The Waiting Father and His sons, One a Wastrel and the other Worthy

Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15) leaves plenty of room for Midrash, the Jewish word for imaginative exploration of the scripture.

Once the wastrel son left to squander his wealth on whores and cheap wine, the father took up his daily watch out by the mailbox looking down the gravel road for a telltale sign of dust.  That he neglected the farm should not surprise us.  In a previous story Jesus told of a shepherd who neglected his flock to search for a lost sheep who showed no inclination to come back to the flock.  The father wasted every day out by the mailbox while the older son had to take over running the farm, overseeing the shepherds, and the olive orchard workers and those the picking of grapes, the olive press and wine vat.

No wonder the son was ticked off when the father killed the prize 4-H calf to celebrate the return of the good – for – nothing.  Don’t you get ticked off at those people who wouldn’t be caught dead in church until they are dead?  And yet God cares for them and died for them?

What was the relationship in that family after the son returned?  Did he buckle down to work even though he had already received his slice of the inheritance?  Or did the father restore his rights to a piece of the future even though it meant the faithful worthy older son would get less?

The story is open ended.  Where do we find ourselves in this story of grace?   Rachel Held Evans writes in her book “Inspired,” that the Bible rarely behaves as we think it should and I would add, nor does God.  

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My Favorite Hymn

I told Becky as the organist introduced the hymn.  I told Lisa Durham and Brenda Schultze, when Lisa pulled on my sleeve as I waited to go to the communion rail. I told the Vicar standing in the not warm spring sunshine as I left the church. “We sang my favorite hymn today, Now the Silence.”

The wedding of Jaroslav Vajda’s words and Carl Schalk’s tune makes for an expression of musical joy in its “Peculiar meter.”  It’s music good for dancing. We sing it far too seldom.

Now the silence Now the peace Now the empty hands uplifted

Now the kneeling Now the plea Now the Father’s arms in welcome

Now the hearing Now the pow’r Now the vessel brimmed for pouring

Now the body Now the blood Now the joyful celebration

Now the wedding Now the songs Now the heart forgiven leaping

Now the Spirit’s visitation Now the Son’s epiphany

Now the Father’s blessing Now Now Now.

Not only that, it was followed by Johann Franck’s hymn, “Jesus, Priceless Treasure.”

Not only that, we did a rare thing in the church in this day, we started the on the first page of the Divine Service, ended on the last page and did everything in between.

Big excitement this morning for this old preacher as we with joy drew water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:1-6)

Chewing our Cud

I should probably check with my brother Wayne on this, but if a farmer wants his cattle to grow and produce, it’s best that they don’t have to use up energy searching for grass.  It’s best if a browsing cow can nibble constantly on lush pasture until its stomach is full, then lies down regurgitates what it has eaten and chews “meditatively” on its cud until the cud is fully assimilated.

In down-to-earth Hebrew, to meditate is to chew one’s cud.  That’s a helpful image for a person to carry out Psalm 1. “Oh, the joys of those who…delight in the word of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.”  To constantly graze on the word is to fill oneself with the goodness of the Lord.  As psalm 34:8 invites, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!”

In whatever way we choose to graze, one verse, one chapter, the discipline of a reading program, printed devotions, a hymn, or in prayer; whether a psalm or story or a letter of Paul or Peter, nibble away.  Then mull it over, regurgitate it until it becomes fully assimilated.  As my favorite prayer suggests, “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.” Look to the cow as an example. 

If Only

On this day in 1886 John Pemberton brewed his first batch of Coca Cola in his Atlanta backyard.  On May 8 it was for sale at Jacob’s pharmacy sold as a patent medicine.

As the story was told by Becky’s grandmother Ethel Silsby, when she, Ethel, was 4 years old her family visited Atlanta and toured the Coca cola facility. This would have been before the turn of the century.   Her father had an opportunity to invest in this new drink.  He was hesitant and said, “Give some to Ethel.  If she likes it, I’ll be interested.”  Ethel took a drink and didn’t like it. End of story.

Is the Living Water Blocked in our Inner Well?

Etty Hillesum was a Jewish writer who lived in eastern Netherlands and wrote a series of diaries from 1941-1943.  She largely ignored the German occupiers in her writing.  But in 1942 Jews were forced to wear the star of David.  She died in Auschwitz on Nov. 30, 1943 at age 29.  The following quote is from her diaries.

“There is a really deep well inside me.  And in it dwells God.  Sometimes I am there too. But more stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath.  Then God must be dug out again.”

That is something to think about as we look at our relationship with God.  Etty was onto something if we read her in the context of Jesus conversation with the woman at the well.  Remember he said, “The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Etty is right, there is a deep well within us where Christ dwells as a fountain gushing living water.  Perhaps Lent is a time to dig out the blockages we have thrown into the well within us hindering the water of life from quenching our thirst for the living God. (Ps. 42:2)

Two Owls

An owl was hooting on a pine branch above my car

Another owl was hooting on a branch afar

With a whoosh, two owls were sitting on the pine

 branch above my car

Neither was hooting

They were cuddly cooing.

When Bad Things Happen

When bad things happen, we like to know, why?  The school shooting last year in Florida continues to claim victims, 134 are reported massacred in Mali.  And so, it goes, storms, violence, almost daily thoughtless killings in our cities.

In the Gospel lesson in Luke 13, Jesus is interrupted for the second time during his sermon.  Someone in the crowd asks about Galileans who were sacrificing, likely during the Passover in the temple in Jerusalem, when Pilate moved in with troops and massacred them, their blood mingled with the blood of their offerings.  Why?  Were they greater sinners?  What of the eighteen people killed by a tower which collapsed?

In both situations, Jesus tells his listeners that its not a matter of who has the greater sin and deserved their violent or tragic death.  No, Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.”  We all have failed to live up to God’s standards.  We all need to turn toward God and ask for his grace.  We cannot depend on our own rightness, because it’s tainted by our wrongness.  We can’t claim we are better than those other folks, because we all are going to die, it matters not how.

 Jesus was going to Jerusalem. He too was a Galilean.  He too would die at the hands of Pilate during the Passover.  Did he deserve his death?  Pilate, himself declared, “I find no guilt in this man.”  Yet, he handed Jesus over to be crucified, his blood mingling with his self-sacrifice.  Upon his death, the centurion declared, “Certainly this man was innocent.”

It’s not a matter of why bad things happen to people.  It’s a matter of turning toward the one truly innocent One who died that God might declare us innocent.   

Victim of a Cruciverbalist

No, I don’t mean someone talking about Jesus crucifixion.  That is the core of the Christian faith.  Jesus was the victim in that case enabling me to be the victor.

I mean, the people who put together the New York Times Sunday Crossword puzzle, usually edited by Will Shortz.  Those cruciverbalists frustrate my Sunday afternoons and evenings week after week.

Years ago, I called on a church member working on the puzzle while in the hospital.  She said, “I go through the puzzle trying to get a toehold.”  Today my toehold was “yip” from the clue, “Chihuahua’s sound.”    That led to “tps” from “Decorates” on Halloween, say.”  Together they formed an upside down cross or T, if you like.

But I haven’t gotten much beyond that today.  I may have to declare, as I do too often, “If you’re going to make the puzzle so hard, I’m just not going to do it.  Ha! Take that!”

God be Merciful to Me

It was during confirmation instruction with pastor Walter Braem, that in the summer of 1954 at age 13, that I discovered three words which I love not only for their meaning but for their sound.  God is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient.

The hymn we will sing as our confession begins, “To Thee, omniscient Lord of all.”  Oh, oh!  God knows every thought, word and deed I have done during the 604,000 seconds of this week and every moment of the more than 4,000 weeks I’ve lived. The end of each stanza of the hymn tells me what to say in the light of God’s omniscience, “O God, be merciful to me!”

Immediately following our plea for mercy, we acknowledge, “O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy.”  Wow, God’s glory is always to have mercy.  Giving us the opposite of what we deserve, giving grace.

Then the prayer goes beyond myself. “Be gracious to all who have gone astray from Your ways and bring them with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Your word.”  All those people who hold moral positions that are inimical, be gracious.  All those people who have abandoned Christ, be merciful. When I want to condemn people or groups and tell the world how wrong they are, rather than pray for them, be gracious to me and lead me to have a penitent heart.

We pray this for all, including myself, “through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.”  And all God’s people said, “Amen, let it be so among us.”

God Acts on His Displeasure with David

In 2 Samuel 12, we learn what God intend to do over his displeasure with David’s power grab of Uriah’s wife and the murder of her husband.  God sends the preacher.  Pastor Nathan tells David a story about a rich man who had large flocks and herds and a poor man who had one ewe lamb.  The ewe lamb held out the prospect the start of a herd of his own.

But the rich man, rather than taking one from his own herd to feed a visitor, instead took the poor man’s lamb.  David, said, “that guy ought to die and give the man four ewes as replacement.”

I imagine pastor Nathan quietly saying, “You’re the man.”  Eventually when David admits his horrible actions, Nathan tells him that God has already put those away.   But there would be consequences.  Trouble and violence would be an ever- present reality in his life.  Though David acted secretly, these things would be in public.

And so, it was, the child died, though Bathsheba soon gave birth to Solomon.  But David’s son Ammon raped his half – sister, Tamar, who was the brother of Absalom.   Eventually, Absalom’s killing his half – brother in revenge.  Absalom became an outcast and as the years passed, he undercut David and David had to flee his son.  In the long run Absalom himself was killed.

This may not be an uplifting story.  But the bible is an honest book.  It doesn’t try to white wash the misdeeds of humanity.  The bible functions as a mirror.   Intending to lead us to throw ourselves on God’s mercy, which he has already provided for us in Jesus death and resurrection.  He has already put our sins away.  When we confess our sins on Sunday we will simply be claiming what is already ours, that is, God’s grace and mercy.