Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Who will roll it away?", Mark 16:1-8, Easter 2013

Who doesn't love easter egg hunts? We all have memories, either as a young child or as a parent of a young child, that involved easter egg hunting. Unfortunately now many communities and schools refuse to call it an "easter egg hunt" and prefer to us the more PC term "spring egg hunt." Theres even been some talk of canceling the traditional White House Easter Egg hunt, which has been in existence for 135 years!, because it is seen as the State sponsoring a religious event. Really....Easter Egg hunting is a religious event? I know finding as many eggs filled with candy and prizes one can possibly find can be a bit euphoric for little children, but as a religious experience I think it is lacking. 

You've got to admit the good ole easter egg hunt has transformed over the years. How many of you can remember hunting for or your children hunting for real eggs? How many of you remember dyeing those eggs and the count less stains in, on and around the kitchen, clothing and of course your hands? Now those real eggs have been replaced with a petroleum based plastic shell filled with candy and other surprises. I can't say I'm disappointed about this, other than the symbolic issues, science and medicine have shown us that consuming eggs, boiled or not, that have sat around at room temperature for several hours can be a detriment to our health.

Eggs have for centuries been symbolic of new birth and in the Christian tradition that new birth is the new birth provided thought the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each egg we crack open reminds us of the tomb being "cracked open" the fait-filled and faith-filled morning and of course the new birth we have with that. In pagan traditions the egg is more about the new birth that takes place through pro-creation, both the pro-creation of live stock and humans....this is why lambs, bunnies, ducks and chicks are all "easter" symbols too. In fact the word easter comes from the Greek word "Estros" and the worship of  Estroth a pagan fertility goddess of which we get or modern english word Estrogen. All in all Easter is about newness, new birth and most important a new life for those who trust in Jesus.

Our passage this week opens with three ladies heading to the tomb were Jesus was laid just three day earlier. I'm sure it had been a whorl wind of a time for them. Things had gone from great to terrible in less than a week. They were headed to ceremonially anoint Jesus' corps, I'm sure thinking and talking about all that ha happened and what was ahead when the realized, or remembered that an enormous rock had been rolled in front of the tomb sealing it. They figured it would take several grown men to roll that stone away and so the question was posed, "who will roll away the stone?" Here we have a serious problem, three little women, one big rock and again more lost hope. Yet despite the realization that they would not be able to roll away the stone they continue anyway. Was it faith, was it persistence, was it a lack of anything better to do? I don't know, but for whatever reason they continue on their journey. When they arrived they were astonished to find that the stone had been rolled away. All that worry and despair and fret had all been for no avail because someone had rolled away the stone!! As they proceed into the tomb they found that the tomb was empty and were then told that Jesus was not there because he had risen and that they needed to go tell the others. Stone rolled away, tomb empty, lives changed the story of easter. But who rolled away the stone? The bible doesn't say in Mark who had done it, we assume it was the angel in the empty tomb, but Mark is silent on this fact. All we know is that they had their resurrection experience because someone rolled away the stone for them.

I've spent much of my adult life prior to full time ministry working with youth who had "gone the wrong way."In the professional social work field they are referred to as "at-risk." They are at risk for becoming non-productive and burdensome members of our society, they are also at-risk of losing their lives and souls. I've worked at three different residential treatment centers since graduating form college. Each one had similar but different kids, some where all boys homes others were co-ed homes, but one thing remained true...they needed help, they needed someone to roll away the stone! Truth is none of us ever get to the right place in life, none of us ever experience God in life, none of us ever meet the resurrected Jesus without the help of others...someone must be there in order to roll away the stone. Then and only then can we truly experience the risen Christ! Who has rolled away the stone for you so that you can have a resurrection experience? Who have you rolled the stone away for so that they can have a resurrection experience...new life in the spirit, new life in the flesh, radically changed hearts and minds...that is a resurrection experience...who have you helped to have that?!

In Serra Leon, a county in Eastern Africa, there is a strong United Methodist Presents. Last year we were fortunate enough to have a missionary to that country come and speak at one of our UMW meetings. She spoke of the miscarriage of justice that women face in that nation. They are totally and completely dependent on their husbands. If they are unmarried they have nothing, if their husband dies they have nothing, it's very sad. She spoke of one women who's husband died and his family took everything, even her children. She was left homeless and friendless and worst of all hopeless. She had no money, no family and no way of working (women are not allowed to work at most jobs). The United Methodist Church was able to step in and help her. They have a program in Serra Leon that provides micro loans to women so that they can start up cottage industries like sowing, cooking and cleaning. Within a year this women paid back her loan, expanded her business, got her home back and she got her children back too. The United Methodist church and it's missionary presents in Serra Leon rolled away the stone for that women and allowed her to have a resurrection moment...stone rolled away, empty tomb, changed lives. Resurrection moments do not have to be all the same, they do not have to be all spiritual, but one thing is true they all change lives. May you have a life changing resurrection moment this easter.

Resurrection Blessing,
Pastor Josh

Holy Thursday, Isaiah 53, "The suffering Servant", 2013

            Not to long ago a baby girl, in the care of her mother and her mother’s boy friend, was tragically and viciously killed. The little girl would not stop crying so the boyfriend picked her up and beat her. He slammed her head against the wall several time, them punched her in the stomach. After that he shook her violently, all while the mother looked on “to afraid to stop him.” After the savage beating the little girl lay quietly on the couples bed room floor for 2 days in and out of consciousness. The mother said she could hear her moan from time to time, but still she did nothing. On the 3rd day the little girl’s grandfather came over to see her while the boyfriend was at work. He asked where his granddaughter was and at first the mother, his daughter, danced around the question, but she could not dance around the moaning and groaning coming from their bedroom. The grandfather rushed into the room to find his 4-year-old granddaughter severally and viciously beaten laying on the ground. He picked her up and rushed her to the hospital where she later died from her wounds. The mother and boyfriend, of course, where arrested and later convicted of child abuse, neglect and 2nd degree murder.
            At my first appointment in Oklahoma a man, a husband, father, grandfather and friend died a long and very painful death from colon cancer his name was Bill. Bill had three adult children and 3 grand children. He was married to his wife for 40 years, was a popular teacher and the one football coach to ever won a State Championship for the high school football team. He taught drivers education and drove a school bus. He was a well-known and well-loved man in our community and he went to our church. One day he was mowing the church lawn…for free; yes in some places people actually do things at and for their church for free. That day Bill didn’t finish the lawn. He came to the parsonage, which was located on the church grounds and knocked on my door and told me he didn’t feel well and would come back another day to finish. 8 days later he still had not returned because Bill had been admitted to the hospital and it had been discovered that he had stage-four colon cancer.  Over the next 6 months I watched Bill suffer physically in ways I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I watched his wife rive in emotional pain as she faced the reality that her friend, lover and partner of 40 years would soon be gone. I watched as his adult children sat silently, hurting, dying inside because their daddy, who was fine at Xmas, dressing up like Santa as he did every year, was no longer the strong, confident man that had guided their lives for so many years, so much suffering in so many places for what seemed like and eternity. Unfortunately Bill passed away and a whole new way of suffering identified itself and the suffering went on.
            In the book of Matthew during all the joy and anticipation of the nativity a terrible suffering like the world has not often seen was taking place. The jealous, selfish and ruthless King Herod, fearing for his throne, orders the slaughter of baby boys 2 years and under, and in response to this event Matthew writes, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lament, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.”  This is suffering like most of us have ever known, a suffering so deep, so primordial, that those who suffered refused any comfort, a suffering so unique perhaps only the parents of the Newtown massacre understand it.  Truth is we all have suffered in one way or another. Maybe you are suffering in some way now, maybe you are aware of someone who is suffering now. We turn on the TV and witness suffering, we go on-line and Yahoo greets us with a new story of some ones suffering, we read the news and we read about suffering…suffering is all around us, it effects our lives in ways and more often than any other human experience….it’s a good thing we have a God who knows suffering too.
            As it is Maundy Thursday church tradition would lead us to discuss and reflect on the Lords Supper, which is a good and noble thing, but this year instead of going with tradition, siding with expectation and just talking about the Lords supper I want us to consider something else. This night is the night before Christ most terrific suffering. So instead of a meal, instead of intrigue, instead of foot washing (which is a certain amount of suffering in it’s self…yuck!) lets reflect on Christ suffering. Our passage tonight is one that many of you are familiar with, it is a text that biblical maximalist say is a foretelling of Jesus suffering and a text that biblical minimalist claim has nothing to do with Jesus at all. I for one see the connection between the Jesus and what Isaiah 53 calls the “Suffering Servant”, but not just as a foretelling, but as prophetic.
            Isaiah 53 speaks of the man of suffering, Jesus that is, as one who is acquainted with suffering, one which was through oppression wrongfully executed. He was oppressed and afflicted…he suffered…. acquainted with suffering, familiar with suffering, like you and I are familiar with baseball or pie, he knew suffering. A few hours from now Jesus will endure suffering like most of us have never. I remember a peer while at United who often spoke of the suffering she endured in the form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse as a child. She said they were things should could hardly speak of even with her closes friends. She said the thing that offered her the most comfort was knowing that she did not suffer alone. All those years someone suffered with her and that some one was Jesus, the suffering servant. Jesus did not just suffer for us so that we did not have to; Jesus suffered with us so that we didn’t suffer alone. This Easter season the gospel wants you to know that if you are suffering, you are not alone. Think of Jesus who was wrongfully accused, tortured and executed. Think of Mary. A mother who watched her son bleeding and broken, dying and she could do knowing to help him. Think of the 99% of people in Jesus day, much like our day, who suffer 90% of the time. Those who hunger, those who are homeless, those who are oppressed, those who suffer abuse, who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, food or sex…. and you will see, you do not suffer alone. Tonight the good news is simple…we suffer together and God suffers with us!

Blessed Lent,
Pastor Josh

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Holy Week. Greetings from Seattle

Greetings from Seattle, where the two constants in life are coffee and rain. This week I have had lots of both! I am fortunate enough to serve a church that desires to promote growth, both spiritually and professionally, with in the lives of their clergy. So this week I post to you not only from Seattle, but also the 48th Annual Meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society as well and the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. Obviously I would consider myself a Wesleyan Scholar and a Scholar of Wesleyanism, but I am also a scholar of Pentecostalism, but not a Pentecostal scholar. I am enjoying myself at this “feast of theological thinking”, but as was the case while in seminary, I find little of it useful in my day-to-day service as a pastor. Well... enough of that!

This coming week is Holy week, and though I will not be at my charge for Palm Sunday, I will be present and presiding for the other Holy Week services as well and Resurrection Sunday. The first stop after Palm Sunday that most of us Neo-Liturgical Protestants make is Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday. This is where we begin. I ask that over the next several days you seriously enter into a time of reflection of the cost of your salvation and how we can present this gift to a hurting and suffering world. Have a blessed Holy Week.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fifth Sunday in Lent, "Finding Bethany", John 12:1-811

We never truly miss home until we're not there. It sounds silly and obvious, but I don't mean "not there" because we're at school, work, or on vacation. I mean when we leave home for whatever reason and by the time we make it back it's not the same as when we left it. We never truly appreciate mom's meatloaf until we're forced to eat MRE's, college cafeteria food, or Ramen Noodles every night. We never realize how great our hometown is until we're living in the bad part of some town, or in a city 5 times the size of our hometown and we have no idea were anythings at, or we're stationed at some military base in some far off country where no one speaks our language or embraces our way of living. We don't ever see how awesome or home church is, whether its a small country church of 10, or a suburban mega church of 10,000 until we're forced to find a new church home and none of the churches around worship like our church did, preach like our pastor did and have church dinners like the ladies at our church provided.  None of this is as important or as valuable to us until it's not there, like the old saying, "absences makes the heart grow fonder." The day we have to move away from home because of school or work or because of joining the military or even because of marriage is the day we begin to realize we can't ever really go home.

I remember as a high school senior not being able to wait until the day when I would pack up my bags and go away to college. I didn't go to an in state school or even a school in the region, no I went to a school 1500 miles away from home! I thought it was great!!! I recall the anticipation of the move the week before and how all the excitement built up until the morning my mom and dad and I pulled out of our driveway and begin the long drive from Detroit to Dallas. It took us about 2 1/2 days to get there. We arrived the day before new students could check into the dorm so we spent the day looking around town and eventually spent the night at a motel only 2 miles from the campus. I had been there before as a high school student touring the campus as I tried to make a decision about were I would attend college, but the campus had grown quite a bit in the 18months or so since I had been there. We arrived at the campus early, I got all my residential life information and proceeded to my dorm. I was in an upper class-men dorm (my parents paid the extra $250 per semester so I didn't have to stay in the freshman dorm).  I stopped at the Dorm Directors office and picked my my key and the name of my roommate, his name was Clifford. Now keep in mind I grew up in a very sheltered environment so what I was about to say was a shock to me and to some of you might find it offensive. I walked onto my hall and found my room. Out of curtsey I knocked instead of just barging in. There was no answer, all though I knew someone was in there because I could hear the loud hip-hop music pounding through the door. I knocked one more time and a large black man answered the door in a wave cap and cheetah print man panties (they were bikini briefs, but I call the man panties). I WAS...SHOCKED! I thought to myself, who is this guy and what has he done with Clifford!!! I stood there silently staring for what seemed like an eternity. The large black man then said, "can I help you?" I said...."um, yeah...I'm looking for Clifford, he's my roommate." The man said, "That me!!! welcome to the crib!!!" I walked in and sat my things down on the top bunk. He sat down on an old dirty couch and said, "have a seat bro...mi casa, su casa!!"(he meant mi casa es tu casa...I assume) To make a long story short cliff and I became very good friends and still are to this day. It was funny how much I wanted to leave home, but it didn't take long for me to be terribly home sick! I spent most of my college days feeling like I couldn't wait to get back home to good ole Detroit, where the food was better, the people where nicer and the churches weren't as weird. It seems like we are all always trying to go home again, but never really can.

We know from the gospels that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, spent a few years as a baby living in Egypt and then his family moved to Nazareth of Galilee, but he never really has a home town once he begins his ministry. He was on the road a lot as an itinerate preacher (something us Methodist preachers know a thing or two about) and faith healer. When he tried to go home his neighbors and even relatives tried to kill by stoning him and throwing him off a cliff. This experience lead him to say, "Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the son of man has no where to lay his head." It's often hard for us to except the fact that, for all express purposes, Jesus was homeless (he at least meets the federal guidelines in America for what is defined as homelessness). As a side bar, I'd like us to take a few moments to consider the 10million homeless people in America and let it dawn on us that, Jesus was homeless too. Perhaps that might help us see how God feels about the homeless and how important it is for us to find ways as individuals to help them. Jesus had no home, but he did have a place where it  "felt like home". A place were he went for fellowship and love, a place where he could get a warm, home cooked meals and stay in a nice warm bed...place were he could just simply be himself without all the pressures of being the messiah. That place was Bethany.

Author Frank Viola says that "Bethany was Jesus' favorite place on earth." Bethany was his "home away from home" so to speak. He found great joy and solace in the company of Mary, Martha and their bother Lazarus. These people where not "the 12", they were not needy, broken, and impoverished people who constantly were taking from Jesus, they were his friends, they were part of the support system that made so much of Jesus and the 12's ministry possible and it was with them at their home Jesus went the week before he was to endure his greatest suffering. I've been saying all through Lent that this time is a time of reflection and devotion, not a time of suffering and sacrifice. In the spirit of that statement I'd like to ask, where is your Bethany?....Where is your favorite place on earth? Where is the place you go to recharge, refill, and relax...spiritually, physically and emotionally? Where is that place you go where you can simply be yourself without all the pressures of family, marriage or work? Bethany is not necessarily your home or your church and it's not always a place you go regularly, but often is a place you go when you've had enough or things are about to really, really difficult. It seems like our Bethany's can change was we grow older or move about. When I was a kid my Bethany was my church. I loved and still do love my home church. Whenever I went there I was met by gracious, excepting and loving people. I'd go there after school, on the weekends, whenever the doors were open because I felt at peace there. As I got older and moved away to college my parents house became my Bethany and after I go married and had kids...work became my bethany...j/k ;). My Bethany now is at the home of one of my Parish members. She's an old lady who reminds my of my grandmother. She makes coffee for me in the mornings if I stop by and fixes me lunch once or twice a week. I could even take a nap there if I needed to. I just know that when I'm there I'm safe, I can relax, recharge and unwind and there's no pressure to be anything other than myself.  Wherever you are, however old you are...you need to find Bethany, Jesus did...so it must be important.

Nothing seems to reminded us of home more than smells. There is incredible research that thinks the powerful bond between smells and memories. For example, when I was 12 my grandmother, grand-mère as we called her (a tribute to our French Canadian heritage) died. I was there at the funeral home not to long after she was prepared for viewing. It was so recent we could still smell the formaldehyde. To this day, when I smell formaldehyde I remember my grand-mère's death. Of course that is a morbid memory and I have many more that are not, such as the smell of sun tan lotion and how it reminds me of my of growing up spending my summers in Northern Michigan on Lake Huron. Some of you have strong memories of Dad, grand dad or your husbands when you smell a certain after shave or shaving creme. Some of you have strong memories of your mother when you smell certain foods cooking or a certain kind of detergent or cleaning solution or a certain  kind of perfume....This bring us to the end of this passage and a certain perfume that provided good and strong memories for Jesus.

At the end of this passage Mary burst into the room where Jesus and the other men are reclining after the meal. She has with her a very costly perfume known as nard. Nard was a burial perfume, it was very potent and would cover the smell of death. It was applied to the rotting corpuses of family members so they could continue to be viewed and prepared after death. This particular jar of Nard was most likely the very same jar of Nard that was to be used on Lazarus after he died. Mary and Martha were reluctant to anoint Lazarus's body because they had faith that even after four days of being dead, if Jesus was there, their brother would live again. I think it's amazing that after all this time of preaching and teaching Mary was the only one who got it....she understood that Jesus was going to suffer and even die. Her last act of devotion was to anoint the body of her Lord, her savior...her friend before he went off to face the political and religious oppressors of the day. Five days before his arrest and execution Mary poured a very potent perfume on Jesus feet, potent enough to have stayed with him through the whole ordeal. I have to wonder if at the worst moments, as those whips came across his back, as the blows landed on his head, as the crown of thorns pierced his brow....as the nails punctured his hands and feet...did he remember Bethany? Did he recall the joy, the love, the peace he felt there with his "family" and if so...did it strengthen his resolve and supply him with the courage he needed to finish his fathers work? Where is your Bethany? And have you been there lately? Recent enough at least to give you the strength and the courage to keep on the journey. This fifth week of Lent the gospel challenges us to find Bethany.

Lenten Blessing
Pastor Josh

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"The Scandal of Forgiveness", Fourth Sunday in Lent, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Remember the Lost and found box? Every once in a while you'd stop on your way to lunch, gym or library to see if perhaps you had lost anything...or perhaps to see what other people had lost and if it was neat or cool, maybe of some value or something. Then every so often the the lady who worked the front desk at school would lay everything out in the hallway, like in the spring, or right before school was let out for the summer, to see if anyone recognized the multiply hats, gloves, scarfs, or that one sock or shoe that's been in the lost in found since day one of the school year. It was funny or at least amusing to see all that missed matched stuff just laying out for all to see, but then you'd realize, at lest I would, how disturbing it was to see all that stuff just disappear and the thought that maybe it's owner just disappeared would enter my head just long enough to get spooked and then I'd hurry off to where I was suppose to be to as to not be scolded by Mr. La Plant (my elementary school principal) There is nothing more freighting for a parent than a lost child, even the thought of losing a child is enough to send most of us parents into a fret and solicit a few tears even.

All of us parents know the feeling of losing track of a child...at lest temporarily. You've all gone to the store, got caught up in pricing, looking, matching enough to momentarily take your focus of your child and thats just enough time for them to get distracted as well and wonder off...though never to far. My kids are young enough still that I make the ride in the cart at Wal-Mart, but my oldest son Gabe is a bit to old for that, but fortunately I have never lost him in a store...yet. Amanda and I get nervous though when we can't see them outside in the summer, our when they run down the beach looking for shells, but nothing compares to the time our oldest son was lost by the school district we lived in in Oklahoma. It sounds crazy, but the school sent Gabe home on the wrong bus!!! He was only in Kindergarten and had to ride the bus to a child care center for after school care. Amanda was working full-time and I was gone 2-3 nights a week at Seminary in Oklahoma City. One day the director called me while I was just arriving home...like just entering the city limit. It was close to 3:30pm and the center didn't close till 6 so I assumed one of the boys was sick and I needed to come get them. I answered the phone and got the biggest surprise of my life, the director said, "Do you have Gabe? He didn't arrive here on the bus as usual." I said, "What!!??" Immediately my mind went to that place where no parents mind ought to ever have to venture, that place where the worst case scenario happens. After a brief conversation I hung up the phone and called the school. Now the conversation I had with the school administer is not one that I can detail in church and so I'll say this, it was not pleasant:). I was worried sick!!! I called Amanda at work in Tulsa and she left immediately. I was not sure where to go next, do I go to the school, do I go home, to the day care, to the church to pray? I stopped, took a deep breath and prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me." And as I finished that prayer I heard in my heart...."Go home." I went home and there setting on bench on the parsonage porch was Gabe, in his jacket, with his backpack on, his little legs dangly of the bench as he moved them back and forth. I felt so relieved, as if all the worries in the world had been taken of my sholders. I was never more happy to see my little boy than I was that day. It makes me appreciate more that every day I get to see him and his brothers is a blessed day. Now after all was said and done it was discovered that a substitute teacher, who was unaware of Gabe's situation sent him on the bus that took him to his home. Gabe says he told the bus driver that he was not suppose to go home, but to day care. The Bus driver obviously did not believe Gabe knew what he was talking about and made him get off the bus. We lived in a "bad" part of town so the doors where locked and Gabe did the right thing and sat down and waited for us to come home. Needless to say that bus driver no longer has his job, unfortunately it took the threat of a law suit to make the school system act, but he was fired...thankfully.

As scary as that was and as scary as moments like that can be for us parents we all live with the truth that eventually they want to get lost...or they want us to get lost and have no problem telling us to do so. They grow up, they want to start riding their bikes around the block, they they want to start staying over night at friends houses, but it doesn't stop there. They want to go off by themselves at the mall, or the football game. They want their drivers license and then a car or permission to drive ours to places that are miles away from our home. And then...then after all we've done for them, they want to leave us all together!!! They move out, go to college, join the Marines, get a job in another city, another state, another region of the country....another country all together!!!! And us parents are left still worrying about where are kids are. We never stop worrying about our kids, my mother to this day still tells me about nightmares that she has about us kids being hurt or lost and there is nothing she can do about it and I'm the youngest at 32. My sisters are 44 and 38 and she still worries about "us kids ;)". That old saying, "out of sight, out of mind." not true when it comes to our kids.

Our passage this morning joins us with a fellow parent who is worried sick regarding the whereabouts of his youngest son. We've all read this story, we've all heard sermons preached on this story, read devotionals about this story, sat through bible studies and sunday school lessons about this story, but still we remain fascinated by the story of the prodigal son. The audience that Jesus was teaching would have been appalled right away by the disrespect of the the son towards his father. They would have seen this as an evil act up there with the worst possible sins. By asking for his inheritance early he was pretty much saying, "I wish you were dead." Now most of you parents have heard that come out of the mouths of your children, especially those of you who are raising or have raised a teenaged girl and it's not the nicest thing they've ever said, but truthfully it's probably not the worst either. To these people...it was! There was nothing more insulting than to wish death on your father. We've got to remember that this was a day when children stayed home, even adult children (13-33 where adult children) would stay and help take care of the farm, care for mother or father as they aged, even with a wife and children of their own they were expected to stay, be a good son and help. Girls went off and became the property of their husbands and helped in his family. Needless to say this event, had it actually happened this way in Jesus time, would have been the most scandalous of news...even more scandalous than the Romney campaign!

Often whats lost in all this scandal is the older boy, the one that did what he was expected to. The one who stayed, who helped father, who supported the family...he's often lost in all this, at least as we read it from a western perspective, but really the treatment of the older son would have just added to the scandal! Rev. Tim Keller, a Presbyterian Minister in New York State writes in his book, "The Prodigal God", that the two brothers really symbolize two basic ways people try to make life work. One way is social conformity, which is the way of the older brother, i.e doing what your suppose to do based on societal norms. The second way is self discovery, which is of course the way of the prodigal son. He left home to do his own thing on his own, to try and live life differently than what was expected. Farming, marrying, having babies, taking care of dear old mom and dad at the end of there life just didn't work for him, so he left to do it his way. As Americans we like that, we identify with the prodigal son more for that. Our ideology of rugged self individualism causes us to somehow relate to and even sympathize with the prodigal son. After all who of us has not set out as a young man or women with great plans only to have those plans dashed by failure. More and more young people are returning home to live with ma and pa after college, military service and failed plans to "make life work." It's not always their fault, we live in tough times, so it happens, but in away we get the prodigal sons desire and we understand what it's like to come home after failing at life. So we remain fasinated with the prodigal son, empathetic with his lose never realizing just how evil his actions were. 

As scandalous as the younger sons behavior was to Jesus' audience, it pales at the response and reaction of the father. The fathers willingness to forgive, his willingness to welcome his son home after he treated him like garbage was as scandalous as it gets. How dare he ever even speak to the child, he ought to have declared him dead to the community and never to be spoken of again!!And we know how that feels, to have a relative or close friend disrespect us, be so obnoxious or say something so hurtful that you'd never for give them, but instead of all that the father longs for his sons return and like many of you, not a day would go by where he wasn't sick with worry until he saw him again. In Jesus day the acts of the prodigal son were unforgivable, but the father embraced the scandal of forgiveness and reconciled with his son and this is God's response to you...to us. Forgiveness when we don't deserve it.

Many of you remember the fatal shooting of 10 Amish children in 2006. A man armed with a gun drove his milk truck onto the property of several Amish families, walked into the school, separated the boys from the girls and shot, one by one each little girl ages 6-13. He then turned the gun on himself and shot himself in the head. It's sad, it's appalling, it's scandal. After all he was a father himself who was married and had always lived in the Lancaster, PA community. I'll tell you whats appalling, what's scandalous is the response of the Amish community he accosted. After the Amish buried their own children they attended the funeral of the man who had caused all this suffering and publicly forgave the him. Not only that, but they were there for the mother and children he had widowed and orphaned and hugged and cried and mourned with them during and after the funeral. The Amish community then established a fund to support the children and mother so that they would not lose their home, go hungry or be without. After all this the widow of the man issued a statement that ought to haunt our hearts every day. She said, "Your love for our family has provided the healing we so desperately needed. Your forgiveness has changed our world." Wow....forgiveness changing the world. Yes it can and it has. Not long after her words where published a Boston Globe reporter named Jeff Jacoby wrote an article about the happening and said, "Hatred is not always wrong and forgiveness is not always right." I disagree and our passage this morning does too. The forgiveness of theses people towards this man shocked a nation, it was scandalous and the forgiveness of the father towards an evil and selfish son shocked an audience, it was scandalous. The forgiveness of an Almighty God, just and right in every way towards an evil, sinful and disgraceful world shocked the universe...it was scandalous. Will you embrace the scandal of forgiveness?

Have a blessed Lent,
Pastor Josh