Reflection for Easter, March 31, 2013

This is the morning we dare to think that spring will come, and we will feel again the warmth of the sun and the nurturing rains of spring.

This is the morning when we gaze upon the graves our gardens and flower beds have become and we dare to think that plants will bloom and grow even in Wisconsin.

This is the morning when children look for eggs and contemplate the mysteries of bunnies and we make sense of the myths of spring to cheer our hearts and warm our hands along life’s way.

This is the morning when disciples of Jesus were more confused than anything by news that a tomb, where lay their Lord, was empty.

This is the morning when a woman comes to a garden and stands there grieving in hopeless sorrow.

This is the morning we sense something different is possible; that things may not always fall to pieces, but sometimes fall together.

This is the morning when women of sorrow go to anoint a body and wonder how to move those great stones that always seem to block our way to God.

This is the morning we lift up our sorrows and wounds and the wounded ones around us baking a fresh batch of hope, using a recipe of equal parts of confusion and the expectation that some things refuse to be understood and other things refuse to die.

This is the morning when we open that door tightly sealed by sorrow, fear, and loss, to discover that those things which had threatened to undo us are not as strong as we thought, that the tomb of woe is actually empty, and that we are free to lay those burdens down.

This is that morning when we can see the first decade of the third millennium, marked with terrorist attacks, wars, economic collapse, and political struggles: even that decade can also end as we decide to stop blaming people so that we might be born a new people working with those of different persuasions for justice, peace, and healing.

This is the morning when a woman wonders why even his body is taken from her, as she absorbs even more loss.

This is the morning when the simple words of a gardener or angel or those living still in our hearts or that one standing on the street corner remind us of the ways of God.

This is the morning when the grieving finally stop crying; when darkness, emptiness and grief start to pack their bags; when we sense that life will somehow come together even though the light is still too dim to see the contours of the possible.

This is the morning when someone hears her named softly called by God, and she knows that things will be alright.

This is the morning when our souls waken after a long winter sleep as we feel the ice melt in us.

This is the morning when we gossip with our neighbors not about the decline of life as we know it, but of life not yet known.

This is the morning of not yet believing, but beginning to sense, that life will not end in the grave, that our our tombs are empty and we shall all be changed.

This is that morning.

 

Reflection for Maundy Thursday, March 28, 2013

—This is the night when freedom is celebrated, as Jews throughout the world, in homes everywhere, with lamb and unleavened bread and wine and other ritual foods recall deliverance from their bondage in Egypt to the evil king and begin their journey into a promised land.

—This is the night when Jesus celebrated this Passover with his disciples, gathering together in a last fellowship meal before the impending confrontations.

—This is the night when we recall the breaking of Passover bread and the pouring of Seder wine as broken body of Christ crucified.

—This is the night when we recall in our own brokenness, that we stand in need of God’s grace to sustain us on our way.

—This is the night when we remember this bread and this wine and this meal are shared for the forgiveness of sin and the restoration of all creation.

—This is the night when we sense this Last Supper will lead to a first breakfast of hope, as we begin our journey of sorrow and joy.

—This is the night when we recall the life and teachings of Jesus that mold and shape us, calling us into deeper compassion and service as we sense God’s life in the lives of the suffering ones.

—This is the night when we give thanks for our commitment to service and for our partners in caring as we work together to be people of compassion and hope.

—This is the night when limitations, betrayal and disappointments in all relationships are recognized as we come into a new place of peace in our hearts, entrusting to God our fears and rages.

—This is the night when we recall the humility that dwelt in the heart of Jesus which we so need in order to accomplish the will of the one we follow.

—This is the night when we sense God shaping  us through growing awareness, repentance, forgiveness, renewal and restoration this Lenten season and in all the seasons of our lives.

—This is the night when we see the presence of all creation gathered in the fruits of the earth, this bread and wine shared, and hear the groans of all living things, yearning to be restored and redeemed.

—This is the night when we see in the shadows those who have gone before us in faith, those we remember and those nameless and known ancient ones, as we do as they call us to do in remembrance of the sacred trust we have been given.

—And this is the night when freedom is celebrated, as Christians throughout the world in their sanctuaries gather, where bread and wine are shared, and humble service is recalled in memory of him who gave his all, as we recall our deliverance from the hands of the king of evil as we continue our journey into a promised land.

Sermon for Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday is a Sunday of symbols: the palms that are waved with shouts of Hosanna. Donkeys, that most humble means of transportation, and the coats strewn in the road to cover the path. We might begin with a few words on each of the familiar symbols for this day:

Palms: Palm branches were waved in victorious processionals in the ancient Middle East and the Roman Empire. The palms of this Jesus parade would echo these victorious processional entries. They would indicate that Jesus’ entry might be construed as the entrance of a person or force in victorious conquest or at least opposition to the current authorities and empire.

Hosanna: The oldest root of this Hebrew word is save, or one who saves, or deliverer or redeemer or here is the one who overcomes the forces that destroy us. Shouted out, in its most primitive meaning, it meant save us. The word has the implications of the original Boston Tea Party. It is a shout with revolutionary undertones. The shout became associated with Messianic hope and was used in connection with the Messiah who would deliver the people from Roman rule.

Eventually it becomes a more general word of praise, shouted or sung in the psalms. Gradually it takes on the meaning associated with Alleluia: Praise be to God!  For us it is a shout of praise, but in the time of Jesus the word would have had political implications.

Donkeys: In the ancient Near East, as a dignitary approached a city from a distance far away, people would wonder whether or not the diplomat was coming in peace or in war. They would look down the road to catch a glimpse of the one approaching.  If the dignitary was coming in peace, a donkey was ridden as a sign of that humble, peaceful intent. If a horse were ridden, the intention was more assertive, warlike, aggressive, or demanding. In riding a donkey, Jesus indicates that he comes in humble peace, and that the kingdom and cause he represents is marked by humility rather than violence.

Coats strewn on the road: The coats strewn on the road are perhaps very similar to our current use of red carpets at award ceremonies.  In this period the path of dignitaries and royalty is covered with something that denotes a special processional entrance and deepest respect.  A path is being created for the one honored. Probably the coats created a moving carpet as the procession entered the city; those last used by the donkey were placed in the front. The moving carpet of coats would have lifted up the importance of the coming of this messianic figure with royal implications.

The four symbols together create a complex stew of meaning. Jesus is highly honored by this victorious processional, and the words and symbols used by the people challenged the religious and political authority of the temple and the empire. And at the same time, the symbols speak of a humility and peace that make the entrance of Jesus more difficult to interpret in his time and our own.

Further, the symbols are laid upon an event: an entrance into the city at the time of its festival.  The processional is part of the gathering of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem at the time of a Passover, a big festival event involving many people gathering on the roads into Jerusalem. The palm processional of Jesus involved pilgrims from Galilee up north where Jesus was from, coming down now to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, with Jesus as their local champion.

As such the palm processional may have been a bit of street theatre, organized by the followers of Jesus from their base of operations in Bethany located just outside of Jerusalem. The symbols are used to create an event, a stir, a witness, an entry. And the entry is itself an important element as these symbols come together.

According to all of the gospels, what comes next is confrontation. What is entered is not only the city, but a period of challenge to religious and civil authorities. We get the impression that in this particular Passover Season, Jesus has come down from the north to challenge and confront the powers that be in Jerusalem. This confrontation and challenge leads to conflict and his violent death at the hands of religious and civil leaders, despite his peaceful donkey.

These symbols of Palm Sunday are but the first symbols of a deeply symbolic week that includes such things as a whip woven to drive out the money changers in the temple, some bread and wine that become the body of Christ, a lonely prayer in a garden, the overturned stones of a temple, thirty pieces of silver, a cross, and an empty tomb.  We will recall these symbols on Thursday, Friday, and Easter. These Palm Sunday symbols foreshadow all the symbols of holy week.

But today the symbols of palms, hosannas, donkeys, and coats raise up for us one basic question: how might the spirit of humility be victorious in our world and lives? This is a political question, for the palms, shouts, coats, and donkey are all political symbols. And as uncomfortable as I am with political interpretations, today we should talk politics I think: the palm processional politics of Jesus.

Please keep in mind, that I’m not all that keen on politics. I’m much more into other things. And I am not particularly skilled at politics, and have no deep insights into the political matters of the day. But there is this political base to Palm Sunday. And so we should talk a bit about that.

The politics of Jesus probably do not translate very well into our current political ways of thinking. We have republicans and democrats, liberals and conservatives. There may even be a few moderates left. But these are not terms Jesus would have found useful. The liberals of his day, the Pharisees; and the conservatives of his day, the Sadducees were usually dead-locked in intense dislike for one another. But both agreed that Jesus was their enemy, and needed to be destroyed.  So in Jesus we have someone who would confound both liberals and conservatives, even though today both groups would want you to think that God supports their cause.

Let’s see. It might go something like this. The important thing about a society or a nation is that it is a beacon of hope, wisdom, justice, and compassion for the world to see.  Such a nation would always be dedicated to peace and yet always call into question the uses of power. And such a nation would be willing to lay down its own life in witness to this hope and wisdom, justice and compassion.

Other nations, at first would ridicule this obviously weak nation, and may even take advantage of it. It would be rejected by many because it seems so impractical, and so counter to our usual understanding of the way the world works.  But in the end this national vision of what life can be like if people in neighborhoods, cities, states and nations loved one another – well, this national vision would prevail. The vision applies to cities, states, and contries. The politics of Jesus calls us to be such a political beacon.

This is so far from where we are in our current politics that I have no idea how we can get there. After all, I’m just a parish pastor. Give me a break here. But this is the political vision of someone like Jesus grounded in the deep prophetic tradition out of which he comes.

Should we care about the distribution of wealth and the benefits the poor receive? Of course, but ensuring the entitlements of its citizens is not the purpose of palm procession politics.  What would a church be like if all we did was focus on satisfying our members? Even if we take care of every citizen’s needs, the purpose of the state is not to care for its own. It is to be that beacon. We are too self-centered in our politics to be Palm Sunday people.

Should we care about the national debt? Of course, but we are way too interested in our money and the ways in which that is entrenched in our politics. We have become our own den of thieves as Jesus might say. The money isn’t the matter. Even if we become the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, the purpose of the politics of Jesus is not to make wealth, or facilitate it, or protect it. It is to be that beacon. We are too self-centered to be Palm Sunday people.

Should we care about national or homeland security? Of course, but when we are so engulfed in security and war, and when we want to make guns a part of our daily lives; we will never be that nation of peaceful intent, to whom others turn, seeking to know more about what it means to be wise and just, compassionate and hopeful.  All others will see is our fears and our desire to protect ourselves and what we have. We are too self-centered in our politics to be Palm Sunday people.

To Jesus, and the prophets with whom he stands, the world is going to hell in a hand basket. And it can only be saved by a politics that moves beyond our entitlements, our capitalism, our warring ways, so that others may sense that here among us is dawning a new hope, a new compassion, a new justice, a new peace.

The politics of Jesus. You know, they accused Jesus of a lot of things. But no one ever accused him of being too practical. And he wasn’t. Today we have the politics of Jesus, not our own increasingly petty squabbles that disguise themselves as the important issues of our times. No the politics of Jesus call us in this town, in this state, in this country to be that beacon of love and hope, justice and compassion to and for all, in hope that the world might be saved.

The Lenten Journey V: Restoration

Awareness Repentance Acceptance Renewal Restoration 

How Does God Work in My Life?
Lenten Midweek Theme for 2013

As our meal ends, and before we move into worship, in the gathering space at our tables; we will consider questions regarding each evening’s dimension of the overall theme: How Does God Work in My Life, exploring five steps we take as God engages us: awareness, repentance, acceptance, renewal, and restoration.

 March 20: Restoration

Psalm 41:1-3
Happy are those who consider the poor; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. The Lord protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land. You do not give them up to the will of their enemies. The Lord sustains them on their sickbed;    in their illness you heal all their infirmities.

Luke 19:1-9
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.

Questions for Discussion
Tonight we end our reflections on the journey of awareness, repentance, acceptance, renewal by thinking about restoration. Restoration is the final step on this journey. It involves making amends and putting things right the best we can.

  1. In the story of Jesus and the tax collector this evening, how does the tax collector make amends for his behavior?
  2. What do you think motivates him? Is it fear or joy?
  3.  In the psalm there is a sense of justice and balance that comes with caring for those in need. Do you experience this balance in your own life?
  4. Sometimes restoration or restitution is a complex and highly charged issue in our society. Do you feel that sometimes more than an apology is needed for some things?
  5. Sometimes it is difficult to forgive when the person who wronged us does not seem to repent. Do you think that restitution needs to come before the forgiveness is complete? How would you describe this delicate balance?

Sermon for March 17, 2013

Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8 

I.

     One of the preserved memories of the last week of the life of Jesus regards a woman who anoints his feet with a costly ointment normally used for burials. The ointment is rubbed on the dead body to reduce the smell as the body decays. It was expensive. Funerals still are. The most primitive account of the story is in Mark 14:3-9. Mark places the woman’s encounter between the plot to kill Jesus and the arrangements made by Judas perhaps the night before the Last Supper. Matthew’s account in 26:6-13 is much the same.

The details of the story in both Mark and Matthew indicate that this took place in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. We do not know who the anonymous woman was. In both accounts the house was that of Simon the Leper. In the older Mark, those who object are bystanders. In Matthew they become the disciples. The rebuked woman is defended by Jesus. Yes, we can always give to the poor, but now and then we need to recognize the presence of death in life. It reminds me of Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings here at St. Johns. Usually on those days in the morning we distribute financial assistance to those in need. Last year we distributed $45,000 on those mornings. But occasionally we host a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday morning funeral.  On those days, we do not distribute to the poor. Our resources and space are used to host a mourning family and community. We will always have the poor to care for, but occasionally we pause to honor the dead.

The story ends with Jesus saying that whenever the story of his death is told, this woman will be remembered. When Mark was written, the story of the death of Jesus was being told over and over again in the funerary society meetings of women in cemeteries. In ancient Roman culture, when someone beloved died, a funerary society to remember the dead was formed by women.  In the first century, women met regularly in cemeteries to care for the dead and their graves, to host memorial meals right there in the cemeteries at which it was felt the dead were present, and to remember and recount  at regular intervals the life and death of their beloved.

Women were the ones who formed funerary societies. And there is substantial evidence that some of the first Christians were women who formed such societies to remember their beloved Jesus in memorial meals and rituals. And they would remember of course the very first woman who ministered to Jesus at the time of his death. She would have been very important to all of the women who belonged to the funerary societies. She would not be forgotten. The women in these funerary societies, probably balanced their resources, spending some on remembering the dead and some on caring for those in need: a tradition we have preserved since the time of these proto-Christian groups meeting sometimes in cemeteries or catacombs or in homes.

As usual, however, John changes the story substantially. John says it is not the house of Simon but the house of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, a story only found in John, and a character not present in Mark or Matthew. In Mark and Matthew the story comes during the last hours of the life of Jesus. In John the story is moved to before Palm Sunday. In John the woman is no longer the anonymous one who intuits the impending death and ministers to the beloved one about to die, but Mary, the sister of Martha. In the story of John, the general complaint becomes the specific whining of Judas. And we are given more detail about Judas than we would perhaps want, so that the focus of the story shifts far from the woman. By highly defining the characters, John enhances the intimacy of the faith. But he also detracts from the general and common nature of the followers of Jesus. In the end, John makes it more about Judas and the disciples and less about the woman or caring women who intuit that which is coming. Mark and Matthew say the woman will always be remembered. John forgets that phrase. By the time the story in John is constructed, men have started to take control of the church; and having a special, intimate connection to Jesus is a basis of authority. And in John, Jews like Judas are being blamed for the death of Jesus.

So here I am, once again really, wishing we had the story in Mark or even Matthew, but stuck with the story as recorded in John, probably because John’s placement of the story before Palm Sunday fits the Lutheran liturgical calendar better. Oh, well. I wonder though: is there a common theme in all three accounts of the woman anointing Jesus for burial that John does not muck up with his looseness with the details for theological purposes?

II.

     Perhaps. Once we peel back John’s preoccupations, we still have this story of a woman who is every woman and every man who grasps or senses that the one they love is going to die. Let me say that again. We have this story of a woman who is every woman and every man who grasps or senses that the one they love is going to die.

This sense of the coming loss of the beloved is one of the most profound, moving, and deeply sacred moments in life: this moment when someone senses, feels, understands, or intuits that the one they love is going to die. As a pastor, I witness this time in people’s lives in homes and hospitals, care facilities and hospice centers. There is nothing more touching than to feel or simply witness this entrusting of one’s beloved into the hands of God.

It is a time when all of our life together wells up in our hearts, and we are almost overwhelmed with the essence of what it means to have lived and loved as we encounter death in this way.  It is a time when we sense some doors closing and others opening as chapters of our lives are relived in our hearts.

In human history such moments have always called for ritual, for a simple and intense act such as anointing or closing prayers or rites. This is not an empty liturgy repeated Sunday after Sunday. Sensing the death of one’s beloved moves us to brimming prayer and anointing with the oils of life and death as a prologue to the liturgies of remembrance that will soon follow.

What we have in this story is a woman who is every woman and every man who knows now that shortly their beloved is going to die. In recognition of that great intimate shift that takes place in this heart in this moment, the rites of tender affection and care release the beloved into the hands of God.  This is the story in all its versions of that woman and all women who somehow now know the time is now close. And the story of this anonymous woman has been repeated through Christian history in, with, and under her ritual of tender farewell, intuited by those who love too deeply for the mind to understand. This is that story of this always significant moment in life. And no matter how well we care for the poor, no matter the names of the characters, or the ongoing plots of our lives, or the spun theologies of blaming, or the relative merits of those around us; we all know that we will not always have with us those we love.  This is that story, and this story could thus break our hearts. Unless.

III.

     Unless we remember that this is not the only story we read this day.  For other minds and hearts like Isaiah, that most ancient poet, and Paul, that most troublesome of apostles, other minds and hearts remind us that even in the desert of despair, even when hope is dried up, even when our lives are a shambles, even at the edge of the grave; God is accomplishing something new. That something new is both heavenly and earthly. For the dead we remember will live as Paul says. And as Isaiah proclaims, things can come back together for us and life can make sense again. It may take some time, but life both here and beyond will be reconstructed.

And so Jesus, knowing he is about to die, but knowing more fully the fears and hopes of the woman, ignores the complaints and the pragmatic demands of caring community, and simply understands her, cares for her, lifts her up, and lifts up the memory not of himself but of her bold liturgy of farewell. And ever since, we, who have called ourselves Christians, remember, as all is falling apart, that God is still with us, beginning something new.

 

The Lenten Journey IV: Renewal

Awareness Repentance Acceptance Renewal Restoration

How Does God Work in My Life? As our meal ends, and before we move into worship, we consider questions for discussion regarding each evening’s dimension of the overall theme: How Does God Work in My Life, exploring five steps we take as God engages us: awareness, repentance, acceptance, renewal, and restoration.

March 13: Renewal

Psalm 40:4-8
Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods. You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted. Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required. Then I said, ‘Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’

Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

Questions for Discussion
As we move through awareness, into repentance, and experience the loving acceptance of God, we come to an important aspect of this journey that is often overlooked. We may simply go back to the way we’ve been doing things, or we may be renewed with a thankful heart and new purpose. Tonight we focus on the sense of renewal that is part of our journey with God.

  1. In the Psalm, the writer says that God opens ear to God’s purpose and will and that this rather than sacrifice is the way we are renewed in our purpose and commitment. How do you think God speaks to us today?
  2. Part of being renewed in the spiritual journey is a sense of thankfulness. Why do you think we expect so much from God rather than approach God with a thankful heart?
  3. Can you think of times in your life when your sense of joy or perhaps commitment was renewed? How did that come about?
  4. What might be the best ways for us to express our gratitude as we continue our journey with God?
  5. Do you recall particular people who embody the grace of thankfulness? What do their examples teach us?

 

Sermon for March 10, 2013

Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

From now on.  These are the opening words of the second lesson today. And this is a good phrase for our deliberation. For all of these Bible stories speak of an event that takes place which changes things in a great way. And from now on things will be different.

I suspect that each of us has experienced a few of these transforming events. The birth of children changes family life. From now on things are really different. The death of someone close to us changes our world, giving us a from now on in which we live a new life. The coming together of good fortune gives us a from now on upon which we can build.  The decision to change or break a habit that is causing us trouble creates in our lives a from now on.

From now on. In the first Bible story, the event that builds the from now on is the crossing of the Jordan River in the book of Joshua. The people of God are entering the Promised Land. Having crossed the river, this is the very first encampment in the Promised Land after years of wandering in the wilderness after their slavery in Egypt. It has been a long journey into freedom and nation building.

Gilgal is where the Israelites camp their very first night in the Promised Land. It is here that they prepare for the coming battle of Jericho. Here they celebrate the Passover in the spring of the year for the first time in the new land. They stop eating the manna that sustained them in the desert, for they are now in territory that can sustain life.  From now on these people move from wandering into nationhood.

Gilgal has several possible meanings. Perhaps the most basic are “circle of stones, rolling stones, or stones rolled back.”  An ancient Neolithic circle of twelve stones is at this site. And the Hebrew interpretation regarding how these ancient stones came to be is recorded in Joshua.  According to the Hebrew legend, the twelve stones from the river were rolled into a circle to commemorate the place of circumcision of the twelve tribes to prepare for a new life in this new land. From now on the primitive stone circle is interpreted in a new way and given the new name.

Gilgal becomes a military base as the Israelites begin to occupy the territory. It is from this base camp that the battle of Jericho is planned and waged. Gilgal’s ancient stones also mark a sacred space, and Gilgal also became a place of worship and sacrifice.  Before long a temple is built here. For better or worse, life in the Promised Land for the Israelites begins at this point. The wilderness days are over, and from now on the people of God live in their new land.

From now on. This is the theme of the second reading. The event upon which the from now on is constructed is belief in Christ Jesus. When one puts on Christ, when one decides to accept the confidence, compassion, kindness, and justice which marks those who follow Jesus; one is changed, becomes a new creation. From now on we treat one another and others differently. From now on, we no longer live meaningless and empty lives, but live in hope and confidence, even in the face of death. From now on, we share with others the foundation of living well: confidence, hope, gentleness, and resolve for the good. One might say that for Paul, baptism into Christ is like crossing the Jordan River and living now in a new land. From now on, things will be different.

From now on. This story of the waiting father or the prodigal son is a famous story. So much could be said about it, and already has been. But note that this story too has a from now on. The event upon which the from now on is constructed takes place in a pig pen in a distant country. It is the awareness of the son, his decision to return to his father, seeking forgiveness.  From this point in the story, from now on, his life and the life of his family is shaped by that process we know as reconciliation. It is the process we have been working with all through this season of Lent on Wednesday evenings.  Awareness brings repentance, then forgiveness, then renewal and finally restoration. In every such journey there is a from now on that makes things different. And sometimes our journeys of reconciliation require many such moments of from now on.

In each of the stories there is an event upon which the from now on is constructed.  The engine of transformation and change, what drives our from now on’s is crossing over the threshold into the sacred presence of God’s grace and love. We see this most clearly in the story of the waiting, hopeful father, who rejoices in the return of the son. God’s graceful love of us gives us the power to conceive of a different life and then to live in the from now on rather than the way we were. And all of us, who have gone through a great change or changes, know that this love of God for us and our ability to trust in that love animate our lives in fresh and new ways.

Of course living from now on is not without its problems. The older brother is not yet onboard with the from now on thing, and is jealous, stuck in the way things were. Some things need to be worked out yet in the family. And regrettably, Gilgal becomes not a place of peace but a base of military conquest and eventual cultic corruption condemned by the prophets. Our from now on does not insulate us from misusing the graceful power with which we have been entrusted. And even the lofty language used in the second lesson to describe the power of from now on hints at the challenges of living with our sin and failures and the need for forgiveness over and over in the from now on’s we construct in our lives.

Still Gilgal, St. Paul, and a waiting father all call us to sense the thresholds of our lives, the rivers we cross, the new lands in which we find ourselves, the new things coming about in our lives. They call us to commit ourselves to living fresh lives. From now on things are and will be different.

The Lenten Journey III: Forgiveness and Acceptance

Awareness Repentance Acceptance Renewal Restoration
How Does God Work in My Life?
Lenten Midweek Theme for 2013

As our Wedmesday Evening meal ends we consider questions regarding each evening’s dimension of the overall theme: How Does God Work in My Life. We will explore five steps we take as God engages us: awareness, repentance, acceptance, renewal, and restoration. On the sheet at your table you will find the scripture passages for the evening that will be read in worship followed by questions for discussion at our tables. 

March 6: Forgiveness and Acceptance

Psalm 32:1-5
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Luke 7:36-50
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

Questions for Discussion
God leads with deepening our awareness of ourselves and our world. Regret and repentance for some things enters our heart. As we approach God in humility, we sense that we are not trapped in guilt and regrets. We experience the grace, acceptance, and love of God.

  1. When have you felt forgiveness in your life and what did it feel like?
  2. It seems like brokenness, sin, failure, and despair are such strong forces in the world and in our lives. Is it difficult to believe that the love, acceptance, grace, and forgiveness of God are greater than the evils that surround us?
  3. Lutherans generally believe that of forgiveness,  acceptance, or grace is the most important dimension of God. Would you agree?
  4. Sometimes it is more difficult to forgive than be forgiven. Is there something that you need to forgive or let go of or place in the arms of God?
  5. In both passages this evening the joy of experiencing acceptance needs to be expressed. It is not a private matter. Although Lutherans stress grace and love, we are less known for its public celebration. How might we express God’s love and grace more fully to others? How can we express joy in our worship and service?