Inhabiting joy

File:Children of Nivali.jpg

Thursday

Luke 15:1-10

10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The angels are not singing because morality has been restored. They are singing because some small part of the torn fabric of life has been mended. Reconciliation has happened. Those long separated are reunited. The coin is back with its sisters. The sheep back with the flock. The brother back with his family.

Yes there has been repentance. But we have to be careful with that word. In what way does a coin repent? No, it gets found and restored to its place. And no sheep repents: sheep, when they discover that they are lost, lie down helplessly and cry. It’s why the shepherd must carry it. And carry it home he does. The “sinner” who “repents” is the rejected one who is reconciled, who is carried towards home, who finds himself embraced in the arms of the father – and who, in that moment of embrace, yields to the love that holds him. No games, no pride, no rationalization, no manipulations, just the overwhelming truth of overwhelming love.

When the prodigal son shows up on the edge of town he isn’t looking for restoration, he is hoping to be a slave in his father’s household. Perhaps, with years enough of service, he could repay his debt. But grace finds him. The debt is forgotten. The ring thrust on his finger before he can deliver his well-planned speech.

We don’t read the prodigal son story this Sunday – the third of three parables about being lost and found – just the first two. And it’s good that we don’t, because we jump so quickly towards that idea of moral reform. But the story isn’t about reform. It is about stunning, even senseless grace and the invitation to the whole village to rejoice at being made whole. The lost son is back – even as the coin is found and the sheep returned.

It is God’s purpose to heal the torn and tattered fabric of his creation. We were not made to hide from one another – or to hide from God in the shrubbery. We were not made to stain the earth with blood. We were not made to build weapons of war and towers to the sky. We were created to inhabit a good garden together.

We are created for connection, and whenever the angels see any part of God’s garden restored, they sing for joy.

And we, we are invited to inhabit that joy.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHappy_face_makes_us_happy.jpg  By Meghana Kulkarni from Pune, India (Happiness) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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An insulting mercy

File:Ras Dejen, shepherd's children.JPG

Watching for the Morning of September 11, 2016

Year C

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 19 / Lectionary 24

Luke 15:1-10

Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”

Jesus can be wickedly insulting. He is not, of course, trying to be mean. He is trying to make clear what we do not want to see: that God has chosen to deal with the world with mercy rather than revenge, that God is seeking to reconcile the human community not purge it.

We have such a sweet, pastoral picture of the good shepherd with the lamb around his shoulders, but for a host of reasons “good shepherd” (or “noble shepherd”) was a contradiction in terms for the first century. To the Pharisees with whom Jesus is speaking, shepherds were despised and considered unclean and without honor. So when Jesus says “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep…” he is comparing these pharisaic paragons of piety with the unclean and cast out. It is such sweet irony, for they are attacking Jesus for precisely this reason: that he welcomes the unclean and cast out. And Jesus would receive the Pharisees, if only they were willing… Even as he would receive us, if only we were willing…

Although Jesus stops short of the ultimate insult, choosing not to say “which woman among you…”, the parallel is clear and the example of a woman seeking a coin lost from its place (probably a necklace) bristles with offense. But women are welcome in Jesus’ presence (though the Pharisees would keep them out). And Jesus would receive the Pharisees, if only they were willing… Even as he would receive us, if only we were willing… The banquet of God is at hand, if only we are willing…

The question of what God should do with a sinful and unclean humanity rattles through Sunday’s texts. God threatens to destroy the Israelites as they dance around the golden calf, but Moses intercedes on their behalf, calling God to turn from vengeance and show mercy. David prays for God’s mercy in the psalm, in words attributed to him after he has slept with the wife of Uriah and then, unable to get Uriah to betray his men in the field by going home to enjoy her comfort, arranges his murder to hide the sure-to-be-a-scandal pregnancy. First Timothy contains words attributed to Paul, naming his own scandalous sin and God’s scandalous mercy. And then we hear Jesus talking about the joy of heaven over the sinner who repents, the outcast who returns to the community.

The angels in heaven are dancing at the healing of the world, and we are invited to join the dance.

The Prayer for September 11, 2016

God of all joy,
the heavens resound with song
where the wounds of the broken are tended
and the lost and alone are gathered in.
Help us to rejoice in what pleases you,
and to know the joy of your reconciling love.

The Texts for September 11, 2016

First Reading: Exodus 32:7-14
“The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely.”
– Moses is on Mt. Sinai receiving God’s commands when the Israelites begin to worship the golden calf. God threatens to destroy them and create a new people from Moses’ descendants, but Moses intercedes on their behalf.

Psalmody: Psalm 51:1-12  (appointed vv. 1-10)
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.” – This exquisite prayer of confession is attributed to David after the prophet Nathan exposed David’s sin with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband.

Second Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost.”
– The letters to Timothy are penned by Paul or in his name as parting words of advice to his protégé, Timothy. Here Paul speaks of the mercy he received though he initially persecuted the church.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-10
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” – The first two of three parables speaking of God’s joy in gathering the outcast and restoring the community of Israel – indeed the whole human community.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARas_Dejen%2C_shepherd’s_children.JPG By Florian Fell (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Come to the banquet

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Watching for the Morning of March 6, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

The story of the prodigal son is familiar to everyone – and yet, not familiar. It is set in a culture different than our own and the story is much deeper than it first appears to us. We tend to hear a story of misspent youth, personal regret, moral reform and a penitent child welcomed home by a loving father. But Jesus’ listeners heard a much more profound story of a shameful family and a father’s dramatic action to save the life of his child by inviting the village to feast.

This is a child who has violated core communal values by seeking and selling the inheritance. By his action he declares he wishes his father were dead and threatens the extended family’s survival by selling a third of the land upon which they depend for food. The father acts shamefully, horribly, by acceding to the demand – and then, inexplicably, is willing to save the son’s life when he returns home. The son is facing communal violence as if he had desecrated the Koran. He is the small town pastor’s son who, after years of abusive behavior, breaking windows, violating the sanctity of the worship space, finally sets fire to the building and flees town. Now imagine he walks back into the sanctuary…

The father races to embrace his son to protect him from the village and then invites the whole village to come and feast – to be reconciled with this troubled family. (And we haven’t talked of the elder son’s shameful conduct who, like his brother, acts like his father is dead.)

This is a parable of the kingdom – but in what way is this tragic story like the kingdom? The feast. In a world troubled by greed and violence and family decay comes the invitation to share in the feast of reconciliation. It is a banquet set in the rubble of a Syrian city. It is a banquet set on the capitol steps. It is a banquet set on the white house lawn. It is a banquet set in the Pentagon parking lot. It is a banquet set on Wall Street. It is a banquet set in our own troubled homes and villages. It is a banquet of reconciliation to which all are invited. To which we are invited. God has killed the fatted calf and called us to rejoice with him in a world made new.

Yes, to answer such an invitation means letting go of old hatreds and greeds. Yes, to answer such an invitation is a profound reorientation of our lives. But God is setting the table and inviting us to come and share the feast, to join the dance, to sing the songs of joy, to break the bread of peace.

And so, with this text on Sunday, we will hear Paul speak of the new creation in Christ, and the psalmist sing of the peace of God’s forgiveness. And we will hear of the wilderness wanderings come to an end and the people gathered in a great Passover celebration where they share in the bounty of the promised land. The banquet is at hand and we are invited to share in the feast where all sins are forgiven and all creation reconciled.

Gathered

File:Rome - Basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran - Rencontres européennes de Taizé 2012 - 2.jpgThis week we are continuing our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He has called me through the Gospeland that is the subject of our daily devotions. Sunday we will continue in the third article of the creed with the line from the Catechism: “He gathers me into the Body of Christ.”

Christian faith isn’t private or solitary. When we put our faith, hope and trust in Christ we are joined with all others who have made him their hope. We have been joined to the missional community sent to bear witness to Christ throughout the world. We are gathered into the community where love is our new commandment. We are united to the body through which Christ is present to the world. Here the Spirit is given. Here sins are forgiven. Here the feast to come is begun.

The Prayer for March 6, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you gather us into the community of the church
and there proclaim to us your love and faithfulness.
Make us ever mindful of your gifts and faithful to one another
that, as one body in Christ Jesus,
we may bear witness to your grace and glory;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for March 6, 2016

First Reading: Joshua 5:1-3, 9-12 (appointed 5:9-12)
“The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land.” – the people have come out from the wilderness, crossed the Jordan and are camped at Gilgal where they celebrate Passover and begin to live off the fruit of the land.

Psalmody: Psalm 32
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
– The poet sings of the goodness of God’s gracious forgiveness.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (appointed 5:16-21)
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” –
Paul speaks of the new reality that has dawned in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-2, 11-32 (appointed 15:1-3, 11b-32)
“The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ …So he told them this parable: ‘There was a man who had two sons.’”
– Jesus tells of a troubled and shameful family whose father acts decisively to protect his wayward sons.

Gathered: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the theme for week 3 from the third article of the creed: Week 3: Called.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATaxiarchis_Church_Feast_(5159037622).jpg By Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece (Taxiarchis Church Feast  Uploaded by Yarl) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARome_-_Basilique_Saint-Jean-de-Latran_-_Rencontres_europ%C3%A9ennes_de_Taiz%C3%A9_2012_-_2.jpg By Peter Potrowl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons