce e my hands and my feet.

All my bones are on display;

people stare and gloat over me.

They divide my clothes among them

and cast lots for my garment.

But you, LORD, do not be far from me.

You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

Deliver me from the sword,

my precious life from the power of the dogs.

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

 

When it is too much, remember your baptism. Repent. Believe. And be washed clean.

 

(wash the cloths clean in warm, soapy water in bowls on the tables)

 

Isaiah 1:16-18

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;

Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.

Cease to do evil,

Learn to do good;

Seek justice,

Rebuke the oppressor;

Defend the fatherless,

Plead for the widow.

“Come now, and let us reason together,”

Says the LORD,

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

They shall be as white as snow;

Though they are red like crimson,

They shall be as wool.”

 

Acts 2: 37-39 When the people heard the Gospel of Jesus, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

 

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

 

But see here – love – cannot be washed away.

 

(Sharpie heart and name remain.)

 

1 Corinthians 13:4-10; 12-13

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

Our name: Beloved Child of God – always remains.

John 3:16-17

“For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in the Son may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

PRAYER

 

Praise! We praise you, creating God! From waters you call forth worlds. From chaos you create order. From darkness you create light. From sinners you create saints.

 

We praise you, abiding God! From our births to our deaths; from our deaths to our new lives – you abide with us. When we are clean and wet and new – and when we are dirty and dry and old – you abide with us. Wherever we go – there you are. We praise you – for abiding!

 

Praise! We praise you for forgiving. In our wandering we do not always remember we are abiding with you. We forget to love ourselves, love our neighbors, love our strangers, and love you. But you forgive and welcome us back again and again.

 

We praise you, God of the Book, God of Abraham, God of Isaiah, God known to us in Jesus, God felt in our bones, God of the universe – we praise you for ever tilting the balance of the world towards good.

 

Amen.

Call to Worship: Lent 2 C / Philippians 3:17-4:1

(Paraphrase of Philippians 3:17-4:1)
One: Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe each other who live as examples of Christ,
Many: For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
One: With tears I tell you of these enemies.
Many: Their end is destruction. Their god is hungry greed. Their glory is shameful. Their minds are stuck on Earthly things.
One: But our citizenship is in heaven.
Many: From heaven will return our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
One: Christ transforms us from living in humiliation to living in glory.
Many: Christ does this with the same power Christ uses to reconcile all things to God.
One: Therefore, my sisters and brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown: stand firm in the Lord.
All: We come to stand firm before the Beloved and declare all who come in the name of the Lord are blessed.

Forgiveness is not Reconciliation

Genesis 45:3-11,15 download
Luke 6:27-38

We’re back in that time of year again… we’re entering Lent. There’s going to be lots of talking of forgiveness and reconciliation. Lots of focus on guilt, shame, and unearned mercy. A lot of time of talking about being… a Christian doormat.

Does anyone want to wipe their feet on a mat? Here I am! Choose me!

For literal centuries if not millennia Jesus’ phrases to “forgive seven times seventy times” and “pray for those who abuse you” have been used to keep the abused in prisons of faith. They’ve been used to keep victims silent, compliant, and going along with whatever horrible things their abuser does.

Don’t complain about the harm done to you. Grin and bear it. Pray for your abuser.

Forgive your abuser, or else God won’t forgive your own sins.

If you’re ever striked on the cheek, offer your other cheek.

And the one I hate the most? Be like a silent lamb led to slaughter, just as was Christ.

NO! No! Before we step into this Lenten season, let’s stop right now. Right now and put away this damaging language and theology. This kind of bad theology literally kills people. It kills women who stay with their abusers. It kills children who are scared to speak up. It kills men ashamed of what they’ve experienced.

If ever scripture is used as a weapon against victims… then someone is using scripture in a wrong way.

We must pause here and take the concept of forgiveness away from the toolbox of abusers… and place it back into context. Back into the toolbox of grace, and love, and healing where God intends it to be.

Jesus today speaks his words while still on the level place. While still standing right here, with us, in the middle of our messy lives. He uses hyperbole, extreme language, to point out truths of how we are to live in the way of blessings.

He says: pay attention. Most of your relationships are business transactions. You expect to be treated a certain way, and you react as how you are treated. This is just what every human does – sinners or not.

If your spouse is loving towards you, you are loving towards your spouse.

If your waiter is rude to you, you are rude to your waiter.

And you expect the same back. If you treat people poorly, expect them to treat you poorly back.

This is the Silver? Rule. We relate to one another based on how we assume the other will treat us, or is treating us.

It’s a logical, human, rule. A fair rule.

I hear it utilized most often with taxes. Consider… I pay taxes for my roads. Therefore, I expect my roads to be maintained. However, I don’t use the public school – so why should I pay taxes for it? I pay taxes for my government representatives. I expect them to represent me. When they don’t, why should I keep paying?

When we apply the Silver Rule to forgiveness, it sounds like this: I will forgive you when you apologize. If you don’t apologize, I won’t forgive you. I will forgive myself when I correct the wrong I did. If I can’t fix it, then I shouldn’t forgive myself. It is dangerous to forgive an abuser, because then you’ll become a victim all over again. And just be the door mat. So do not forgive those who will keep hurting you.

But reconciliation is not the same as forgiveness. These are two different things.

Forgiving someone is not the same as permitting them to be in your life.

Forgiveness doesn’t belong to the Silver Rule of reciprocal relationships.

Whether or not taxes belong to the Silver Rule tends to determine your political leanings and whether one likes big or small government. That’s out of my specialization.

Forgiveness, however? Don’t make it a business transaction.

When Jesus is speaking about “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you” Jesus is speaking about the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule of “To Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” The Golden rule which is not about fairness, but about the virtue of compassion.

The Golden Rule supersedes the Silver Rule. The Golden Rule says I can forgive someone without reconciling, without entering a relationship again, with them.

To forgive is to stop expecting that person to get what they deserve. It is to let them off the hook and stop seeking repayment from them. It never means forgetting. It never means re-entering that relationship. It never means the person you forgive even needs to apologize.

All of these things CAN happen, but are not NECESSARY. All of these things CAN be steps towards reconciliation… but are not prerequisites for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is about giving up the desire for revenge.

God has forgiven us. Every single one of us. While we were still sinners. God chose to stop looking for a way for humanity to make up for all the wrongs we’ve done. God chose to stop seeking a way for us to pay. This is mercy. Unearned grace. This is forgiveness. We cannot do a thing about this because it is God’s choice.

We have the same power. We can forgive someone and they cannot do a thing about it.

God hopes to be reconciled with us. To re-enter relationship with us. But that means that we have to respond and want this. We have to seek out God as God seeks us out. We have to begin again anew.

We also have this power with one another. We can choose to seek out those who have forgiven us, or those we have forgiven and begin anew our relationship… or we can choose not to. We can choose who we are in relationship with.

For forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.

In our first reading we heard a historic account of how these things are different. Remember Joseph is the youngest of the many, many sons of Jacob. When Joseph was little he was the baby and the favorite of his dad. His dad gave him a coat of many colors. Well, Joseph began to have dreams of the future. And in one of these dreams, he dreamed all his brothers AND his dad would bow down to him one day.

This went over pretty poorly with the whole family. They thought their little boy was getting very full of himself and spoiled. So the brothers schemed to kill Joseph. But one bargained to just throw him in a well. Meanwhile, another brother sold the kid into slavery.

So Joseph grew up a slave. And changed hands. Ended up in Egypt. And eventually became an adviser to the pharaoh himself because of Joseph’s prophetic dreams and dream interpretation skill.

A famine comes to the land and everyone is desperate for food. Joseph had assisted pharaoh with dream interpretation for this, and Egypt was fine. But Joseph’s brothers outside of Egypt are not. They appear in Egypt to beg for food.

It’s been… decades. But Joseph hasn’t forgiven his brothers who tried to kill him and sold him into slavery. Before today’s reading, he does deeds to make them pay. He makes insane demands. He sends them on errands. He keeps their littlest brother a hostage. He is making them pay.

Joseph is following the Silver Rule. His brothers hurt him, so he’s going to hurt them back.

But Joseph’s heart changes. He ends up forgiving them. They are hungry. They are scared. They cannot do anything to ever make right what they did all those years ago. Joseph forgives his brothers.

They never even know it is him. They never apologize. He gives up his need for revenge and takes on the need for compassion. He feels compassion for the brothers. This is the Golden Rule. They have given him harm, but he chooses to stop the cycle of violence. He gives compassion where he was given hate.

And then Joseph chooses to move from forgiveness – move from trying to make them pay for their sins – to reconciliation. He reveals himself to them as Joseph.

“Come closer to me. I am your brother, Joseph, who you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Come closer to me. Come, rejoin a relationship with me. Let us be brothers again… not lord and servants. Not enemies.

Yes, you sold me into Egypt. It is important in any reconciliation to not ignore the past. To not sweep it under the rug. Otherwise, it will become a cyst. A sore that remains toxic and lying there, waiting for someone to touch it and make it weep again.

“Do not be distressed or angry with yourself because you sold me.” I have forgiven you. I’m not going to seek to make you pay. I’m not going to throw you in the dungeon or kill you. It is okay for you to forgive yourselves, too. We can’t change what happened. We can seek to move forward.

“God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph interprets his time in Egypt as God’s plan to save the family. Joseph recognizes he has the power here of life or death over his brothers …. Much as they had the power of life and death over him. And he chooses to preserve life. He chooses to stand with God. He chooses to forgive, and then, if his brothers are willing, to reconcile with him.

We read that Joseph kissed his brothers, wept upon them, and after that – his brothers talked with him.

They chose to re-enter the relationship with their brother Joseph, too.

The group moved from enmity, anger and shame, to forgiveness… to Joseph giving up the desire to harm his brothers. To reconciliation. The brothers all choosing together to begin anew their life together.

In my own life I am struggling with my old obstetrician. After my daughter died, I desperately wanted justice. I wanted her to pay for the death of my daughter. I wanted her license stripped. I wanted her to know my own pain. I wanted everyone to know what a horrid doctor she is to ignore me and my concerns and how I would be dead had not my husband intervened and saved me after our daughter died. I could not do good to her. I hated her. Maybe I still hate her.

I hired lawyers and I had violent dreams and I said many horrible things.

And I feel justice was denied to me.

Now what?

She will never apologize to me. It would cost her her license and livelihood. She will never admit she did wrong. No lawyer could guarantee a jury would side with me over a licensed doctor, so although they said there was wrong… the laws are not in my favor.

The OB’s life goes on. Unchanged. My life stopped. Hung up. Forever radically changed.

I don’t even cross her mind. She is on mine almost daily.

I continue to suffer. How long?

Jesus’ words on the level plain today are for people like me. People who will never get the justice they believe they deserve, and the person who wronged them will never pay, and who know we are never able to turn back time and fix things we, or another, did. People who cannot ever change the fact they metaphorically were sold into slavery… or sold a brother into slavery.

That doesn’t mean we have to keep the burdens on our shoulders. We can choose to lay them down. Choose to give up our right to revenge … and choose not fair, unearned, mercy. Unearned grace. We can be merciful just as God is merciful.

Through a process of acknowledging the hurt, acknowledging the pain, and taking all of this to God… we can begin to awaken compassion again. Awaken forgiveness. Awaken ourselves to the life going on now… and have new growth out of the ashes of our woes.

Jesus’ sermon on the level is about taking the power back from those who hurt us. It is about how forgiveness is our own to give, or not give. But giving it – choosing to wish good on others, even those that hurt us – is good for our own souls. Grudges are heavy. They harm our current relationships. They assist in keeping us in depression.

It is like… when the harm first happens, we invest 100% of our energy into revenge. Over time, that drops to 80%, to 60%, to 40 to 20 to 0…

Forgiveness is like grieving. It takes time. It takes work. It isn’t clear cut. I might feel very forgiving today, and much less next week.

But forgiveness IS freeing. It releases us from the burden of seeking recompense. Payment. It gives us that energy back to invest into other relationships.

Now, as I’ve said, I must reiterate… Forgiveness is not reconciliation. I will not go back to that OB. I don’t want that relationship. I don’t want her in my life. I do want to forgive her… but God knows I’m not there yet.

So as we go into Lent, know we’re on a journey together. A journey where we are in the process of forgiving ourselves and each other. A journey where there is opportunity for reconciliation, but it is not a commandment. And this journey doesn’t begin and end over 40 days. It is our entire lives. Perhaps into the next life. But it is a journey we each are on together.

Amen.

A Rainbow of Hope

169c6430c0941b6d00f7885d2bb1d7f0--noah-ark-art-partyGenesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22

Noah’s story is a strange one. I usually hear it in one of two ways. The first way is the cute animal ark story. In this, a zoo of animals ride a boat with little smiling Noah under a rainbow. You see it on nursery walls and stitched on baby blankets. Aww – giraffes and lions and zebras! It’s the story we sung for our children’s chat today.

The other way I hear Noah’s tale is as an awful story about God’s wrath and how terrible the Old Testament is. In this version, one day, God lost God’s temper, and so in a fit of rage, drowned every man, woman, child and even all the animals. Then God felt bad, and so like any successful abuser, lured God’s victims back with gifts and apologies until God lost God’s anger again in a generation or two.

Both of these versions of the Noah story the Bible doesn’t contain. The one handed to us to much more nuanced, and can’t be summarized neatly into either a story of wrath or of cuteness.

The story begins with how the world has gotten worse and worse. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were banned from the perfect garden. Then their son Cain murdered his brother Abel. And Cain’s son murdered another man. And chaos and violence and rape spread across the face of the earth as humans did.

Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” Humans had become evil, all the time. The following verse reads, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”

It doesn’t read that God was wrathful and angry. Not that God wanted to punish humanity. But rather, God regretted. God was sorry. God’s heart was heavy and troubled. God was sad. Not angry.

Genesis 6:13-14a – “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark.” God sought out the man who still honored God, who was not 100% evil, and before the evil could overcome him and his family, God told this guy God’s plan to save the world from absolute evil. God will make a new creation… but will save humanity, imperfect as it is, and give it a fresh slate to try again.

Genesis 6:17b-19: “Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.” Everything will die, and the evil will be washed away. But the seed of life that is still good – Noah’s family, these animals – will be released back into the world to cover it with goodness instead of evil. And a covenant — a promise — will be made. God says God will make the covenant, but does not tell Noah at this time what it will be.

So Noah builds the ark. And God God’s self seals him and the animals and Noah’s family into the ark (Genesis 7:16b). And we’re told that for 40 days it rained; and for 150 days the world was flooded. And still longer it took until the waters were down enough that Noah was able to leave the ark. Remember he send out a dove, and it comes back without anything. Noah knows there is no where to land, nothing growing. Later the dove is sent out and it comes with an olive branch – a sign today of peace! – and lastly the dove is released and it doesn’t come back. It has gone on to live in the recreated world.

And God tells Noah to leave the ark then, Genesis 8:17 “Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.” Does that sound familiar? In the Creation stories, God tells the world to do the same: be fruitful and multiply. Here, in this new creation, God tells them the same.

Then Noah makes an altar, and thanks God. God smells the cooking meat on the altar and says, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

In other words – God knows we’re sinful. From childhood we start lying, harming ourselves and harming each other. God knows this – but accepts it. God will not destroy the world because of the sin of humanity. Whenever God intervenes again, it will be in a different way. God will recreate and redeem us from evil — the evils of our own hearts even — in a different way.

God tells Noah that we may eat all plants and all animals now – but that God will demand an accounting of our lives. And will demand an accounting of our animals’ lives. How have we treated one another? How have we been stewards of the earth and siblings to each other?

Noah’s ark story ends with God’s rainbow and God saying, Genesis 9:12-16 “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

I’ve heard it said before that the rain bow is like a bow — what you use with an arrow. And when a bow is hung up, like a rain bow, it is a sign of peace. God’s bow – God’s violence – is hung up. A new way of dealing with evil on earth will have to be used, now.

I’ve also heard of rainbows being like a bridge, connecting heaven and earth. It symbolizes how we affect one another. What happens in heaven changes things on earth, and what happens on earth changes things in heaven. God promises to keep that in mind, and to be with us working together.

In our communion, we ask God to make God’s church — which is all of us — a rainbow of hope in an uncertain world. When there are clouds, and doubts, and flooding rains… we are the rainbow that says this will not last forever. There is still hope. Even in the most violent, most awful, most terrifying situations… what is will not always be. We can keep hope.

We know humanity needed saved again. And again and again. And God intercedes in and finds new ways to address the evil.

Consider Moses. Just like Noah, water is used to save Moses from evil, but the water doesn’t cover the earth. But just like Noah, Moses is saved by an ark. (That’s the word used for his little basket!) And like Noah, Moses is given a new covenant… this one not sealed with a rainbow but written on stone tablets and seal with blood of an animal and put in — here’s that word again! — an ark. This ark is to carry the tablets and be the movable house for God.

And consider Jesus. Like Noah, and like Moses, water plays a major part in Jesus’ life. The water of baptism. The water turned into wine. The water Jesus stills and walks upon. There is no ark in Jesus’ story, and Jesus doesn’t refer to himself as an ark… but he is, in a way. He is protecting, carrying, humanity from evil and into the newest creation of God. Jesus does tell us the newest covenant is sealed not with stones or animals or rainbows – but with Jesus’ own blood: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

When God saves us from evil the next time around, we are saved through the covenant in Jesus, and sealed with the water of baptism and Holy Spirit.

The first letter of Peter writes to the struggling persecuted church to remember their baptisms. It’s not a bath for dirt. It does not make you stop sinning. It is an appeal to God to remember our covenant, and an appeal to us to remember our covenant. We are one people, many persons, but one people – belonging to one God. And it is together we’re all going to make it. Even those people who died in Noah’s days, says Peter, after disobeying God all their lives, even they – although dead – are offered to repent, apologize, and return to God through Christ.

In other words, says Peter, there’s hope. Even for the dead, there is hope of new life, new creation, new reconciliation and relationship with each other and with God. This is the covenant of Christ. A covenant of hope.

You don’t hope for things you have. You hope for what you don’t have. You don’t hope for sun on a day that is sunny. You hope for sun on rainy days. Rainbows of hope are visible only with storm clouds. Christ’s resurrection hope is only possible if Christ has died, and if we, too, physically die.

The hope is that the story of Noah doesn’t end with an ark. It continues. It ends with a rainbow, a promise, a new covenant.

The hope of Christ is that the tomb is empty. This symbol – a cross – is not just a reminder of our mortality, and of Christ’s death – but it is an EMPTY cross. Nobody hangs here. This is a cross of hope. There is more. The story continues. There is a resurrection.

And we need this hope, now. Our country is deeply divided. We’re told by our Federal Agents that this division, which has always been there, was exacerbated by another country.

The evil inclinations of our hearts were always there. The inclinations to distrust one another, to fear one another, to HATE one another. Those inclinations were incited, and we fell for it with glee. With glee, people passed on hate messages. With glee, we heard only the news we wanted to hear. With glee, we believed only what we wanted to believe. And with glee, we turned our own neighbors, our own brothers and sisters, into our enemies.

Lent is a time of making amends. A time of reflecting on our own sins, and building bridges – rainbows of hope – connecting ourselves to each other.

Lent is a time to reflect – what messages are we sharing? Are we seeking common ground and seeking the common good, or are we focusing on our differences, and focusing on just assisting ourselves?

Lent is a time to pray for forgiveness. A time to remember who we have issue with, and seek them out, to offer the olive branch of peace.

Jesus told us that a house divided soon falls in on itself.

Rebuild your house.

Rebuild your burned bridges.

The storm is happening, but we can be the rainbow of hope in this uncertain world.

Amen.

Transfigured

Mark 9:2-92 Mirror-talking
1 Kings 2:1-12

I think youth groups like 4-H, Boy Scouts, FFA and Girl Scouts are really fantastic. I had an extension agent who took myself and a few other teens one year and she worked with us to learn public speaking. Some of the things she spoke about, and taught us, I am still using even right this very moment in preaching to you. Such as to speak clearly, to keep water on hand, and to practice.

The practicing part was, and perhaps still is, the hardest. She had us began by speaking into a mirror and watching ourselves. I’m humored by what a trope, what a common scene it is in movies and TV that someone nervously practices their speech into a mirror. People really do that. I’m one of them.

Once we got used to that, she next had us record our voice on a cassette tape. Do you know how awful my voice is to my own ears? Nasally, high pitched, and it belongs to some teenager. So when I was a teenager, it sounded like it belonged to some kindergartner. The mirror was easier. I see myself in the mirror often enough – literally every day. But I don’t hear a recording of myself every day.

We learned to count the “ums” and “uhs” in our recordings and to reduce that number. But more, we learned what we sounded like just like we now knew what we looked like.

The last step was putting those two together. The extension agent now had us stand before a camcorder and record us. Then put that video and audio on a television and we watched ourselves.

… That was a new level of horror.

I’ve heard it said before that regular people look so strange on TV because we’re used to seeing very thin, very pretty, very dolled up people. So when a normal person is on, they look way worse just because of who they are compared with. Now, if you’ve ever seen your own regular gangly awkward teenage self on TV stumbling through a speech… you know what kind of horror the six of us teens went through.

The horror of… facing ourselves.

The horror of… being revealed.

Exposed!

That is why public speaking is so terrifying for almost everyone: it is being exposed, vulnerable, and open to ridicule.

That extension agent revealed us to ourselves, and then told us, “You’ve met yourself and survived. When you give your speech at the county fair, it will be a piece of cake. Easy. Because you’ve already did the hardest part: seeing and hearing yourself.”

She was right. Very right. It was much easier to speak at the microphone to mom and dad and grandma in the audience than to watch myself give a speech on television for the first time.

I think about her lessons often – especially that bit of the hardest part is seeing and hearing ourselves.

Maybe she meant literally.

But maybe not.

Transfiguration is not transformation. The Jesus who went up the mountain is the same Jesus who stood up there and the same Jesus who came down. What changed was how he was viewed. What was revealed. Exposed!

If what was revealed by Jesus is hard to understand, it’s okay. We’re flat out told that Peter doesn’t know what to say or how to explain it and he’s standing there witnessing it!

What they see, and we see through their eyes, are the man who gave us the Laws – Moses. And the greatest prophet – Elijah. Two representing all the traditions who have come before. Moses – who went up the mountain and met God, and who glowed from the encounter. And Elijah, who is said to have never died but instead, rose up to heaven and Jewish tradition has it, he will return from heaven. And with them is Jesus – who is glowing, who will die, but be raised, and go to heaven, and promise to return. Who is the continuation of the Laws and Prophets.

But he’s the same person who went up the mountain.

Just seen… very differently.

When we teens watched ourselves on tape, we were the same teens. Just like when you hear a recording of your voice, it is your same voice. What changes is how we view ourselves, or how we hear ourselves – what is revealed.

Transfiguration is not changing forms – not transforming. Not changing bodies – it is transfiguring – changing the view. Changing the view, then, often changes, transforms, us and those around us.

Like my extension agent did, God offers us to change the way we view ourselves, and others. Offers to peel the curtain back and peek in at the heart, the soul, of who we are. And in truthfully seeing, take with God transformative action.

No one likes to admit faults; and some of us have just as hard a time admitting our good qualities, too. We are transfigured before God – God sees them all. Shows them to us. Loves us.

I don’t talk about sin much, but I do believe in it. The part of the communion prayer that asks for forgiveness for the sins we commit deliberately, and those that over take us, speaks to me. We sin. Sometimes purposefully. And sometimes accidentally. And sometimes because the power of the sin was more powerful than us.

It takes a lot of honesty to admit we’ve lied. Lied to others. Lied to ourselves. That honesty is transfigurative. Revealing. But necessary for the transformative work of repentance and forgiveness.

A lot of soul-searching to admit we’ve done wrong. Wrong to ourselves. Wrong to others.

It’s a good long look in the mirror to be able to pray and ask for forgiveness and really mean it.

My extension agent had us practice. Had us face the worst of our fears – so when the time came, we shone.

God has us practice. Has us face the worst of ourselves – so when the time comes to act, to be Christ to another, we shine. When you are wholly honest with yourself, with your own good parts and bad, and are authentic – people know it. They sense it. You shine as an example of how to live truthfully, humbly, and with love of self and others and God. You also live much more comfortably in your own skin.

Lent is a great time to practice this change in perspective. A season to set aside time to reflect on who we are – and look at ourselves truthfully. This takes practice! And humility. And God’s grace.

God’s grace, God’s gift to us, is love which always is speaking to us about whom we truly are.

And we’re transfigured. Seen differently. Revealed. And in the revealing, opened to more change. Opened to transforming.

God helps us see all those things we’re trying to hide, the stories and revisions to stories to make ourselves better, and says… You’re my child. Beloved. I forgive you. I love you.

Just as God helps us see all those things we’re denying about ourselves. The good deeds, the compassion, the love. God sees how we shy from our goodness out of fear of being judged, or fear our misdeeds are too great… and God transfigures us. Reveals who we really are. God’s child. Beloved. Just as you are.

So what happens next?

Transfiguration is not transformation.

Transformation is next.

Jesus in our story gets right back down from the mountain and starts his trip towards Jerusalem. And we get right back down from this Sunday into the season of Lent next Sunday.

Seeing who we are propels us into action. Seeing who we are gives us the courage to boldly walk with Christ through town after town, and all the way to the cross – and beyond. Seeing ourselves – with all our merits and flaws – and hearing the voice from heaven say we are beloved – what can’t we overcome and who could steal this joy and hope and peace and love? We’re empowered to transform – to change the world – and to transform – change – ourselves.

By the time you get to the county fair – the end of the project – the end of your time on Earth – you’ll be ready. You’ve put in the practice, you know your good parts and bad, you’ve been transforming yourself and the world, and you’re ready for the judge, the reward, the rest.

Amen.