Sunday, March 18, 2007

Local Boy Returns (One Love Takes All)

Luke 15: 11-32
2 Cor. 5: 16-21

Once there were two sons.

Their father raised them in the company business, construction. The older son took to it quickly, and spent his school breaks from Middle School on driving around with his dad in the big spiffy pickup with the family name on the door. He loved getting dirty, loved climbing on the frames of the houses, loved the sounds of air hammers and power saws.

The younger son, fascinated with the design of the buildings, loved to see the architects’ drawings, and could imagine how rooms would be used, what the spaces would feel like.

In short, both sons were very much their father’s boys, but they had strengths that didn’t match each other. And as so often happens, as they grew, they focused on each others’ differences, rather than on the fact that both of them had great talents as builders.

It came to pass that the boys came to a place where they couldn’t be around each other much anymore. The older son had become a regular part of the company then, so it didn’t seem to the younger that there was any place in the company. He asked his father for his share of the company. The father, who could see how the two brothers complemented each other so well, was very sad, but also wise enough to know that people have to make their own way, gave him an amount of money equal to half the value of the company. The younger son hung his company jacket and ball cap rather forcefully in a locker, and he was off.

He visited many of the places he had always dreamed about—he stood under the steeple at Notre Dame, he sketched the perfect dimensions of the Taj Mahal, he walked across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Meanwhile, the older son developed his talents, too, and became an ace builder under his father’s tutelage. He could organize a build down to the last nail, paycheck and city permit, and the company became famous for its reliability.

But the father still knew that with the younger son home and using what talents God had given him, the company would not only be known for reliability but also for creativity. So he bided his time, knowing that God had a way of bringing around what’s right.

So the younger son blew through what he had been given, as is often the case. He was still absolutely sure that there was no place for him, and finally, after many trials and tribulations, signed on with a group of outlaws. His childhood experiences made him a perfect team member of thieves who would go around at night, pilfering copper pipe from building sites.

One night, after a particularly successful night, sitting in the back seat of the truck with his head against the glass, he heard his fellow thieves begin to brag about how much the copper would go for, and how much they had probably delayed the build they had raided.

And the younger son, with his head against the glass staring at the lights going by, suddenly realized that even with all this copper pipe, split among all the gang members, he would still have less than the cheapest day laborer got paid by his dad.

So he decided that enough was enough. He would go home, ask for his dad to hire him at the day laborer wage, and deal with his brothers’ scorn. It couldn’t be worse than this.

So he returned. As he came walking into the company yard, his father saw him through the window, but at first thought it was a day laborer who was late.

He stepped out to talk to the guy about the value of punctuality, and realized who it was, and laughed in joy! He called out to the people back in the office to bring out the jacket and the cap from the locker he had left, and rush out to put it on him. Then he called everyone in the yard over to the roadhouse across the street to celebrate!
From across the yard, the other brother saw the figure, and knew who it was. When he saw his dad rush out and place the jacket and cap with their name on it, he started to burn in his belly. “He left us, how is it right that he gets all of it back?” Then, when he saw his dad sweep him arm towards the roadhouse, he just about saw red. “He left us! How can dad do this!”

So he went over to the road house, but would not go in. He just stood out in the parking lot. Eventually, his dad saw him out the window, and he put down his steak knife. Walking out to his older son, he saw the waves of heat coming off of him, the set of his jaw and his crumpled up brows.

“Why are you doing this—that son of yours blew half our profits while I was here working like a dog! And now you welcome him back?”

And the father said to him, “Yes I do. He is one of us, and his talents will make this company even greater. You have great talents, my son, but with his, the whole build, from ideas to execution, become a reality for us. We need him, you need him, just as much as he needs you. Between the two of you, ideas and practicality, there’s nothing that can’t be done.

And that’s what I want from you two.”

When Jesus dies on the cross, he died for all. Not just for the practical, the ones who know how to organize down to the last detail. Not just for the dreamers, the ones who know what the Kingdom feels like because they can imagine it. He died for all of us. One Love takes all of us in. What God wants from us is to learn how we can mesh our talents to make the perfect building company.

So, in this Lenten time of growing and searching, let me ask this question. Which brother are you? Or are you a combination of both? One Love Takes All. Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away, and everything has become new. If you are in Christ, if you believe in Christ and his salvation of your life, you have become new. One Love takes all of us in. The Love of God. The love shown by Christ on the Cross. It’s there, we just have to believe it and accept it. Allow ourselves to be enveloped by it. One love takes all.

Monday, March 05, 2007

In the Comfort of Family

Genesis 15: 1-6
Psalm 27
2nd Sunday in Lent, Year C

It was a cold night, as most nights are in the desert. Abram the Hebrew just rescued his nephew Lot from his kidnappers, and he has dealt mercifully with the kidnappers. It is normal for the winner in skirmishes in this time to take prizes and make slaves of the captured men. Abram does not. His act of mercy is a mandate from his God. For his mercy, he has received a blessing from King Melchizidek. Things are feeling pretty good, on this cold night in the desert. It’s the kind of night that makes the stars seem closer and brighter.

And then the Word of the Lord comes to Abram. The Scripture says that God says “Do not be afraid”. We see that phrase a lot when we read the Old Testament Prophets, (like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Amos and Micah). We here the Angels Gabriel begin with this phrase when he comes to Mary. But here, in the Pentateuch, (the first five books of the Bible, the section the Jews call the Torah), this is the only time this phrase appears. The phrase is a signal that what is about to be said is very important.

And what God says is this; “Do not be afraid. I am your shield, your reward shall be very great.”

In all of the translations I read in preparation for this sermon, Abram’s response has a certain tone of “yeah, right.” Verse two even begins in most of them with the word “but”. So, on this dark and starry night, after this righteous act done in the name of God, Abram actually does have some doubt, after all. But it is important to note that the only “person” he expresses this to is God himself.

And God doesn’t get mad. He doesn’t get defensive, he doesn’t punish Abram.

He answers Abram’s concern, saying, “Abram, the arrangement you’ve made for your lands will be unnecessary. You will have an heir from your own body.”

God takes Abram outside, and points to the clear stars, and says; “Can you count these? Can you move them? No? Well, just as sure as these stars are, so is my promise to you. Just as many as these stars are, so will be the descendants from your own body.”

And Abram says “I believe.” He doesn’t say “I have faith”. He says, I believe”.

He says “I believe” based on a voice in a vision. By our 21st Century standards, his belief is based on something that a few weeks of anti-psychotic drugs will “fix”. In our time, visions and voices are more the territory of the David Koreshes and the Charles Mansons than they are the experience of the divine. It is harder for us to believe in this experience of God than it was for Abram. But that is particular to our time; that is a wrestling match that others who have read this story over the past 3-4 thousand years haven’t worried about.

Abram believes, and three religious faiths are born out of his belief; Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Between the Jews, the Muslims and us Christians, we really do number as the stars in the sky, just as was promised.

Now here is the question I am led to ask. It is a question of faith versus belief. Is it faith if Abram believes what God says? If God is the one who was there before there was anything, if God is the creator, redeemer and sustainer, is it faith to believe what God says? Or, for Abram, was it not a statement of certainty to say to God, “I believe that you will do what you say.”, in the same way that we can say with certainty that water is wet?

The author of Hebrews tells us in the eleventh chapter that that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That passage as a whole begins a discussion based on this very bit of Genesis. I would tell you that it is very easy to have faith in God, because God will do what God promises. God has done what God promised. Our problems occur when we don’t often understand or comprehend what God is promising. Our mistake is when we try to figure out God’s will with our all too human impatient attitudes and incomplete understanding. We have seen God, or at least heard enough to know that God can be counted on.

Perhaps, then, isn’t faith the act of trusting that the other people around us will act according to God’s will? If you turn it inward, is not faith the belief that what we do is God’s will, too? Isn’t faith perhaps the trusting of other people, that they will do what God wants?

Paul tells us over and over again what we know, as Christians, about God. We Christians know God through Jesus. Looking at how Jesus acted, what he said while he was with us on earth, is how we know what God is like. From Paul we know what love in Christ is like, we hear it almost every time we go to a wedding.

You know it as 1 Corinthians 13, verse 4; “Love is patient, love is kind. . . Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.” Paul sees Jesus, and knows God. Therefore, we know that God is patient, God is kind, God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

As Christians, we are called to mirror God in Christ, to be examples of their brand of behavior for the people we meet.

During this time of Lent, we are called to repair, to grow, and to connect. To repair broken relationships, to grow closer to God, and to connect to what is best about ourselves in God and each other.

Our mission is to serve Christ and to show God’s love in every facet of our lives. We believe in God, but we have faith in God’s church, we have faith that we are God’s church. Notice the distinction between belief and faith. We believe in God. God is solid, unchangeable, we believe that like we believe that snow is cold. We have incontrovertible evidence. God exists whether we see the evidence of it or not, whether we choose to believe it or not. What faith does is impel us to act as if we believe in each other and in God’s access to each of the people around us. Faith also is the willingness to forgive each other when that faith is misplaced.

When we reflect Jesus Christ, and therefore reflect God, we allow ourselves to extend our faith to those around us. It is what makes forgiveness possible. It’s when we are patient and kind, it’s when we aren’t envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

Make no mistake—even the most saintly of those among us, the models of the faith that we can all think of, fall short, from time to time. Even the people whose spirits are most connected to God have to work through the obstructions of being human. We can’t avoid being envious or boastful or arrogant or rude at times. Even the best of us occasionally fail to be patient or kind. That is true for all of us.

This is where God’s forgiveness comes in, and that is also where we can know we are in God, doing God’s will—it’s when we forgive each other and ourselves the way God forgives us. Can we eat with “prostitutes and tax collectors” the way Jesus did? Can we say to the people who have disappointed, hurt, or angered us “Go and sin no more”? Can we say to the people who habitually make us crazy, “I forgive you as God has forgiven both of us?” We know as clearly as there are stars in the sky that God forgives us. We believe. It is certain. And let us, ourselves, have faith that we can be what God expects of us. It allows us the strength to open up to one another. It allows us to live in community with those around us. It helps us trust one another. It helps us say, with conviction, “I believe”. “We believe.” Then we can truly be comforted.

I pray that my words have been the Lord’s intention, Amen.