Seeing Christ in You

Preached on Sunday, 5 May 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
The Third Sunday of Easter, Year C

Jesus sightings.  That seems to be the theme of the gospel readings in the Easter season – Jesus sightings; encounters with the risen Christ.  But have you ever noticed that in most of these “Jesus sightings” not even his closest friends recognize him, at least not at first?

Now these Jesus sightings are not like celebrity sightings in Hollywood or even at the mall.  Not like saying, “Was that Bill Gates?”  or “I saw Russell Wilson buying candy at the concession stand last night!”  It’s not even like not recognizing your high school sweetheart at your 30-year reunion.

No, it’s more like not recognizing your best friend that you had lunch with just a few days ago.

Remember these stories?

Mary Magdalene, weeping at the entrance of the tomb on that first Easter morning, thinks that Jesus is the gardener.

Along the road to Emmaus, the Disciples wonder at this “stranger” walking with them, who doesn’t even know the news that EVERYBODY in Jerusalem is talking about.  And yet this stranger knows all about its meaning.  They spend the whole day in deep discussion with him, but don’t recognize him until he breaks bread at dinner.

In the story we heard last Sunday, Thomas doesn’t recognize Jesus until he touches his wounds.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are out fishing and when Jesus calls to them from the shore, at first, they don’t know him, but they do as he says.  Then, when the beloved disciple says, “It’s the Lord!” Peter, in true Peter fashion, jumps in the water and swims to shore.  But even on the beach, it says that they were afraid to ask “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.

Now why would it say that?  It’s the third time they’ve seen Jesus since he was raised and they spent years traveling with him in his ministry.  Of COURSE they would know him, but for some reason that wasn’t assumed by our gospel-writer.

And then, of course there’s Saul.  Ironically, Saul doesn’t recognize Jesus until he’s blinded.

Is it any wonder that we have such a hard time “seeing” Jesus when even those who knew him intimately couldn’t recognize him?  And yet, it is our deep desire to see Jesus.  We pray it, we sing it.  It is even in our baptismal vows.

In fact, isn’t that what resurrection is all about – seeing Jesus?  Listen to what Clarence Jordan (a noted New Testament scholar and the inspiration for the Habitat for Humanity organization) has to say about resurrection.  He writes:

The resurrection of Jesus was simply God’s unwillingness to take our ‘no’ for an answer. He raised Jesus, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that he himself has now established permanent, eternal residence here on earth. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him.

I want you to think about that.  I’ll read it again.

Maybe that’s a clue as to where we should look for Jesus.  Remember how the angels ask those who come to the tomb, “Why are you looking for him here among the dead?  He is alive.”  They’re looking in the wrong place.  And even when he appears, he’s not what they expect and so they don’t recognize him.  So, where do we look for Jesus?  And how do we recognize him?

Now the church teaches us to look for him in our worship; that Jesus is present in the proclamation of the Gospel – that’s why we stand.  That Jesus is present in the bread and wine of communion.  That Jesus is present in the body gathered – all of you.  We recognize Jesus, not with the eyes and ears of our brain, but with the eyes and ears of our heart; the eyes and ears of our soul.

So let’s start there.  When you greet each other at the Peace, take the time to reverently listen for Jesus with the ears of your heart, to see Jesus with the eyes of your soul.

See if you encounter Jesus as you receive the bread in your hand, the wine in your mouth, as you receive Jesus into your body and soul.

Of course, Jesus is not confined within these walls.  Clarence Jordan said, “Jesus has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers [and sisters] with him.”  Jesus will be found among the least, the lost, the rejects of society.  Maybe we miss seeing Jesus because we look away too quickly.  We look in the wrong places.  He isn’t the way we expect him to be.

In our baptism, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons; All Persons.   Maybe we miss seeing Jesus because we don’t expect to find him in certain people, or maybe even in most people.  And so, we only see them with the eyes of our brain.

Now, I want you to listen carefully, because this is important.

Remember that just as you seek Christ in others, others find Christ in you.

Just as you seek Christ in others, others find Christ in you.
Hold that awareness gently with love, with care, with reverence.
For it is truly Holy.

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Live like it’s True

Preached on Sunday, 28 April 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
The Second Sunday of Easter, Year C

I never thought I would see the end of apartheid in South Africa – but I did.
I never thought I would see the Berlin Wall come down – but it did.
Mary of Nazareth never thought she would see her beautiful baby boy one day die on a cross – but she did.
Mary of Magdala and the other women never thought the tomb would be empty – but it was.
Thomas never thought he would see Jesus again – but he did.
Peter never thought he would be freed from prison in the dead if night by an angel!
but he was.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ opens up the possibility of the unimagined.  God shows up in unlikely places.  God is proclaimed by unlikely people.  What seemed impossible, what was unimagined, just might be possible.

What does the resurrection mean for you?
What impact does it have on your life?
What if you were to live like it’s true?

Throughout Eastertide, we will be hearing readings from Luke, the sequel – also known as The Acts of the Apostles.  This isn’t “The heroic adventures of Peter and Paul and the early church.”  No, it’s an invitation to us in our church, in this parish, in our lives.  Each week, we will be invited to consider “what are the contours of authentically Christian witness?”

It’s an invitation to an Easter state-of-mind.
The story we hear this morning, for example – well, let’s get some context, first.

The apostles are still in Jerusalem after the coming of the Holy Spirit.  They’ve been teaching and preaching, proclaiming Jesus, and healing in his name.  They’ve gotten into trouble with the Temple authorities who have ordered them to stop using Jesus’ name.

Peter and John have been arrested and jailed overnight; they’ll be taken to court in the morning.  But an angel comes in the night and leads them out of the prison, telling them to go back to the Temple, where they were arrested.  In the morning, of course, their cell is found to be empty, but everything else is in order.  So, men are sent to find them and bring them back to answer to the Sanhedrin.  That’s where we come in today.

Peter and John are answering charges before the most powerful men in the city; perhaps in all of Judaism.  These are the same men who had Jesus crucified.  What is their answer?  “We can’t keep quiet,” they say, “We will obey God; we must proclaim the Good News.”

The life of the apostles isn’t easy; it’s downright dangerous!  They are imprisoned, flogged, threatened with death, and most of them do die for the sake of the gospel.  They proclaim the gospel despite the danger and darkness of the world.  God’s light breaks through the darkness.  No matter what the powers of the world use against them, the Good News can’t be silenced.  New, even unlikely expressions of God’s grace continue to emerge – even in the darkest times.

We see in these stories that nothing is hopeless.  Mercy, goodness, joy, light, LIFE shine through even the most awful stuff in the world and in our own lives.

It’s not that the resurrection of Jesus fixed the world – it didn’t.  Rather, it shows us that the world isn’t hopelessly broken.  God still has hope for the world; God still believes in us.

God doesn’t reach in and “fix” the world; neither does God rely on us to “fix” it on our own.  In our baptismal covenant, which we renewed last week, we are asked a series of questions – promises or vows about what we will do.  Our response is always, “I will, with God’s help.”  In the last few years, we’ve added a promise to care for the earth, recognizing that in Scripture, God charges us, humankind, with the responsibility for the good of the earth.  It’s in our Eucharistic Prayers too.

I never thought, though, that we would face the kind of darkness that global warming presents.  I never thought people would be so blasé about such a dangerous threat.

A headline caught my eye this week, “The Christian case for embracing a hippie holiday.”  Of course, I had to read it.  It points out that creation, all of life, is prominent in our holy scripture.  Trees are mentioned more often than any living thing other than God and human beings.

Today, we commemorate Earth Day or Earth Month.  We celebrate and give thanks for the gift God has given us in Creation.  And we embrace our vow to lovingly care for it, to challenge the darkness that threatens it.

We have seen this morning that no darkness is beyond hope.  What shape would authentically Christian witness take in the face of this particular darkness?

We are invited into an Easter state-of-mind.
We are invited to live like it’s true:
Live like it’s true that God has hope for the world.
Live like it’s true that new expressions of God’s grace and love and creativity are always emerging in unlikely places through unlikely people.
Live like it’s true that the unimagined is possible.
Live like it’s true that the tomb is empty;
that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.

Perplexed? Remember, Wait, See

Preached on Sunday, 21 April 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
Easter Year C

Have you ever been perplexed?  What do you do?  How do you deal with it?

In Luke’s gospel, he tells us the women are perplexed.  They’re not afraid – not yet, anyway.  They’re not rejoicing with shouts of Alleluia.  They’re puzzled, perplexed.  Here they are, all ready to do right by Jesus, their beloved friend, teacher, rabbi, spiritual leader.  They have followed him and supported and sustained him, all the way from Galilee.  They’re prepared with all they need to give him a proper burial.

Except the tomb is already open and his body is gone.  There’s the disconnect between what they expect and the reality of an empty tomb; a missing body.  They’re perplexed.  Now what?  What does it mean?  What should they do now?  What about all these spices?

As they’re standing, wondering, the two men in dazzling clothes suddenly appear.  Now they’re afraid and fall to the ground, hiding their faces.

“Remember,” the men say, “remember what Jesus told you.
“Remember, he said he would be crucified.
“Remember, he would be raised on the third day.”

Remember what you already know.  It has new meaning now when they find this unexpected reality.

“See.  See, he is not here.  He is risen.  You’re looking for Jesus in the wrong place.”

The do see and they go to tell the others.

The others have a different response to this perplexing disconnect.  Most of them flat-out dismiss it; they won’t acknowledge that it could even exist.  They don’t allow themselves to be perplexed.

Peter, on the other hand, goes and checks it out.  He finds the tomb empty, just as the women said.  But then he goes home.  Why?  Doesn’t he remember?  Doesn’t he see?  Maybe he’s afraid.  Or ashamed.  Maybe he just needs some time alone to process what he saw.

Why don’t any of them go looking for Jesus?

What do you do when you’re perplexed, puzzled; when what you expect and what you think you know don’t fit with the reality you find – especially when it comes to God?  I think most of us find it uncomfortable.  Sometimes we avoid it altogether, denying that there is a disconnect.  Sometimes we try to explain it away, even if our explanations don’t make any sense at all.  Sometimes we try to rush through it trying to get to that comfortable place of being sure of what we know, as quickly as possible.  Even if we’re wrong.  Even if we know we’re wrong.

What if we were to slow down and wait for a bit?  Wait for God’s revelation.

Remember what we already know.  What God has already shown us.  Remember who we are.  Remember we are God’s beloved.  Remember you are God’s beloved.

Wait to see what Truth God is unfolding before us now.  What new meaning do we find in what we already know?

When we’re confused, perplexed, questioning, there’s an opening for God to shine through.  An opening for God to show us something new, something deeper.  For God to show us where we’re called to go; what we’re called to do.  It’s harder for God to get through to us when we’re certain we already know.

What do we See that God is showing us this time in this on-so-familiar story?  It’s not only that the tomb is empty.  It’s not only that Jesus is raised from the dead.  It’s not only that we hope for a resurrection like his; that we hope for everlasting life.  It’s not only that Jesus has conquered death.

It’s also what Jesus does next, after he steps out of the tomb.  He doesn’t skip town.  He doesn’t go straight to the Father.  No, he stays among the living.  He stays so that we can See that even the cross can be redeemed.  He stays so that we can See just how much God loves us.

Last night, at the Great Vigil of Easter, I summed up all the biblical stories we had just listened to in a one-sentence homily:

God does; God has always done; God will continue to do whatever it takes to reach us, to bring us, one at a time, if need be, to that place where we will receive and accept the fullness of God’s love, without reservation or restrictions.

That is the core and foundation of my faith.  It is why I’m here.

In our joy and celebrations, in our despair, in our fear, and in our confusion – God reaches out to us, loving us, longing for us to openly, fully receive all of God’s love.

On this joyous Easter Day, here is my hope for you.

May you Wait for God to unfold the Truth when you are perplexed.
May you Remember what God has already said and done; that you are God’s beloved.
And may you See and embrace the fullness of God’s love for you.

 

 

 

 

Jesus Knows

Preached on Thursday, 18 April 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
Maundy Thursday

Jesus knows.  He knows that this is the night he will be betrayed.  It’s the night he will be arrested.  The people with him? They are the ones who have been with him since the beginning.  They have walked together for miles and miles, slept under the same roof, shared countless meals, celebrated the holy festivals.  He has taught them and confused them, loved them and prayed with them and for them.  They have witnessed the miracles, the signs, and they have heard the disputes and the threats.

Tonight, one of them will walk out, leave the relationship without a goodbye – that’s the betrayal in John’s gospel, abandoning his relationship with Jesus.  Jesus know which one of these, the people who know him best; he knows which one it will be.

But first, there’s more to do.  He knows, too, what they will face: their fear, their anguish, their grief, their doubt.  And so, he shares one last meal with his friends – including the one who will betray him.  He even shares a bowl with him at dinner.

Jesus reminds them of what they have learned, what they have seen.  He fervently prays for them and they hear his prayer.

He gives them a new commandment:  Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, he says, you also must love one another.

And he gives them things to do – not just today but in their life together for the rest of their lives.  These are tangible signs; touchstones.  He gives them the gift of sacrament; the holy experienced in everyday life.  It is through these ordinary activities that they will be bound together and reminded that they belong to one another; that they belong to and are beloved of God.

He breaks the bread and passes the cup of wine, the basics of everyday meals, not special food reserved for festivals or holy days, just ordinary bread and wine.  Share this, all of you.  This is my body; this is my blood; this is the new covenant.  Do this in remembrance of me, whenever you drink it.

He washes their feet, humbly serving them; tenderly caring for them – all of them; even Judas.  They, too are to wash one another’s feet; to serve one another and care for one another not just for their friends.  Afterwards, every time their feet are washed, they will remember this night, when Jesus washes their feet.  Imagine if, every time you took a shower, you thought about Jesus.  If, every time you put your shoes on, you remembered that time when Jesus showed up in your life.

In the difficult times that will come, when the disciples don’t know what to think; or even what they know, when they don’t know what to do, they will turn to what’s familiar; what they do every day – break bread, drink wine, wash.  This gives them a means to bind themselves together and give them strength for whatever the world is throwing at them.

Fear and grief can isolate and incapacitate us.  But community bound in love, for love, can overcome fear.  It can change the world.

Tonight, we’ll have the opportunity to do what Jesus commanded his disciples – not as a reenactment; not as imitation or pretending to be disciples.
We are Jesus’ disciples.

In a few minutes we will wash one another’s feet.  If you’ve never participated in this holy sacrament before, I urge you to give it a try.  If you can’t quite go so far as to take off your shoes, allow your sister or brother to wash your hands.  And then wash another’s feet, if you’re able.

At the exchange of the Peace, we will go into the church to share the bread and wine of Holy Communion, in remembrance of Jesus.

And finally, before we begin stripping the altar and emptying the sanctuary, we will sit silently in the pews as the Real Presence of Christ, the reserved sacrament and the light of Christ are removed from the church.  Feel the loss the disciples felt when he was taken from them in the garden.

When the eucharistic minister and I return to the sanctuary, we will empty the altar and the chancel.

Jesus knows what he will face.  He knows what the disciples will face.  He knows what we will face.  He gives us the gift of sacrament and the gift of each other; the gift of community. Because he knows.

The Stones Would Shout

Preached on 14 April 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion, Year C

The Stones would shout out!

The Good News cannot be stopped.
Jesus’ message cannot be silenced.

A few weeks ago, we heard, in John’s gospel, the Pharisees and Scribes warning Jesus, “don’t go to Jerusalem.  Herod is set on killing you.”  Jesus had gotten word that his friend, Lazarus was very ill, near the point of death.

Jesus goes and raises Lazarus anyway.
That’s when the authorities begin looking for a way to kill him.

Today, we’re hearing from Luke.  Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, but he’s not even in the city yet.  The crowds of disciples shout their praise, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”  All this talk of kings makes the Scribes and the Pharisees very nervous.  They’re afraid; this is putting them in danger, too.  “Keep it down,” they say, “make your people be quiet.” (Don’t attract attention, or soldiers or violence, is the subtext.)

This reminds me of the scene in the musical, Hamilton.  It’s near the beginning when all the main revolutionaries meet Alexander Hamilton for the first time.  They’re in a pub, airing their grievances and hopes for a better future.  Aaron Burr interrupts them,

“Geniuses, lower your voices
You keep out of trouble and you double your choices.
I’m with you, but the situation is fraught
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
If you talk, you’re gonna get shot!”

Earlier, Hamilton had challenged him, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”

Perhaps that’s Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees when he tells them, “It wouldn’t do any good, if they stop, the very stones would shout!”  Jesus’ message of justice and the righteousness of God cannot be silenced.

Jesus knows how this story will have to end.
We know it, too.  We heard it today.

Jesus goes into the city and teaches, anyway.

He drives the money-changers out of the Temple, causing a huge commotion.  He spends all week teaching in the Temple and telling his disciples what is to come: the destruction of the Temple, the fall of Jerusalem.

The cross is looming, death and destruction are at the door and what does Jesus do with his disciples?  He celebrates anyway!
It is the Feast of the Passover.  They share the traditional meal, they remember and celebrate God’s saving work in the Exodus from slavery in Egypt; and their journey to the Promised Land.

It’s not just calling to mind an event in history, though, it’s recognizing it as their own personal story, a present story, an on-going story.  It’s a story that will take on new meaning for them over the next few days.

It’s a story that has new meaning for us as we contemplate the cross and the empty tomb, yes, but also as we experience and witness the violence and suffering and injustice in our world.

The slow, patient work of God creating a world of justice and peace cannot be stopped.  Christ’s message of justice cannot be silenced.  Not by the cross, not by violence and oppression, not be destruction or death.  “If these were silent, even the stones would shout out.”

The magnitude of the brokenness of the world can overwhelm us.  Fear can isolate us, paralyze us, silence us.  Community, on the other hand, connection with other people, especially community in Christ – that kind of connection counters the isolation and can overcome the fear that overwhelms, paralyzes, and silences.  It can empower us to shout out.

This year, our Lenten program has been a book study.  Together, we’ve been reading and discussing the book, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, by Diana Butler Bass.  I think all of us learned a lot and some of it has been quite eye-opening.

Gratitude is more than good manners and writing thank-you notes.  Deep gratitude moves us outward toward generosity.  Being grateful is more than a personal, individual feeling or action.  Gratitude always connects us with others.  It moves out into community.  Bass notes that when we are a truly grateful society, we move toward one that focuses on the common good; the well-being of all.

She writes, “True gratitude cannot remain quiet in the face of injustice.”

Or as Jesus put it, “the stones would shout out.”

In her epilogue, she offers some ideas for becoming a more grateful person and moving toward becoming a more grateful society.  The one that caught my attention was this, “Begin before you’re ready.”  There is no advantage to waiting until – well, until what?

Other ideas include connecting with others – particularly the choices we make regarding whom we connect with.

Remembering Jesus, remembering that his message of justice cannot be silenced.  Remembering what he does even on his way to the cross; what do we choose?

Despite the set-backs and discouragement; despite our fear and isolation,
We begin anyway.
We connect with one another anyway.
We reach out to others anyway.
We speak out anyway.
We celebrate and give thanks in all things, anyway.

 

Extravagant, luxuriant, tangible, costly love

Preached on 7 April 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
The fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C

This morning, I want to talk about love.  Abundant, extravagant, luxuriant, tangible love.  About costly love.  I want to talk about a love that is an expression of the grace upon grace in the Prologue of this gospel where John writes,

“The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth… From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

As we make our way through John’s gospel, we can read it through that lens of grace upon grace.  We find so many instances of this grace upon grace.  And in today’s we find Mary embodying God’s grace upon grace as she anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive, perfumed ointment and wipes them with her hair.  This is an act of extravagant, luxuriant love; tangible love; costly love.  This wasn’t a small token of affection she bought with her “pin money.”  No, this was more like the price of a car.

We see in her act of love a mutuality in their relationship.  Jesus comes not only to shower the people with God’s love and blessing; he, too, receives love.  Like every human being, he needs love.  This tangible expression of love strengthens him for what he is about to face.  Soon, he will enter Jerusalem for the last time.

In contrast to Mary, we have Judas.  Perhaps it is just human nature that we resist and even resent this grace upon grace God offers – especially when it is given to another.

We saw it last week in the parable from Luke:  the father welcomes his wayward son home with an extravagant party.  The other son resents it.

Judas resents the grace upon grace given to Jesus and protests Mary’s extravagance, pointing to one of Jesus’ primary concerns, the poor.  She should have used the money to help the poor, instead of on Jesus.

And you know, on one level, he’s right.  Why spend all that money on this when we could use it for that other thing you care so much about?  We hear that logic all the time.  Shoot, I say it!

Sometimes it’s said in all sincerity.  Other times, though it’s self-serving and the cause will be forgotten as soon as it’s no longer expedient for the person to show concern for it.  John clearly thinks that Judas is insincere.

Jesus has a different response, though.
“Leave her alone,” he says, “She bought this in preparation for my burial.  I’m about to die.  Soon, I’ll be gone.  You will have plenty of time to help the poor.

So, we can see there’s another way to look at the question.  Sometimes you just have to put your lists of pros and cons aside.  You do whatever you can for the needs of the person right in front of you.
You make sure this person you love, this person who has changed your life and loved you like no other, you make sure they will get a proper burial.  You make sure they know just how much you love them and care about them before they face the hardest thing they’ve ever done.  You give them the grace upon grace you have received.

And you don’t count the cost.  Because love is costly.

The Judases of the world think they can (and have to) hoard grace and then ration it out.  Give just enough so that the person can barely get by; nothing extravagant mind you:  Hamburger, not steak, or better yet, beans, not meat; powdered milk and canned vegetables, not fresh.  And of course, only those who are truly deserving and appropriately grateful may receive.  I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind.

Some even say that the great cathedrals and churches should sell their art and silver and use the money to help the poor.  And yet, even the poorest of the poor can go to those churches and be moved by the beauty of the great masterpieces; they can drink form a silver chalice.  They can transcend the deprivations of their everyday existence and for a time, be as rich as a king; they can dwell in the kingdom of God.

Perhaps, instead of keeping art and beauty in private spaces, we can look for even more ways to make them available to all.

Grace can’t be hoarded. Love that is rationed isn’t love at all.

Jesus responds to Judas, “you will always have the poor among you.”  In fact, if we want to find Jesus, the best place to look is among the poor; that’s where he’ll be.  Too often, his statement is used as an excuse to do nothing for the poor or to alleviate poverty.  Some almost take it as a commandment that the poor are meant to be poor.

A better understanding would be, you will always have opportunities to help the poor.  Or even a commandment, keep the poor among you, so they are not forgotten; so that we can know them as our neighbor to be loved and treated with dignity as fellow human beings.

There’s still more to Mary’s extravagant act of love.  Anointing Jesus feet and wiping them with her hair foreshadows Jesus on the night he is betrayed.  He, too, will be at dinner with his friends, the disciples.  He will get up from the table and wash their feet and wipe them.   We’ll experience the rest of that story during Holy Week.

Mary’s expression of extravagant, costly love gives us a tiny glimpse of the abundant, extravagant, luxuriant, tangible, costly love of Christ.

 

 

How did I end up envying pigs?!

Preached on 31 March 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
The fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C

How did I wind up with the pigs? Envying pigs?

Looking from the outside, and with hindsight, we can see a number of factors that might have landed him in that situation.

  • There is a famine in the land. This one is completely out of his hands.  There are, most likely, lots of people who are hungry and suffering.
  • No one helps him. Well, that’s not entirely true, the pig farmer gives him a job – but it’s not enough of a job for him to feed himself.
  • He is a stranger in another country. These are not his people; He doesn’t have any connections in this place.  He is separated from his family, his friends, his community.  And
  • He spent all his money. He has nothing left.  “It’s his own fault.”

Any one of these can be disastrous, Add them all up, though, and here he is, envying pigs.

But then, then he comes to his senses; he comes back to himself.  He remembers who he is.  He is still his father’s son.  So, he works out a plan to get himself out of this situation with the pigs.  He knows just what he will say to his father.  Is he sincerely repentant?  Or is he planning how to manipulate his father?  At least he’ll eat.  He won’t be hungry and he can leave the pigs behind.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

His father is probably still grieving the loss of a son, but is living in that limbo of not knowing.

The father wonders, How is he?  Is he ok?  Is he happy?  Is he dead?  Has he married; are there grandchildren?  Will I ever see him again?
There is no mention of his wife, their mother.  Is he widowed?  Does he worry that he has failed her?  That he has failed his sons?  Does he beat himself up with “if only’s?”  And all along, he exists in the darkness of not knowing, of waiting, hoping.

Back at the ranch, there’s also the brother.  I wonder, does he miss his brother who left?  The brother he grew up with, played with fought with, maybe stuck up for and took care of after their mother was gone; the brother who knows his secrets and how to push his buttons; the brother who shared his life with all its joys and sorrows, troubles and celebrations.  The brother who knows him better than any other human being is gone.  Or were they already estranged before he left?

Does he resent him from the moment he walked away?  He’s had to do not only his own work but at least some of the brother’s work as well.
Does he wish he could have gone with him?
Or that he had thought of it first?

I wonder if the father and son comfort one another and help each other through?  Or do their grief or anger or resentment or any of the other complicated emotions create a wall between father and son?

How long have they already been waiting when the son finally shows up?  He’s all prepared with his speech.  He’s been planning the whole scene out in his mind.  But what he isn’t prepared for is his father’s welcome.  He’s overwhelmed.  His father doesn’t even let him get out his well-practiced plea.  If he isn’t sincerely repentant when he arrives, he may be after this welcome.

Of course the father wants to celebrate!  He rejoices that the son he lost is okay, he’s back.  Who wouldn’t?

But why didn’t he send word to his other son so that he could see his brother; so that he could join the celebration?  By the time he gets home from work, the party is well underway.  No wonder he feels resentful!  The parable tells us his father pleads with hm to go into the party, to join the celebration.  But it doesn’t tell us whether or not he does.

Is this a parable about repentance?  It never uses the word, although the previous two parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin do.  Is it about grace?  Forgiveness?  Is it about estrangement and reconciliation?  Or is it about the character of God?

Jesus tells this series of parables to Pharisees and Scribes who are grumbling about who Jesus hangs out with and eats with: tax collectors and Sinners; the “wrong sort” of people.  Jesus is driving at a point; a point that makes them uncomfortable at best.

What does this parable say to you, especially on this fourth Sunday in Lent; Rose Sunday?  How does it touch your life?  Does it move your heart?

What does it call you or inspire you to?  Gratitude?  Generosity?  Repentance?  Forgiveness?  Reconciliation?  To reach out to others?

Familiar stories can lull us.  We’ve heard them so many times and we’ve heard so many sermons on them, what more can be said?  They could be a comforting bedtime story.  That’s what we want from Jesus, isn’t it?  Comfort and reassurance.

But parables are intended to shock the listener, even offend – especially those of us who may think we are good: we go to church and do what is right; follow the teachings of Jesus, well, within reason.  We may even use them to judge who’s in and who’s out.  And then along comes a parable that upends what we think we know, if we’re paying attention.

I mean, we would never end up envying pigs!
Could we?