No Idle Tale

Sermon – Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 24:1-12

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip……” If you recognized those words they are the opening words from the theme song from a popular series many years ago called Gilligan’s Island. It was the fictional story of a group of people who were stranded on a desert island. It was fun to watch, and we wondered if they would ever be rescued, but it was just a story, a tale that someone was telling us.

Or maybe you recognize these lines, “A long time ago in a galaxy far away……” These words that enter the screen are the beginning of the Star Wars movies. Tales, or movies, about the fight between good and evil, and although they remind us of valuable truths, they too are only movies, modern tales.

Tales are just that. They are stories. Sometimes they contain the truth, but they aren’t the truth. Like fairy tales, they help us understand the truth a little better. And for example in the case of fish tales, these real stories start out true, but eventually spin out of control until they are unbelievable. We tend to think of tales as made up stories and we don’t take them seriously.

That’s exactly what happened to the women who came to the tomb that first Easter morning. Luke’s gospel says that when the women came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body, they found the stone that sealed the tomb already rolled away. They couldn’t believe it. What happened? Who rolled the stone away? Where was Jesus? But while they were trying to figure all this out two angels said to them, “”Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” When the angels reminded them of what Jesus had told them, it all made sense. Yes, it was true. But when they ran back to tell the disciples, they didn’t believe them. The disciples thought they were telling them an “idle tale.” They thought the women made it up.

After all, they saw Jesus die on the cross. Jesus was dead and dead things don’t come back to life. The soldiers pierced Jesus’ side just to make sure He was dead. So of course the other disciples thought the women were crazy. They all saw Jesus die right in front of them. These women just wanted Jesus to be alive – they all did – but Jesus was dead. They felt these women were just telling an “idle tale.”

And it was common for women at that time not to be believed. Women at that time were thought to be not much better than the animals. They certainly weren’t respected and not encouraged to speak their minds. Yet these women weren’t just with Jesus and the other disciples. They were disciples. Jesus felt differently about women. He welcomed all people to listen to Him, even the women and children. So if He respected them, if they travelled with the disciples, why didn’t they believe this story the women told them?

Because it was too unbelievable! If I came and told you right now that a person we all saw die three days ago, and buried, was now alive, you would think I was crazy! You would say I lost my mind! Dead people don’t come back from the dead! This is unbelievable! If we saw this story on the news tomorrow we would say something is wrong. It’s a hoax. Things like that just don’t happen! It’s an “idle tale.”

And idle tales are something many people are good at spreading. It’s called gossip and it happens everywhere, even in congregations. People misinterpret things; truths get twisted, stories get made up, and before you know it friends become enemies and reputations and lives are ruined. So what do you do when someone tells you something that unbelievable? Do you just believe whatever you hear without asking if this fits the character of the person. Do you ask the person directly? Do you even try and seek out the truth or do you just believe whatever you hear? If something seems too unbelievable it usually is.

So why do we believe it? How do we know it’s true? Peter asked himself the same question, so he checked it out for himself. He saw that the tomb was empty. But why did he believe the women? Maybe someone really did take Jesus’ body. The gospel of John tells us that Jesus actually appeared to Mary, but in Luke’s gospel, the women have only the angels to believe. And even that seems like a far-fetched tale. Were the women just making it up? What would they have to gain by making up a tale like this? Women back then weren’t respected and they certainly wouldn’t have been believed for telling an outrageous story like this. They had to know that the other disciples would think they were crazy, but how could they not tell it? This news wasn’t something they could keep to themselves. Jesus was alive and He told them prior to the crucifixion that He would rise again, but they didn’t understand that then. How could they? It seemed too far-fetched. But now they believed it. They believed it because Jesus’ words and Jesus’ actions were one in the same. His promises were true. They were true then and they are true now. We can believe him.

And for thousands of years after Jesus’ death and resurrection Jesus’ followers have been believing this story and telling it to anyone who would listen. To make a name for themselves? No, because this is an unbelievable story – too good to be true – and telling this story would cost many disciples their lives. If the early Christians wanted their religion to spread they wouldn’t have written down that women were the first to see the risen Jesus, because women weren’t taken seriously to begin with. Early Christians wouldn’t have suffered persecutions and death for an “idle tale” that wasn’t true. No one dies for a made up story. Eventually, they change their story so that they won’t be killed, unless…..

Unless it’s a story worth dying for – a story so incredibly fantastic and life changing that you want the whole world to know. A story so revolutionary that you can’t keep it under wraps. A story so earth shattering that you can’t think of anything in the same way again or do anything the way you did it before.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah is risen from the dead! He is risen indeed! What does this mean to you and me? It means that God has changed the way everything works. Death no longer has the final say. St. Paul says, because Christ lives , we too will live forever.

So what are you going to do about it now that you have heard this news? This isn’t just an “idle tale” people, this is the truth! And it means that nothing is the same. We may experience periods of darkness, but the light of Christ has overcome the darkness. It will not consume us. Death has been swallowed up by the light of the resurrected Christ! We have to run out into the world and tell everyone. By shouting on the side of the street? Well, you might get locked up for that, but we have other ways to spread this news.

Don’t just spread idle tales or gossip; spread the love of Jesus. Go to the person that has been annoying you and do something kind for them, show them love, pray for them and pray for God to change your own heart. Go to the person you have been carrying a grudge toward and forgive them. Call that person that has been avoiding you and tell them that God loves them and that you love them and you want them in your life. Run to the person that you feel your relationship is on faulty ground and tell them they are a gift from God and you want to set things right again. Find a person in your neighborhood, on your street, in your school, or where you work and do something loving for them. Find out what they need and help them. Listen to others. Show compassion where it is most needed. Bring this church out of these four walls and show others that the tomb is empty. Invite a friend to church next Sunday – seriously. This news is too good to keep to yourself. This is no “idle tale.” This is a matter of life and death. Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

 

Advertisements

The Space Between Crucifixion and Resurrection

Holy Saturday Easter Vigil – March 26, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 20:1-18

Quiet, stillness, silence……these words can fill a person with deep peace and tranquility. They can conjure up the peace of listening to the ocean waves, the silence of the deep woods, or the quiet on a garden walk. But sometimes these words instill a sense of anxiety, tension, and even fear. The space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday can be an unnerving one. ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said in a recent article about Holy Saturday that “I think the space between crucifixion and resurrection – truly terrifying and truly compassionate – beckons us from our life to life in Christ.” The space between crucifixion and resurrection can indeed be a truly terrifying experience.

Voids have a way of evoking uneasiness, and our minds can get carried away in dark directions. Instead of seeing the possibilities, we can fear the worst. “What if this is it?” “What if it never gets better?” “What if all hope is lost?” The space between today and tomorrow can seem to last forever. And in that space we may feel intense pain.

That was especially the case for Mary Magdalene and the other disciples. While it was still dark -making their way through the shadows – they came to the tomb expecting one thing, but discovered something else. They came expecting certainty and what they discovered was emptiness. The stillness, the silence, filled them with anxiety, and worry, and fear. The space between what was and what would be was more than they could bear. What followed was a scene of total chaos. Mary Magdalene frantically running and repeating, “Where is Jesus?” “Where have they taken him?” She was out of her mind with worry. Disciples outrunning each other to see if it was true, then left Mary alone. Mary, weeping uncontrollably, kept searching for answers – searching, and feeling hopeless. The space between crucifixion and resurrection was a frightening place indeed.

And it is for us as well. The space between the known and the unknown can leave us feeling as frantic and frightened as Mary and the disciples. There are so many times in our lives when these spaces of uncertainty overshadow us. Waiting for test results to come back from a school exam, a job interview, or doctor’s lab-work, can be a frightening place to wait. Each hour and day as the time passes we can become more tense. Our minds can begin to fill in the spaces that are silent and still with thoughts that are dark, and critical, and frightening. We can imagine the worse-case scenarios and play them over and over again in our minds like the newscasts that show images of fear that play over and over in our minds. And when we are already feeling hopeless the news reports of violence, terrorism, and disasters fuel the negative and dark forces that try and overtake our minds and spirits. They can lead us to believe that the entire world is falling apart and we may find ourselves like Mary weeping uncontrollably. We want answers, but there are none to be found. And the sound of quiet, stillness, and silence no longer soothes our souls and we don’t recognize that the answers are there waiting to be seen. And something has to break the silence.

“Mary!” “Mary!” The sound of her name breaks the silence and Mary Magdalene turns to see the risen Jesus standing right there next to her. He was there the whole time, but she didn’t recognize him from the weight of her fears. But Jesus’ voice broke through the silence. Jesus’ voice broke through the fear. Jesus’ voice broke through the darkness of death and the light came pouring out. The light of hope. The light of joy. The light of the resurrection. Jesus broke the chains of sin and death just like he promised he would. God raised him up on the third day and proved that there is no power on earth that is stronger than God. There’s no evil on earth that is stronger that God. There’s no problem on earth that is too big for God to handle. Resurrection was standing right in front of Mary and resurrection is standing right in front of us!

We may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. And God is already there. God is with us today, in the future, and in the space or void between. For remember that in the beginning of the world, the world was a formless void, but God was there right from the beginning and God will always be there. We may not always feel the presence of God, but just like Mary Magdalene on that first morning, God was already in her midst in the person of the resurrected Christ. Just because we can’t see resurrection doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Resurrection is all around us. We only have to listen to hear the voice of Jesus.

He is calling our name. Each and every one of us. He is calling out and saying look, listen, I am here. I am the resurrection and the life. And tonight we proclaim that we are resurrection people. We believe that life comes from death. We believe that hope springs forth out of the darkness. We believe that resurrection is not only possible, but real. That is what we celebrate this night.

And that is why in the shadows of darkness we have hope. In the darkness before the Easter dawn – in that space of uncertainty – is where it all begins. In the space between the crucifixion and the morning dawn – this Holy Saturday – we keep vigil and begin our joyful celebration because the resurrection is upon us. Resurrection is happening and resurrection will keep on happening. Look around. Listen and believe with the eyes of faith.

We are people of the resurrection. The space between certainty and the unknown need not frighten us because the space between is the birthplace of resurrection and new life. The space between is one of quiet, stillness, and silence in preparation for the breaking forth of new life – new life in ourselves, new life in our families, new life in our congregations, in our communities, and in our world. New life that transforms hate into love, new life that transforms condemnation into compassion, new life that transforms betrayal into forgiveness, new life that transforms bitterness into understanding, new life that transforms everything is touches. New life is the promise of the resurrection. Be not afraid. Sing out in joy! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

Take, Eat, and Serve

Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 13:1-17-35

 

Tonight is a strange service in the life of the church. Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, named after the Latin word maundatum or mandate, is unlike any of our other services. For many, it’s an uncomfortable service, perhaps even more uncomfortable than Good Friday. On Good Friday we are asked to reflect on Jesus suffering and death, but tonight there is a physical responsibility on our part. Tonight we are asked to actually do something. And not merely asked, but mandated or commanded by Jesus to do something – something quite uncomfortable. We are asked to love one another as he has loved us. At first it seems easy enough. We all know how to love one another, at least we think we do. But the kind of love Jesus is commanding of us, his disciples is not an easy kind of love. What Jesus requires of his disciples is tough. And the reaction today is just as shocking as it was for the first disciples.

On this night we remember the last meal Jesus had with his disciples before he was arrested, suffered, and died. Jesus knew what was going to happen and that’s what makes the events of this night so significant. He knew one of his disciples was going to betray him. He knew one of his disciples was going to deny him. He knew the other disciples and followers would abandon him. Yet knowing all this, Jesus gathered them together and shared a meal with them. This was the very last meal, the very last thing that Jesus would do with his disciples. It was no ordinary meal. It seemed like it at first until Jesus got up from the table right in the middle of the meal. He did something unusual; he took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around his waist. And then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet and wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. The disciples were shocked! That’s servant’s work, not work for Jesus, their Lord, and the one Peter professed to be the Messiah!

They were just as shocked when only a short time ago some of these same disciples witnessed Mary, Lazarus’ sister, interrupt another meal where they were gathered and drop to her knees and anoint Jesus’ feet with oil and wipe them with her hair. That was not what a woman in Jesus’ time was supposed to do, and this was not what Jesus was supposed to do. At least, not in everyone’s eyes. Everyone but Jesus, that is. For Jesus, these are exactly the actions of a faithful disciple. These are exactly the actions that proceed out of great love.

Yet, Judas protested when Mary dropped to her knees and anointed Jesus with costly oil. Peter protested when Jesus dropped to his knees and washed his disciples feet. And we protest today when we are commanded to drop to our knees and show one another our dirty feet and wash them clean. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hard for us to do something so intimate. It’s hard for us to be that vulnerable. Sometimes it’s hard for us to allow ourselves to both give and receive love, but in doing so we give each other a gift. Our natural tendency is to want to keep our distance, to not get that close to people, especially people who we may not necessarily like. It’s dangerous to do what Jesus is commanding us to do because it might change the way we feel about people. It might actually change us, transform us. And change is something that most people try and avoid at all costs.

But that is exactly what Jesus came to earth to do. He came to change the way we think and the way we act. He came to change our understanding and perception of life. He came to show us a new way of living, a way that is based on love- sacrificial and self-giving love. Yet that is exactly what caused people to turn against him. On Palm Sunday Jesus began his entrance into Jerusalem greeted with crowds cheering him on and praising his name. Yet, the plot to get rid of him was already underway. And the one who would betray him was one of his own disciples. Judas was sitting right there at the dinner table with Jesus and the other disciples. How could Jesus even be in the same room with him? Yet Jesus celebrated his last supper with the one who was about to betray him. Jesus got down on his knees and washed the feet of the one who was about to betray him. Jesus showed love and tenderness to the one who was about to betray him. That’s what real, true, honest love looks like. And that is what Jesus commands us to do.

That’s why this night is so difficult. That’s why this service is such a challenging one, because Jesus is commanding us to do things that may go against our very nature. He is commanding us as his disciples to love exactly like he loved, which means to love even when you know you will not receive love back. Even when you know that the very things you say or do will be rejected. We are commanded by Jesus to take and eat and then fed with the very life of Jesus to act as he did – to feed others with the grace we have received, to care for their physical and emotional needs, to really listen to people and try to understand them instead of judging them, to listen to their stories, to put ourselves in their shoes. Instead of our own individual needs taking priority, Jesus commands us to focus on others and the mission of spreading the kingdom of God here on earth. We are to love like Jesus. Live like Jesus. Be like Jesus.

Jesus’ call to follow him pushes us to go places we’d rather not go, to try new things, to go beyond our comfort zone, and focus on the real mission of the church. One church community in Atlanta, Georgia, The Open Door Community – takes Jesus’ command of washing others feet so seriously that they now hold a foot care clinic on Thursday evenings where the homeless of that city can come to have their feet bathed and their foot problems treated by medical volunteers. We don’t have to duplicate that ministry, but there are different ministries that the Holy Spirit is calling us to do right here where we are. I know that last night many people were moved by the Journey Through the Stations of the Cross. There are other things that we as a church can do so that others can hear and experience God’s message of love and grace.

Jesus’ command to wash the feet of others is only the beginning, but it is where it begins. It begins right here tonight as we wash each other’s feet and experience the amazing power of God’s love – love that begins with service. There is a power in serving, a power that comes from Jesus and can transform lives. On this night, we have been given new symbols of the Christian church. In addition to the traditional symbols of the cross, a cup, and some bread, Jesus lifts up a towel, a basin, and some water. Jesus kneeled down in service in order to lift up the glory of God. May the Holy Spirit give us the grace and power to do the same. Take, eat, and serve. Amen.

 

The Fragrance of God’s Love

Sunday, March 13, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 12:1-8

What are your favorite smells – those aromas that invite feelings of comfort and joy? Those smells that bring you back to childhood or back to a moment in time when you were incredibly happy….For me, I love the smell of lilacs. They are my favorite flower. As I press my face into the flowers and breathe deeply, I am transported back to my childhood – back to the backyard breathing in the aroma of the lilacs from the lilac bush that grew as tall as any tree I could remember. The yard was filled with the fragrance of their perfume.

My mother has always loved lilies of the valley. Small tiny flowers shaped like a bell, but so small you would hardly think they would have any detectable sent at all, yet just one small stem with a few of these tiny flowers fills a room with a magnificent fragrance. My father dug up a small cluster one year that was growing on the edge of the highway and gave them to me to plant. They spread over time and after a few years I would walk out into the yard in spring and the fragrance of hundreds of them was beautifully intense.

Flowers aren’t the only fragrances I love. I love the smell of coffee (even though I don’t like the taste.) I love the smell of cinnamon, the smell of a wood stove on a crisp fall day, the smell of rain in the air in the summer. We all have our favorite fragrances. Even those things that don’t necessarily smell particularly good, but that remind us of someone we love, like the smell of a particular linament that reminds me of one of my grandparents, or the smell of a certain cigar –though not refreshing – reminds me of my grandfather. Fragrances fill not only the room with their scent, but they fill our senses and flood our souls. They capture us and have a special kind of hold on us.

In John’s Gospel today everyone in the room that day was captured by such a fragrance. “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Jesus, Judas, perhaps another disciple or two…were all gathered together to enjoy a meal together before Jesus went to Jerusalem – before the Passover – and they were all caught up in the smell of the fragrance of the costly perfume that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet. A dinner had been prepared, but the aromas from that meal were not the ones that everyone smelled that day. No, the fragrance that took hold of them all was more powerful than that from the meal.

What kind of fragrance could overtake them all? What kind of fragrance was it that shocked all their senses? And I use the word shock because that’s what happened. They were all shocked by what Mary did – each and every one of them. Martha was shocked because it wasn’t proper for a good Jewish woman to let down her hair in public. Sure, Mary was in her home with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus, and Jesus was a close friend, but still….that was no way for a good Jewish woman to behave – so wrecklessly, so passionately, so emotional….Good heavens, right in the middle of dinner Mary just gets down on the floor and starts anointing Jesus feet with this expensive perfume and wiping them with her hair! If we were there what would we have thought? What would we have done? For Martha this fragrance smelled like embarrassment.

And there was Lazarus, reclining at the dinner table, hardly knowing what to say because he was just recently brought back to life. So many people have questions of what it was like on the other side and here sat Lazarus with that knowledge. What thoughts must have raced through his mind! Lazarus was dead for three days. His body had already started to rot. He stank. Yet Jesus, his dear friend, who wept at his grave, raised him from the dead. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life. And now the odor of stench that once filled Lazarus’ nostrils was now replaced with the odor of expensive perfume. It filled the room. It was the fragrance of life.

Yet that is not what is smelled like to Judas. Judas smelled the fragrance of money being wasted. That expensive perfume was worth at least a year’s wages. Why on earth was Mary wasting it on Jesus when the money from selling it could have been used to help the poor. Was that really what was troubling Judas? Did he really think about using that money to help the poor or did he want to pocket some of that money for himself? Why did this act of Mary trouble Judas so much? Perhaps it was because Mary was getting so close, so intimate with Jesus while Judas’ relationship with Jesus was growing further and further apart. Maybe Judas really wanted to be close to Jesus, but just didn’t know how anymore. We don’t know, but we do know that Judas protested because for Judas, money not love was the bottom line. He was disgusted by this outrageous act of Mary. For Judas, the room was filled with the fragrance of resentment.

Meanwhile Mary kept pouring out this oil over Jesus and the room continued to fill with the fragrance of it. We don’t know where Mary got this expensive oil from. Did she have enough money to purchase this? Or was it handed down from her family, to one day be used as part of her dowry when she got married? If that was the case, she was throwing away her future by spending it all on this oil for Jesus, because without a dowry she would have no prospects of marriage. She would be alone. Yet none of this mattered to Mary. Jesus had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead! Mary was overcome with gratitude beyond words. Jesus deserved something extravangant. It didn’t matter what the cost. Nothing was more priceless than Jesus. Mary could only smell the sweet fragrance of thankfulness and gratitude for all that had been done for her and her family.

People all over town and into the surrounding towns were talking about it. He had done a great miracle in raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus heard the talk. He heard the quiet whispering of the plots to get rid of him. Jesus knew His life was on borrowed time now. It was six days before the Passover and that meant that the time was almost here for Him to carry out the plan that His Father willed. Soon it would be time for Jesus to suffer and die. That’s why He was there, to spend one last meal with His friends before the final journey to Jerusalem, to His death. And Jesus was shocked by Mary’s actions. He was graciously shocked. Mary was anointing His feet with this expensive perfume and preparing Him for His burial, whether she fully understood it or not. Because after He was buried three days it would be too late for her to anoint Him with this ritual. It would be too late, because three days after His burial He would be raised. But Mary probably didn’t fully understand this, yet it didn’t matter. Mary was passionate about her worship and love of Jesus, as passionate as Jesus Himself was about His love for all of God’s people. For Jesus, the fragrance from the oil He was being anointed with reminded Him of what He was put here to do. The fragrance was both the smell of death and the new life would emerge. It was the fragrance of love, God’s love that would soon be poured out for all people through the ultimate act of love through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

That’s extravagant love. That’s what this story is all about. It’s about how we as disciples are called to live lives of extravagant love and gratitude. It’s about giving extravagantly – like Mary- of our time, love, and worship to Jesus. It’s about giving extravagantly of our gifts like Mary gave of her money – maybe the last bit she had to live on – in caring for someone else. It’s about doing the right thing no matter what someone else thinks – like Mary who was vulnerable in showing Jesus just how much he meant to her.

We are called to get involved and care for each other and those around us with the love of Christ. It means pouring out on each other an abundance of respect and integrity. It means pouring out and abundance of forgiveness and compassion. It means pouring out an abundance of mercy and justice. It means falling down on our knees like Mary, and not caring what anyone thinks about what we are doing, and being humble before God. We, like Mary, preach the gospel most generously through our actions, our actions of love and peace.

We have all been anointed – anointed by God in baptism. Sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. The fragrance of our baptism permeates our entire lives and all those we encounter. Like Mary, we have been touched by Christ and are no longer the same. No one who encounters Jesus is the same. Maybe we feel more like Judas, and we are envious of others, yet he too, was anointed. God’s love and forgiveness was available even to Judas, only he did not want to accept that. Maybe he thought he was too far gone. Maybe he thought he was too rotten for the fragrance of God’s love to penetrate. Jesus says that there is no one too far gone for God’s love to penetrate. Smell the sweet fragrance of God’s love and be reborn. Let it fill your life and spill out to all those you encounter. Amen.

No Place Like Home

Sunday, March 6, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 & 2 Cor. 5:16-21

“There was a man who had two sons.” It seems like a pretty straightforward way to start a story. I’m sure it captured the Pharisees and scribes attention. Not as much as if Jesus said, “ a man, two sons, and a pig walk into a bar” but that would’ve gotten Jesus crucified even quicker! Or maybe me for a joke like that!

But Jesus already was in a lot of trouble. “You can tell a lot about a person from the friends they hang out with.” I don’t know about you but I’ve heard that statement many times beginning in childhood. Most people would probably agree with that statement. We tell our children to be careful to hang out with the right friends. We don’t want them being led astray. The Pharisees and the scribes in Luke’s gospel had the same concern. All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to Jesus to listen to Him and so they said, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They questioned Jesus’ character. If He was hanging out with sinners, what did that say about Jesus? Was He guilty by association? Most people care about what other people think, but not Jesus. He was concerned with the truth. And so He told a parable, a rather long one about being lost, being found, and coming home.

The parable known as The Prodigal Son is one of the longest parables Jesus ever tells. It must have been important or he wouldn’t have gone into such great detail – details like just how lost some people can get. The youngest son was so self-centered that he wanted his father’s inheritance before his father even died! He couldn’t wait. He wanted his money and he wanted it right away, not to go away to college or invest in the future, but to blow it all away in sinful and selfish living. The younger son was getting further and further lost. He was a long way from home, yet he didn’t even realize it. Until he was out of a job, out of money, starving, and homeless. In fact, he was so destitute that he was forced to tend to pigs (a job no respectable Jew would ever do since pigs were considered unclean). But this young man had stooped that low. He was really lost. Until like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, he found himself saying, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” And off he went – practicing the speech he would say to his father of how he had messed up – all the way home.

But before he even had a chance to say those words to his father, his father saw him “while he was still far off” (which means he must have been looking for him) and ran to him. He put his arms around his son and kissed him and planned for a huge celebration. That was outrageous! No respectable Jewish father would embarrass himself like that especially after what his son did! Is that what any respectable parent would do if their son or daughter took all their inheritance and threw it all away? If they took all their money and gambled it away at a casino, or on drugs? Would they or any of us throw a big welcome home party? The father that Jesus is describing seems like quite an outrageous character. What father would act like that? Was he lost too? Had he lost his mind?

That’s the question that the older son asks. Why? Why when his younger brother had spent all the money and disgraced the family was he treated like a celebrity? Why did the father greet him with open arms and celebrate when this young man was probably just going to do the same thing all over again if he had the chance? And what about the older son? He stayed at home, took care of the father and did everything right and he never received a party at all! This didn’t seem fair and the older brother was angry. Everything the father had was his and he could have had a party at any time if he only asked his father, but instead he let his anger seethe under the surface. Every day, year after year, he let it grow and grow. His younger brother had disgraced his father. Maybe he was angry that his brother was not there helping him and now his father welcomed him back with open arms! He was angry and jealous and hurt and wanted nothing to do with the father or the great celebration that was taking place for that prodigal, good for nothing son, that sinner! What kind of person “welcomes sinners and eats with them?”

That’s the same question the Pharisees and scribes were asking about Jesus. And that’s why Jesus told this parable, because he challenges us to look at people through new eyes – through God’s eyes. Because when we do that we, as St. Paul says in 2 Cor., “regard no one from a human point of view.” We see people differently when we see them as God sees them – like a father who welcomes his children home and is willing to forgive and be reconciled with them. This is what the story of The Prodigal Son is all about. It is a story of how much God loves us and is waiting to forgive us with open arms. And being a disciple of Christ means that we are to do the same with each other. St. Paul tells us, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.” He tells us that “this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” What does Paul mean when he says we are to be in Christ? He means we are to be immersed in Christ. Our whole lives are to be centered in Christ. Everything we do, every decision we make, every conversation we have needs to begin in Christ. If we live this way, then life is different. We are then a new creation.

A new creation means that our old selves are gone. Our sins are forgiven and we can begin again. We can envision a new future because the Holy Spirit has awakened our holy imaginations. The Holy Spirit will open our eyes to see possibilities where they never existed before. When we have lost our way, the Spirit will guide us home in Christ. That is what it means to be in Christ, in means to have our home in Christ. Our home, our joy, our peace is found in Christ. Home is not a place, it is a state of being that is found in Christ.

Jesus who is the character of God in the flesh, like the Father, “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” We are all sinners. We are all the prodigal sons and daughters. We’ve all gone astray and found ourselves lost, but in Christ God welcomes us home. In Christ we experience the love of God that is bigger and wider and deeper than anything we can comprehend. None of us deserve all the inheritance that God has for us, yet even when we are far off God comes to us, welcomes us, and lavishes upon us countless grace. What an outrageous thing to do, but what an outrageous and awesome God we have!

As we continue our Lenten journey – our journey to the cross and our journey to Christ – may the Holy Spirit lead us to find our way home. May the Holy Spirit help us to remove any places in our hearts that are filled with anger and resentment and guide us to make peace with one another and reconcile with each other as Christ commands us to do. And may the Holy Spirit give us eyes to see others with the love of God. In Christ we are a new creation. In Christ we have a true home and there’s no place like home. Amen.