March 29, 2019

Found but Lost

The fifteenth chapter of Luke and the "parable of the Prodigal Son" have been for many years fertile soil for preachers and therefore familiar ground for congregations.  Indeed, the images are rich and memorable: the younger son insisting on cashing out his inheritance early; the whorish squandering of his monies in foolish Las Vegas living; a wised-up, sobered prodigal, down on his news asking for forgiveness from a father who has every right to judge.  He is we, our preachers have often said: We are each the Prodigal.  We are all saved by grace alone.

True enough. But a fresh reading of the whole of Luke 15 reveals that the oft-preached Prodigal Son story is actually a gateway narrative for the climactic story Jesus really wants to tell. It is the sad song of an older sibling, with its own provocative images: an embittered, resentful older son who stubbornly refuses to join in on the Prodigal's welcome home party.  While the DJ cues up the homecoming dance, the older son is passive-aggressively out in the parking lot — declaring his disapproval of the father's lavish grace.

Who are we in the full story of Luke 15?  Are we the once-lost? Are we the have-always-been-here found?  Are we the younger or the older brother?  Are we guilty ... or are we angry?  What side of God's grace do we most need to hear in this stage of life?  ... the unfettered welcome home of the foolish prodigal? ... or the pat-on-the back "you have always been with me" ... but "we need to celebrate" reminder to a resentful older sibling?

Join me Sunday morning in Luke 15 as we celebrate the good news that both brothers — the lost and the found — are welcomed back by the Father's sumptuous, unmerited favor.

March 21, 2019


737 Max crashes.  New Zealand shootings.  Mozambique cyclones.

Where do your heart and mind go when the news of more far off human pain hits your ears?

Like many of you, I was raised in a family that valued staying current on world affairs.  Walter Cronkite was a nightly fixture in our house.  My father had the Times Picayune in front of him for an hour a night.  Presbyterian faith + the value of education + access to newspapers and networks equaled regular conversation about current events, near and far.  Surely one part of loving this world that "God so loved" is staying educated about its happenings.  True enough.

But that was before the World Wide Web and the 24/7 news cycle.  These days, with the onslaught of ticker tape news feeds and pundit-talking-heads and round-the-clock media, one wonders if discipleship calls for more restraint in the consumption of news.  With so much data available to us now, I worry about a kind of spiritual-sadness inebriation that leaves us insensible to so much macro and maybe also numb to the micro in and around our own lives.  Perhaps Lent is a season to take a step back from the Big News ... in order to take a step forward into our Small Souls?  I am not adovcating retreat, merely rest, and reflection.  Each of us must work out that balance for ourselves.

In Sunday's lectionary reading, Luke 13:1-9, Jesus' disciples are ruminating on the news of more human tragedy.  When the conversation shifts to human causality — Who's fault is this? — and the matter is brought to their Teacher, Jesus offers a curious response.  Redirection.  To be sure, sometimes politicians and diplomats use redirection as a means of misdirection.  But in Jesus' case, our Teacher uses a moment of public gossip to remind his followers about the frailty of life and the resulting call to spiritual readiness.  Jesus: We can obsess about macro matters we cannot control ... or we can be spiritual stewards of those micro matters about which we can do something.  After all, what good is worry for the whole world if it wrecks our ability to love locally?

March 15, 2019

Highs and Lows

Life in this world brings with it some highs and some lows, especially when one leans into the good news and seeks to love God and neighbor. Ups and downs: That much is clear. Apparently it was not so different for Jesus in his public ministry. This Sunday we sit together before a another memory from the Gospel of Luke. Last week we sat with Jesus in his 40-day tempting and testing wilderness. This week, we hike with a few of Jesus' first disciples as together they climb toward a mountaintop and experience a high of all highs — a magical moment of heavenly overlap the church clumsily labels "transfiguration." Who wouldn't want to stay right there, basking in the glow of God? But mountaintop highs can't go on forever, at least not in this life. With Luke's help, Sunday we'll see what happens on the other side of the mountaintop, when Jesus takes the high of heaven down to the lowest of earth. Read and prayer this encounter ahead of time — Luke 9:28-43 — and help your preacher find the good news when we all gather again this Sunday.