Sunday, February 28, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
February 21 2009, Lent 1C (off lectionary—Reconciliation series)
I have two sons. One day, my younger son came and said to me, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So I divided all my property between my two boys. A few days later my youngest gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and walked the road toward home.
I had been looking out the window every day, so while he was still pretty far down the road I saw him and I was overcome with compassion; I ran out of the house, through the gate, and down the road. When I met him on the dusty road, I put my arms around him and kissed him on the cheek. Then my son began to say to me, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But I could barely hear him through my tears of joy, and I said to my slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And we all began to celebrate.
My older son was still out in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. The servant replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then my older son became angry and refused to go in. I came out of the house again and began to plead with him. But he answered me, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then I said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found. Please, come and celebrate with me.”
There is a story that floats around the email-chains every now and then—a story about a person who hurts other people. Now, I know that none of us are ever hurtful, and none of us are ever hurt by others, but consider the story anyway. This person used words and anger to wound—sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose. One day a pastor suggested driving a nail into the fence around the backyard each time they wanted to (or did) say something hurtful. Over time, the fence filled up with nails even as skill at restraining hurtful or manipulative words grew. Eventually, a time came when no anger let loose, no words flew, no temper was lost, and the pastor then suggested taking a nail out each time kind words were said instead. When that project was completed, the person and the pastor considered the fence together—no longer filled with weapons, but still scarred by anger and manipulation and hurt. It seems that forgiveness and kindness still don’t always erase the holes.
It seems we humans, particularly in groups—and even in churches!—have a real talent for hurting each other. And though we try sometimes to practice the forgiveness we know in Christ, or we feel we should make an effort to forgive and forget, we often forget instead the wounds and the sadness we inflict. And, on the other side of the fence, as it were, we sometimes nurse our grudges and continue to feel the holes, forgetting the damage we continue to do to ourselves and others when forgiveness is out of reach within our own selves.
Reconciliation—working toward wholeness—is never an easy task. Sometimes we can’t get to the whole for all the holes, sometimes we’d rather be wounded than do the work that leads to healing, and sometimes we haven’t even stopped to consider what nails our words and actions are driving in. Like the younger son who thinks of the possibilities, the places to go and things to see, who asks his father for his inheritance early. Translation: “I wish you were dead so I could live my own life the way I want. Since you’re not dead, how about you give me what will be mine when you die, we go our separate ways, and we live as though you’re dead?” There aren’t many more hurtful things we can hear after we’ve heard, “I wish you were dead—you’d be more useful to me than you are right now.”
But when the tables turn, and its time for the son to take the nail out of the fence by asking forgiveness, being meek and mild, groveling and hoping for a spot in the servants’ quarters but all the while knowing the gaping hole in the relationship would still be there…the father does something remarkable. While there’s still just a small form on the horizon, maybe even a mirage or a dust devil, the father RUNS out of the house, through the gate, and down the road. Before the son can speak a word, the father embraces, kisses, and calls for servants to start the party. By the time the son is led back up the road, through the gate, and into the house, he’s dressed in finery and the hamburgers are on the grill.
That doesn’t sound like the kind of forgiveness we’re used to. The way forgiveness works, right, is that someone apologizes for what they’ve done, asks for forgiveness, and then they are forgiven. This business of making a fool out of ourselves running through the street, shouting party plans over the apology, and literally welcoming home with open arms is not the kind of reconciliation most of us normally think about. But it is the kind of reconciliation we are called to—it’s the kind of welcome we have experienced and the kind of life God wants us to live. Sure, we could wait for the person who’s hurt us to come to the door, where we will receive them politely but not let them into the parlor. We can listen to the groveling, then sigh and say “it’s okay” even while we remember the hurt for years to come. We can shake hands for the camera but shake our heads in private. Or…we can be God’s compassion overflowing, poured out of the house, out beyond the fences, and down the road, love making a fool of itself for the sake of wholeness. Even when the older brother refuses to come inside, the father again lays it all on the line, again coming out of the house, pleading in a most undignified manner, overflowing the boundaries of propriety for the sake of a resurrection celebration.
That’s right—I know it’s Lent, but in some ways this is a resurrection story. The son lived as though the father was dead…and the son was in many ways dead, but now that we’ve come together, now that we have reconciled, we are both alive again.
This is what prodigal love does—it leaves its boundaries and runs out to make the first step toward wholeness. Prodigal love doesn’t forget—remember, the father says “my son was lost, and now is found, was dead and now lives.” But it also doesn’t nurse grudges. It doesn’t give different explanations of the problem to different audiences. It doesn’t forgive only after confession. In fact, it doesn’t even wait to be approached—it runs, overflows, fills, pours.
There is a zen proverb that says that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. And there is a line in a David LaMotte song, a song we will end worship with each week during Lent, that points out what may be obvious and yet is still so difficult, “there can never be any handshakes until somebody puts out their hand.”
Is it easy to make the first move, to run down the road toward the source of our hurt and open our arms wide? Obviously not. But we were never promised an easy calling. There is pain, right here in our community. Some of us have been hurting and others hurt, and in all of that God weeps, begging us to consider a different path. This path may make us look foolish, may cause some to call us naïve, may open us up to future pain…but it is the way of Christ. In Christ, God reconciled the world to God, and entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation. May our hope overflow, our compassion pour out, our love be prodigal as we run down this path through Lent and beyond to resurrection.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Sunday, February 07, 2010
7 February 2010
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
I don’t think I’ve ever been fishing—and if I have, I seem to have blocked the memory nicely. The way I understand it, most fishing involves sticking something small, wiggly, and slimy on a hook, throwing it into the water, and waiting for a fish to bite the hook, which I imagine must both hurt really badly and contribute to the fish’s death even were it to stay in its watery home. Using this kind of analogy, fishing for people doesn’t sound very pleasant—we’re going to toss out bait and then injure and possibly kill them in order to get them to come along with us? Thinking of a fishing net doesn’t make it much better—we need to entrap people and drag them across the lake and onto the shore? This sounds suspiciously like child trafficking in the guise of missionary work, or the slave trade in the guise of civilizing. So I have to admit that even with a more accurate translation, which is “bring them alive”…I still don’t really resonate with this metaphor Jesus seems to like so much. It seems like one of those things where you kind of had to be there, you know?
But I do resonate with the first part of the story. The part where we labor through the night, burning the candle at both ends, working ourselves to death as we row through the same waters, dragging that weight peculiar to empty nets, trying the same methods, the same ideas, the same places, the same programs, the same bad habits, the same people in leadership, the same styles of communication and the same boxes and nets that catch nothing in this shallow water.
And then we hear Jesus… “put out into the deep water and let down your nets.” But we’ve been over every inch of this lake, we’ve let down and brought up and dragged and pulled and we have come up empty handed. Why should we do it again? Why should we leave the shore and go out into the middle of the lake again, in the heat of the day, when the wind blowing from the heights is strong, when the fish are down in the deep? Why should we leave our comfortable place, the way we’ve always done things, and follow this guy? We’ve worked all night, our energy is drained, morale is low, and all we want is a rest. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe when energy picks back up. Maybe when some new people—or a new pastor—come. Maybe when schedules are less busy. Maybe when there are some stronger people to help pull in the nets, or when there are more people here. Maybe when we feel ready, worthy, prepared. For now, let’s stay where it’s safe, where we’ve been before, where we’re comfortable, here in the waist-high water. Why go deeper?
But Peter puts the boat out to the deep water and lets down the net. He takes a risk, a leap of faith, doing something that must have felt and looked ridiculous to these weather-worn, tired-out fishermen. But they had been listening to Jesus’ teaching, hearing his words and apparently taking them to heart. “If you say so, Jesus, I’ll row out there and let down the nets.” They have been changed by the message, inspired to follow his word, turned into people willing to leave the shallow water and cast the net wider than ever before.
And so I have to wonder: we’re here week after week, some of us more than once a week, and we hear the words and we listen to the messages and we sing the songs and pray the prayers and enjoy the community—but are we being changed, or are we just splashing in the shallow water? Are we so filled with Jesus’ teaching that we’re willing to take the next step—to go deeper, to try something outside our comfort zone, to keep going even though we’re tired and attendance is down and energy is low—or are we the crowd on shore that disappears when the sermon is over? Are we being made new by the living Word of God in our midst, or are we just tiring ourselves out working so hard at keeping the same things going the way they always have? Are we ready to row our rickety little boat out into deep water and cast wide the net and see what new thing might happen?
You heard in the story, right, what happened? They cast wide the net, out in deep water, in broad daylight, and caught so many fish the net couldn’t hold them—the knots were straining and the ropes were fraying and we can practically see the boat tipping and sinking as unimaginable abundance flows in. This isn’t just “a lot” or “a blessing” or even “a miracle.” This is net-breaking, ship-sinking, call-for-help abundance. God has literally burst the bonds we work so hard at tightening and mending. This is what happens—God answers our leap of faith, our willingness to be changed by the Spirit, with broken nets and sinking ships. Our safe, comfortable places will be no more. We will be out in the wild world, with Christ as our leader, casting wide the net of God’s love and grace, God’s vision of peace and justice…and who knows what might happen.
Or, we can stay on shore and head to bed and try the same thing again tomorrow or next week. What is the living Word calling us to do and to be? Will we allow ourselves to be transformed into disciples?
May it be so.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
I've been sick--I've had a cough since the Christmas Cold mostly went away. I'm down to just a slightly annoying cough (not unlike what I imagine high-maintenance 19th century girls sounded like), which is good, but still...well...annoying.
I've been trying (and failing) to be the TWO pastors everyone wants. I've been teaching 2 adult classes and confirmation class, trying new things and trying to maintain old things, coordinating, resourcing, helping, etc. I've been trying to work from home more because the amount of hours I've been spending in the church building is a little ridiculous.
And, to top it all off, it's WINTER--cold, gray, windy, snowy, icky blah dark WINTER.
So is it any wonder I’ve been contemplating lately the meaning of the word “exhausted”? I know we bend the English language to our own purposes a lot…and we say “I’m exhausted” and mean that we’re really tired. But are we “exhausted”? Doesn’t exhausted in other areas mean depleted, empty, finished, used up? Resources are exhausted, time is up...
Here's hoping I'm just tired!