God in Full Sprint; march 7

I was in Israel a few weeks ago touring the sites and meeting the people of Israel/Palestine. Our group was schlepped around the country in a coach bus driven by a Palestinian Christian man named Maurice. On one of the mornings, our bus pulled over to the side of the road. Maurice jumped off, ran to one of the nearby shops, and sprinted back to the bus holding two large bags of fresh bread that would be our lunch. Heads turned to watch this grown man sprint back to the bus, bread in hand. Marlin, our guide for the trip, made the observation that for Maurice to run in public on our behalf was a great act of service and humility. Grown men do not run in Maurice’s culture.

And so on Sunday, when Bob read about a man running down a road toward his let-down-of-a-son, I saw Maurice.

The story is the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). A man’s youngest son flies the coop with as much cash as his father will permit, and the father has to live for years with neighbors who whisper about his disappointment of a child, his sorry excuse for a son, just loudly enough that he catches the gist of their judgment. The father loses sleep and prays late into the night.

It is clear that the younger child has disavowed his role as son. His ‘squandering’ of the estate on sex and booze is obvious offense. It is less obvious that the oldest child also forsakes his role as son. He is found with the hired hands. He is tired of his father’s prayers for the lost child because there is work to be done. There are fields to tend and crops to turn into cash. And when the youngest son comes back it becomes clear that this poor eldest boy is just as confused about what it means to be a child of the Father as his younger brother. Henri Nouwen, in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son writes, “There are many elder sons and elder daughters who are lost while still at home.” Perhaps this is why the story of the prodigal is so poignant even in its hundredth reading.

Maybe today you are the eldest child, working too diligently to lift your head and notice the Father’s proud smile.  Or perhaps today you are the youngest child, convinced you are better off on your own. We are all both prodigal and eldest, running in every which way. Morning after morning we must remind ourselves that God is like a Palestinian man sprinting down the road towards you, wanting to call you child, wanting to hold you forever.

Bob said it this way on Sunday, “We are those whom the Father will not let go of. That is who you are.”

Why So Mad? January 31

We began with a crowd smitten by Jesus. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” The passage ends with the same group being “filled with rage” to the point that they escort him to the edge of their cliff-side town and, had things gone their way, he would have been dashed on the rocks below.

On Sunday, my mind was drawn towards the masses gathering in Iowa and New Hampshire. Crowds speaking well of their favorite candidates and wanting to hurl their opponents off a cliff. An election year makes everything seem so imminent, doesn’t it? The world is closing in on us and we have to get our man or woman into the White House or else the conservatives will ruin the progress we’ve made, or our country will continue down the path towards ruin…or insert whatever flavor of fear mongering fits your fancy.

Or perhaps the frantic politics are simply a distraction for a much more personal anxiety that can become especially haunting in the cold of February. Present set backs make future prospects bleak.

On Sunday, the lesson from Luke featuring the erratic crowd was paired with Paul’s famous sonnet on love from 1 Corinthians 13. The people in Corinth were at each other’s throats and were using their gifts out of fear. Paul tells them to breathe deeply and play the long game.

 

Love is patient, Paul tells them. It endures all things. It never dies. It is in for the long haul. It keeps no record of wrongs. It does not overreact or become frantic.

Love is not the fickle crowd.

The group in the synagogue has a habit of adoring Jesus and then turning on him. They’ll crown him with gold one minute and thorns the next. But unlike modern candidates, Jesus is never upset when his poll numbers plummet. In fact, he often seems to work hard at losing the favor of the crowd. Just as they are ready to hit the pavement and campaign for him, he brings up Namaan the Syrian and the widow of Zarapheth, which Pastor Bob pointed out is the equivalent of telling the Israelites that he plans on stumping for his enemies too.  The kingdom Jesus came to establish went far being the nationalistic ideal the Jews had envisioned.

It was a patient, enduring, never dying, good news for your enemies, in it for the long haul, keeps no record of wrongs kind of kingdom. It was the kind of kingdom that is not given over to populist swings. It is a kingdom of steadfast, sure, clear-eyed love.