Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Preparing for the Prodigal Son

I was around seven years old when my family made our usual pilgrimage to the local Kmart to hunt and gather our necessary provisions.  At some point in that trip that flashing blue light special lured me away from walking next to my parents.  I am still convinced that strobe light had a hypnotic effect upon you, messing with your mind that of course you needed two towels for five dollars, what a deal!  In my case, I was distracted by a display of stuffed animals.  When trance I was in wore off, my mom and dad were gone.  I glanced down nearby aisles.  Nothing.  I walked to a different department, no parents.  I started to scramble around the store, but my family was not in sight.  My child-like wisdom I decided my best option was to pace nervously in front of the customer service desk because I was too shy to go up and tell them I was lost.  So back and forth, back and forth, like a human yo-yo, until one of the workers noticed this strange, peculiar, poor child.  I can still hear the speaker booming, “Paging Mrs. Bixby, Mrs. Bixby to the front counter please.”  The relief that washed over me when I was reunited is actually relived within my life when I find myself today lost trying to find someone’s home.  Or staring at the map in an unfamiliar city trying to get my bearings straight.  The experience of being lost is one we all share.  Each person has a story.  And each of us also know those moments of going astray, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.  Moments when God feels as distant as the dwarf planet Pluto.  Times when a relationship that was meaningful suddenly ends.  Instances when I say and do the very thing I did not want to say or do, suddenly I am lost without ever leaving my familiar surroundings.
          The passage today tells us two stories of being lost.  First, one about a sheep.  Second, one about a coin.  The set ups are strikingly similar.  A shepherd has lost one of the herd, leaves the rest, and goes to search out the sheep that has gone astray.  In the second, a coin has been misplaced, so a woman lights a lamp, sweeps high and low for that missing money, until it is found.  In both parallel narratives, the culmination and conclusion is to throw a party when that which was lost is finally found.  Yet, behind and beneath these narratives are some peculiar realities.  First, in the sheep, the image is of the shepherd leaving instantly and immediately in the wilderness.  Have you ever wandered what about the other 99?  Sure, we might rationalize that the shepherd left the rest under the care of another or made sure they were safely in a pen.  But what if, it really is as foolish as it sounds.  To leave 99 sheep alone is like leaving 99 Jaguars with the keys in the ignition running in downtown Sarasota.  It is amazing the leaps our minds sometimes make.  Because I believe that all the parables are meant to leave us puzzling and shaking our heads in disbelief, I tend to lean toward thinking that maybe one of the points of this parable is the foolishness.  Just as my seven year old mind in that midst of that moment of lostness perhaps did not make the most rational choice, perhaps it was so with the shepherd too.  Or consider the woman who lights a lamp to find a coin.  Ever consider that the woman is wasting one resource (oil) to find another (coin)?  In burning the oil of the lamp the net of her actions was actually a deficit.

          I love the truth that at the end of both, the shepherd and woman throw a party.  As if to say, Let’s celebrate my irresponsibility that I lost a sheep and coin.  But maybe there is a truth inside this parable about leadership and even being the church.  I am susceptible to watching the bottom line, to making sure that the math adds up, to counting costs and being mindful of everything within the church.  I have been taught that is what a leader does.  But maybe a faithful leader in the church needs more than just the occasional moment of foolishness.  To say, “Let’s celebrate that I am learning from that thing I did last Thursday.”  To say, it is only by the grace of God that I even am standing here today.  Or to really let the wisdom of our ancient ancestors take hold of our life when they wrote, work as if it is all up to you, but pray as if it is all up to God.  This human condition of being lost has been with us since our earliest ancestors, we are all east of Eden, no matter what our actual address may be.  Along with being lost, we often feel insecure and afraid and uncertain.  And we are surrounded by the pushes and pulls, advertisers that say, just take another trip, just swipe the credit card, and that insecurity will melt away in your brand new car.  But once the smell has worn off, we realize that the uncertainty and lostness is now sitting right next to us in the passenger seat.  So, I keep returning to truth that my soul is restless, wandering, lost until I find my rest and home in God.  I continually remind myself that I cannot consume my way to completeness, but can be open to the goodness of God’s presence around me and within me day by day.  I still remember that after I was reunited with my parents that day in an Iowa Kmart, I ended up getting one of those stuffed animals, but more importantly that moment forever taught me what it meant and felt like to be at home and peace.  I pray we will all sense more than trace of that kind of grace this day.  Amen.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


One word dances off the tip of our tongues...
One word fills the air and delights the heart...
One word contains more in its eight letters than eight thousand sermons.

We cannot confine our joy, hope, laughter...
If anyone were to walk past...they might think we are filled with new wine.
If anyone were to ask for reasons or rationale...we would grasp for words.
We cannot justify or codify or prove.
We can simply embrace and be embraced by a mystery that is found in one word.

May the joy of this Easter fill your life with a peace that surpasses understanding.
May the promise of this Easter linger.
Let Easter be more than a day...let it be a verb that takes hold of your thoughts,
your whole being.
With a truth we know as,

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Silent Saturday

Silence is more like the language of God.

And the word became flesh...and through preachers we turn Christ back into words.

Be still and know that I am God.

In the frazzled, fast-pace, noise polluted world of words...
Facebook posts
CNN with five news crawls all vying for our attention
Snap chat
Photos posted sent
We swim in a chaos of words.

But today we stop.
We wait as the women waited on the Sabbath centuries ago.
Words will not cooperate.
There is no speechifying that can justify death.
There is no pontificating that can explain the pain or hurt.
Sometimes we just need someone to cry with us...even for us.
To be.
To be.
Just be today.

Friday, March 25, 2016

God's Friday

Silence filled the air.
Except song of a dove over head.
A bird that had once descended at Jesus' baptism.
A bird that had brought the good news,
"This is my son, my beloved, listen to him."

He taught us.
He laughed with us.
He healed us.
He cared and loved us.
He ate with us.
He challenged us.
He changed our whole lives.
He saved us.
He was the echoed response to "Hosanna".

And then, people who were threatened by love, peace, joy, transformed lives, challenge and change
decided, Enough!
They did not understand his ministry.
They did not see God's love embodied in him.
They refused to notice and name the spirit stirring.
Instead, they hung him on a cross.
And at the foot of the cross a solider said...
perhaps sarcastically or faithfully or somewhere in the messy middle,
"Surely this was the Son of God."

Those same words spoken when Jesus was baptized.
That song of the dove knew that Good Friday,
God's Friday,
was not a period
or exclamation mark
or even a question mark...
but a comma...still more
still more,

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lent: Prayerful and Intentional

Ordinary and every day.
Sometimes used for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Sometimes dipped in steaming bowls of soup.
Sometimes stale and thrown out to the birds.

Extraordinary and special.
Sometimes toasted at a party.
Sometimes shared with friends.
Sometimes overused to numb the pain.

Drenching our forehead where forty days ago there was ash.
Dripping down our face like Your love.
Descending toward our heart to remind us where You reside.

We can sing together.

We can open our lives.

For You to get a word in edgewise.

At the table, Christ invited us to a new commandment (Maundy)
To love as we receive Your love.
Not because we receive Your love.
Not to earn Your love.
Not to prove Your love.
But to step into a flow of life that is true life.
That kind of commandment can transform us when mixed and mingled with...

May it be so on this Maundy, holy Thursday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lent: Prayerful and Intentional

From crowds chanting and cheering, "Hosanna"
To a table littered with crumbs of bread and drops of wine
To a cross we can hardly stand to look upon
To a still, small, even silent sigh on Saturday
To glad, glorious, gusto-filled shouts of "Alleluia"
What a week God.

Let the full meaning of Hosanna, 
which means save us
redeem us
restore us
wash over us this week.

Let the full meaning of Maundy
which means commandment
love that is with us and for us
wash over us this week.

Let the full meaning of Atonement
which means at-one-meant
You with us always even in the valley of the shadow of death.
You for us even when we say boneheaded things and
Do the very thing we did NOT want to do.

Let the full meaning of the ancient wisdom,
"God's first language is silence"
wash over us this week.

We call this week, Holy...
Set apart.
Not compartmentalized as though this week does not have any truth to speak to us.
We know about betrayal in our lives...we went through middle school.
We know about desertion in our lives...when we felt down and out.
We know about denial in our we try to numb the pain with our addictions of choice.
Help us this week know that You are Holy even in our sometimes messy lives.
Help us this week experience Your grace.

Because if it is true here and now, this week.
It can be true then and there, every week.
So that every week can be Holy.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Lent: Intentional and Prayerful

Tables turned over
Chaos swirling as surprised screams and gasps filled the air.
Why so angry?
Why so un-Jesus like?
When our passion for equality and justice awaken within us, there are some tables that need to be over turned.

Some tables like inequity in pay between women and men.
Some tables like racism.
Some tables like homophobia.
Tables that still have too many people willing to pontificate the false pretenses of misunderstanding.

Turn the tables, O God, in my life.
Where I am so certain.
Turn the tables, O God, in my life 
Where I fail to speak the truth in love...feel sidelined by fear.
Turn the tables, O God, in my life
Where I need to be interrupted and disrupted by a grace I can neither control nor fully comprehend...

Yet that grace clings to me...
changes me...
challenges me...
confounds me...
Turns the tables from what is to what can be.

Turn the tables, O God, this day and this week readying my heart for the promise of resurrection life and light.