Posts Tagged ‘love of God’

Love – carelessly carefree

March 5, 2016

Why does Jesus tell this story?  There are no obvious ‘religious’ reasons; no lessons about sacrifice, no mention of God.  It is a parable; pointing to something at the edges of our awareness, and there is no one way to hear it; no single interpretation that satisfies.

Maybe that’s why Jesus tells it…

We would tell the story differently.  Dorothy, Luke, – Buddy the Elf – The Lion King – (Disney knows this story backwards and forwards)  Child feels misunderstood, so sets off to find their fortune – to change their destiny.  Along the way there’s trouble, comedy, heartache, disappointment for the child; anguish, self-doubt, (or occasionally, indifference) for the parent.  then the “aha” moment – a crisis averted by a dream or the discovery of some long hidden talent, a turn towards home, one final conflict with the last of the old prejudices, then: (a) happy / tearful reunion or (b) child takes parent’s place in the social order or perhaps (c) long flashback sequence causes child to realize they had what they needed / wanted all along (there’s no place like home)  end credits, fade to black.

Yes we would – we have – told the story differently, and to good effect,  but there is another twist that we are inclined to give this age-old tale; one that takes us in a different direction in our understanding of what justice is – of what love might be – and ultimately who God is (because that is why Jesus tells the story, isn’t it) – so let’s imagine for a moment what happens if dad says no?

What if, after this long walk home and after the well rehearsed, repentant speech, Dad says, “you’re absolutely right – you are not worthy to be my son.  There’s the door!  Hit the road!”  In past examinations of this parable, I have put myself in the prodigal’s place, I have considered the older brother’s complaints and I have tried to understand the father’s journey to joy – but what if it doesn’t work out?

If the father takes offence, and acts out of justice, and condemns this rascal to a life of servitude (at best) or abandonment and misery (at worst), who among us could complain?  The father could be excused for taking a stand, couldn’t he?  After all, there was mercy in his original decision to hand over the cash – to accept his son’s request, without question.  Some would say “That’s the love of a parent to their child; to offer them every chance and send them out into the world well equipped (or at least well financed…), and in recent times that has been held up as a method of parenting; provide what they need and leave the rest to them.  The notion that you should have to do that more than once is absurd.  Money doesn’t grow on trees, after all, and we are sure at some level that we are meant to learn something from our mistakes.  How does this open-armed welcome teach anyone a lesson?

When we are left to imagine (or enact) a modern version of this tale, we make it more complicated.  We have the parent struggle their way to forgiveness.  The younger son becomes a real rebel – an anti-hero whose only regret is that he didn’t ask for more, or start his program of ‘loose living’ sooner – (especially since, in the end, all is forgiven!)  In our arrangement of this parable, the elder brother is solid, dependable and boring – his objections have no venom; his dull faithfulness adds nothing to the story.  And the father becomes the fretful, self-doubting, philosopher who worries and wonders for most of the movie about what he might have done differently.

Our hunger for complexity has us ready to ignore the beautiful simplicity of this parable, and turn God into the father who says “no – once was enough” We imagine that God’s purpose is to teach us a lesson – to guide us to faith by our errors, our misery, our mistakes – and then, only grudgingly and once we have performed the proper ritual, can we return to the safety of the fold.

We would rather hear the father refuse an apology because we imagine that justice requires punishment; so says our legal system, our systems of government, our doctrines of war, and, unfortunately, our theology.  We can’t imagine a worthwhile lesson coming in such a straightforward manner.  All is forgiven, abundantly – the younger sons wastefulness – the elder brothers boring spite.  All these offences are buried by love; these relationships are completely refreshed by love, and that, says Jesus, is that.

Jesus tells this parable in just the right way – the father does what he does because he can do nothing else.  Love is not motivated by a desire to teach lessons or mete justice.  Love wants only to embrace its object. Love does not wait patiently for the apology to be finished, or perfect – love interrupts.

Love runs carelessly toward trouble; love mourns the stubborn pride that does not recognize the opportunity for celebration.  Love looks like that father in Jesus’ story, open-armed, open hearted, open-minded.

God’s love, Jesus doesn’t say…Jesus doesn’t need to say…is just like the love this father offers; love that is willing to wait; eager to share without expecting gratitude; always ready to comfort and above all, seeking to build relationship.  Thanks be to God for that love, which we will encounter as our Lenten journey continues towards Easter. It is that love that will sustain Jesus through his horrific Holy week.  It is that love that shines an unlikely light on the dark and dangerous cross, overwhelms death and rolls back the gravestone to overcome our hopelessness with life, new and abundant.  Amen.

Searched and known is better than ‘lost and found’.

January 18, 2015

Scripture offers us a variety of evidence of the mysterious persistence of God; bushes that burn but don’t burn up; visitors (to Abraham & Sarah’s tent) who make wild promises of new beginnings; visitations in dreams and visions, and here, a voice calling young Samuel from sleep to sudden wakefulness. Last Sunday was a reminder that God has a voice. this week, we discover that God (voice and all) is on a mission.
There are several ways to describe this mission – the most common being the theory of “God’s lost and found” – made famous in song and parable (see the Prodigal Son in Luke 15: 11-32). The suggestion in this “lost but now we’re found” attitude is that it’s all about us.; we know better, but we choose not to do better. We are willful and (sometimes) awful where devotion and obedience is concerned. And since we (humans) cannot be relied upon to be solid citizens, God occasionally rummages through the rubbish heaps and dark places and ‘reclaims us’. This may be true, but it doesn’t tell the full story. It presumes that God only looks when we have made a complete hash of our lives, or completely turned from our true purpose. In other words, God waits for us to fail, so God can rescue us. I’m not saying that doesn’t seem to happen, but it paints a slightly cynical picture of God as a redeemer, doesn’t it? (Think – “Amazing Grace’ lyrics) – Does God really sit and wait? wait to be called (in distress) wait until it’s almost too late, and then arrive in triumph (or judgement) to save the day?
In a word – NO.
Yes, we are encouraged to call on God in our distress, and to seek God when we are lost (though we don’t always do that, do we…) – but it’s not because God is waiting for us to act. God’s action is preventative – premeditated and entirely proactive. We are not God’s ‘lost and found’; we have been searched and known.
Samuel is drawn from innocent service to divine spokesman; why? because God reached out in the night, whispering his name and describing the judgement on Eli’s family that would hand Samuel the ‘top job’. Nathaniel is astounded that Jesus ‘saw him under the tree before Philip called him’. Is Jesus just more observant that most people (probably), or is this another suggestion of the desire of God to seek and know even those who don’t give much thought to the things of God…
But it is this morning’s Psalm that make the best case for what I’m suggesting – that God is constantly seeking us out; constantly reaching out to enlighten us and encourage us to acknowledge our own need of God’s presence etc. It has long been among my favourite sections of Scripture – full of images that resonate with my own search for the meaning of all this. The message of the Psalm is simple and elegant; you can’t run – you can’t hide – God is bigger (and smarter) that our desire to escape observation; there is nothing we do that God does not notice (uh-oh), and there is (ultimately) no reason for us to try to give God the slip. Embrace the notion that God want’s us more than we want God. No escape – deal with it.
Now, when I first came to this conclusion, I was terrified; who wouldn’t be afraid – The idea of ‘no escape’ from a being who seemed fierce about the rules of behaviour is not comforting if you spent any time at all on the wrong side of the rules (and there were so many rules) …
but our terror is unfounded – God’s purpose is not to possess us or intimidate us, or even to ‘keep us on the straight and narrow’. God desires relationship. God’s devotion to this relationship is inexplicable; Nothing the Psalmist has tried puts God off his trail. Why? Because the Creator knows his work intimately and completely; nothing we do that surprises God; and the only habit that can damage our relationship is our habit of trying to escape God’s notice.
Why do we think we can outsmart the King of Creation? Why does it seem like a reasonable idea to eliminate God from our thinking (except on Sunday morning during worship, when we feel we must think about God?) It is true, that one of the tasks of the church is to consider better ways to share the good news – but mostly, we talk about why people won’t come to us to hear what we have to say. When you leave this place, do you take the message with you, or do you return to a game of ‘hide and seek’ with God?
I know that people expect me to be ready willing and able to think about, talk about and care about the things of God all the time (You’re a minister, after all) – and I suspect that there are some who can’t believe that I actually enjoy it – but it is the task of all of God’s people (and we are all God’s people) to share the joy, the love and the wonder that we have discovered in our worship together. And it helps me to know that it is not my (our) job to ‘seek the lost’; God has been doing that all along – Our job is to recognize that God wants to find us.
If God knows us – and is actively seeking us – are we ever really lost? That is the good news, friends – a word of hope in hopeless times. It means that desire or ability) to change our ways (aka repentance) is not a condition of our God loving us or desiring a relationship with us (aka salvation)
Our desire to change – to turn from evil and seek God’s righteousness and peace – is a reaction to God’s great love for us in Jesus.
Lost? probably. Found? Eventually; but only because we are so deeply loved and so intimately known by God who will not – who cannot – give up the search for us.
Thanks be to God. Amen

Another Good Samaritan sermon

July 14, 2013

“Rabbi, how can I inherit eternal life?”

The question is a ruse – a trap – a blind that covers his real fear.

But Jesus is not fooled.  ‘What does Torah tell you?’

Always go back to the source, is Jesus’ motto.

Answers are given – satisfactory answers, according to the law –

according to the teacher.

Love God – Love your neighbour.  But, says the man….

There is an easy way, and a more difficult way –

and the easy way is hidden by his next question.

 

Yes, this is a parable about the power of love, and the kindness of strangers –

and yes, the ‘law’ that has been quoted is illustrated by this parable.

But what if there is more?

 

The priest and the Levite are held up

as grumbling, miserable self-righteous jerks, to be blunt.

They cross the road and don’t look back.

There is too much of the unknown in this situation –

For them, the chance is not worth taking.

 

The man may be badly wounded –

there is the very real danger of breaking laws of purity (and propriety)

by coming in contact with this dying stranger –

– maybe it’s a trap laid by clever criminals.

There are many reasons to avoid this life-lesson.

 

I have every reason to believe that when these two made it safely home,

they thanked God, hugged their wives, and were swarmed by their children;

ordinary people doing ordinary things – just like all of us.

 

We don’t take chances,

we don’t interfere where we may not be wanted.

we are afraid; and our fear keeps us safe.

This is not a tale designed to set the Jews against the Samaritans –

the fight was already ancient.  This story tells the truth about salvation.

 

Salvation is, first of all, about mercy –

even Jesus questioner recognized

that mercy was the principal quality of the man who stopped to help.

But mercy, in this case, comes from the most unlikely source –

it comes from the stranger – the enemy – the one we think has nothing to offer.

 

Too often, we are asked to put ourselves in these stories of Jesus –

do we walk by? Would we stop and “do mercy”?

Are willing to consider that we are wounded, broken, and waiting for help?

 

For in our time, we have stumbled and fallen,

and the last thing we expect is to be rescued by God –

God has been painted as a jealous and wrathful Master –

mercy is not expected, but mercy is what God is,

and mercy is what God offers in Christ.

 

The Samaritan is not troubled by robbers, or traps – why?

The common suggestion is that he is not bound by these religious notions

of purity and cleanliness, but that is misleading.

Every culture has their taboos – their obligations their innate fears.

There was, in Jesus telling, something about this man (who happened to be a Samaritan)

that would not let him leave a fellow human being in distress.

 

Mercy is the thing that reminds us ‘there but for the grace of God go I’;

Mercy that moves us to action

and helps us decide that this particular trouble cannot be ignored.

This is the same trait that moves God to seek reconciliation with humanity –

to tell a story in flesh and blood, and say to the world

‘I am found where you are hurting and troubled’…

 

Of course, the gospels say it differently:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens,

and I will give you rest.’  but Jesus suggestion is that mercy is very near to us –

that reconciliation is within our reach – that help is coming up the path.

 

It won’t be in the form we expect –

not dressed like a priest; not holy and proper.

God’s mercy comes in the form of a wandering teacher,

who was treated like a criminal, arrested, convicted,

and left for dead by the powers that be.

Until that glorious morning when the love of God set him free to rescue the rest of us.

 

We know the beauty and truth of God’s mercy.

We continually encounter people and places who need mercy grace and love.

Let us, in the name of Jesus, filled with the love of God, never tire of doing mercy