CACINA

No Need to Choose Sides!

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, scripture by Rev. Martha on March 4, 2016

4th Sunday of Lent yr C, 3-6-16 Joshua 5: 9-12, Ps 34, 2 Cor 5: 17-21,  Luke 15: 1-32

 

I was talking with a friend about preaching on “The Prodigal Son.” Her response was, “Ooh, that’s a hard one. Good luck!”  I understood exactly what she was saying.  Then I began to wonder why Jesus even the story.  Every generation and every culture has stories about wayward sons. Every society has rules about inheritances.  But reading this as a wayward son story or inheritance law story just doesn’t give us an adequate interpretation or reveal the purpose of the parable. We need to look closer.

The 15th chapter of Luke consists of three parables, which all lead in the same direction. They are: (1) The Lost Sheep, (2) The Lost Coin, and (3) The Lost (or prodigal) Son.  The Lost Sheep (the guy who leaves the 99 sheep to search for one) ends with this: “I am so happy I found my lost sheep.  Let us celebrate!  I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 people who do not need to repent.”   Now, how did that happen? How did we go from sheep, to repentance and heaven?

The Lost Coin (you know, the woman who loses her coin, sweeps & searches until she finds it) ends almost exactly the same: “I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate!  In the same way, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.”  Jesus is definitively not discussing inheritance distribution here.

Both of these first two parables focus instead on searching & the joy of finding. Then they compare that joy of finding with the joy that comes with repentance. The Lost Son focuses on those same themes, but in addition, it contrasts of the attitude of the father with the elder son’s attitude; contrasting compassion toward repentant sinners and refusal to celebrate repentance.

Now, the original audience listening to these parables included both the “sinners” that Jesus associated with – and ate with – as well as religious leaders who objected – strongly – to the presence of those “sinners.  In fact, this may have been the “Hot Button” issue that ignited the plot to crucify Jesus.

But to find the birthplace of this parable, we must return to Luke 4: 18-22, which we read on Jan 31st.   Remember Jesus reading from Isaiah in the synagogue: “(The Lord) has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty…recovery of sight…freedom for the oppressed and announce the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” It’s Jesus’ mission statement.   It’s the announcement of the coming of the Messiah.  It was widely believed then that the Messiah, or Christ, would bring a time of forgiveness, restoration, and insistence on joyous celebration.

To grumble in the face of his coming is to not understand what is happening. Jesus puts these parables in the context of why he is there, his purpose. It is a picture of the impact of his ministry, the coming of God’s kingdom….and the attitudes of those who find the Kingdom – those who repent, forgive, and who are forgiven.

“The Coming of the Kingdom” is a phrase we read in the Gospels, but it’s hard to be really sure what to do with it. The conflict which brought about this parable was the claim from Jesus that the kingdom of God was present and that God was at work.  That’s fine and dandy when you sit in a church and feel safe among those of like mind.  But it was met with great suspicion as long as those around Jesus were tax collectors who worked for and collaborated with the Romans (those oppressive invaders, those multi-god-worshiping heathens); AND those ceremonially unclean shepherds and lepers and disabled people that were so feared and despised; AND others who were absolutely disreputable and debase, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet.

So, here is a contrast between the acceptance of the repentant by God and the suspicion and rejection of them by some religious leaders. But, Surprise!  The parable ends without rejecting either side.  How can it be that the father would desire a household that would offer love to the son who put every cent of  his effort & time into the estate, alongside the son who is an obvious drain on the bank account and the emotions of everyone?  Yet, the father of the sons rejects no one; both sons are chosen.  The father loves and offers everything he has to the grumbling son with a disrespectful attitude as well as the son who has broken every rule in the book and come home at best only hoping not to die of starvation.  Could I be so open and loving and generous on the very best day of my life??  In my own self, it would be impossible.  Only if I was fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit of God could that happen.

You see, the kingdom does not divide but unifies; the kingdom is universal. This parable is without an ending, and so becomes an invitation to everyone who hears it to change their attitude and join in the celebration.   The Messiah has come, forgiveness, restoration, liberty- all our inheritance.  Our heavenly Father has given us all he has, and He is always with us.  We are no longer slaves of darkness or ourselves.  If we had a sliver of a clue what was happening, if we saw a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, it would be enough to make us rejoice until tears of unrestrained happiness streamed down our cheeks.  What is now “ours” could be shared with the hungry, the dirty, the homeless, the refugee, the foreigner, the addict, the derelict.  The hard years, the labor which seemed to be without reward could be remembered with gladness. Perhaps that is why we were given the Holy Spirit and Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Second Chances

Posted in Called, christian, ethics, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Rev. Martha on February 27, 2016

Homily 2-28-16 3rd Sunday Lent year C Ex 3:1-15, Ps 103,1Cor 10:1-12, Luke 13 1-9

The action generally starts on Sunday with the Gospel, but today we have a sort of “pre-game show” in Exodus. All too often Moses gets billed as the “Giver of the Law”, a title which seriously underestimates him as a major player.  We have to go back to his amateur days for some background.

Moses was the Hebrew baby set afloat in a basket in the reeds on the edge of the Nile River.  Pharaoh had decreed that all Hebrew boy babies must be killed, fearing that the Hebrews (the Israelites) would join with an enemy to attack Egypt.  We would say, “This Pharaoh was a wall-guy, not a bridge builder.”

Baby Moses was indeed saved, and adopted as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Fast forward about 30-40 years.  One day he was visiting the Hebrews and saw an Egyptian “striking”, or depending on how you translate it, “killing” a Hebrew man.  His motives are not entirely clear, but Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.  But Pharaoh got word of it, and Moses had to flee to the land of Midian, west of Egypt, across the Red Sea.   There he married the daughter of Jethro, and settled down, tending the flocks of his father-in law.  He led the flock to Mount Sinai.  There he saw that “burning bush” and the world changed.

You know the story. God pulled no punches with him.  God said,” I know of the suffering of my people in Egypt.  I have come to rescue them. I will give them a spacious land, fertile and rich in resources.  I will send you to Pharaoh to lead them out of Egypt.”

Don’t think for a minute that Moses said, “Oh goody!!” For a guy who described himself as slow of speech, he was quick to point out 4 reasons why he wasn’t the man for the job. “Who am I that I should go?” he modestly asks, meaning he just isn’t qualified for leadership.  God simply responds, “I will be with you”.

Then Moses insists that the people don’t know God, and will not believe it. He says, “They will ask, ‘What is the name of this God of our fathers’; what shall I tell them?”  He’s trying to say, “Uh, God, it’s not like you and I are on a first name basis.  I’m not so sure I believe this either.”   But God responds,   “I am who I am.   Tell the Israelites, ‘I AM sent you.’”  I’m not sure that satisfied Moses, but it’s given theologians something to struggle with for hundreds of years.  Perhaps the cleverness of it is that it is un-translatable.

But even that doesn’t stop Moses; he continues to object. “Suppose the elders won’t listen to me.  Even if I convince the people, the leaders won’t buy it.”  Now God gives Moses the power to turn his staff into a snake, make his hand appear white with leprosy, and turn river water into blood.  God is pressing him hard to take on this job.

Finally, Moses says, “I am not eloquent; I am slow of speech.” God has heard enough excuses; it’s time to act.  He reminds Moses that he gives the power of speech.   So Moses went to Egypt, the Israelites believed him, and the people of God were freed from slavery.

Do you find it amazing that God would use a murderer and fugitive, a doubter, someone who stinks of sheep, a man who makes excuses to God, and one who lacks the verbal skills and charisma to lead people? I was an employment counselor for 13 years; I took great care to match people well to jobs.  But God?  God sees things in people we don’t see, and God provides all that is lacking.  God is a God who takes us, with all our faults, our failures, our lacking, our negativity, our hesitancy, our violence and our ignorance – and loves us and offers us forgiveness and 2nd chances.  In this season of Lent, we are called to the Great I Am, as the old time preachers would sing, “Just as I am.”

So now to the Gospel, where Jesus is talking about the news of the day with the people. They want Jesus to tell them that people have been killed by Pilate because they were sinful, and workers were killed when a tower fell because they were guilty.  The people feel safer if guilt is assigned to “them”.  But Jesus says those who are dead are NOT guiltier than anyone else and then he turns it back to those pointing the finger of blame, “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”  Then he tells them a parable about a fig tree which produces no figs.  The owner says, “Cut it down; it’s a waste of time and dirt!”  But the gardener begs for one short year to make it productive.

We don’t have to look too far to see this is another instance of 2nd chances, and God is again urgently pressing us to act.  Jesus’ message of repentance is directed to all, not just a select few, and Luke is clear that fruit – aka visible change of behavior – is expected.  We must develop a sense that our actions really are significant and we are responsible for feeding others in both a concrete and symbolic sense.  We, as individuals and as The Church, should be the very symbol of divine plenty, and not be fruitless in our faith.

St. Paul in our 2nd reading reminds us of the history of Israel, and the tragedies of God’s people who desired evil things, who grumbled, who became self-righteous, and who serve as a warning for us. Jesus’ call to us, in all generations, is on the edge between mercy and judgment; and judgment is never canceled but merely postponed.  This short delay is the time for repentance, reorganization of our thought processes, new awareness, new behavior, change, and action – life lived out loud in obedience to the will of God.