Archives – Sermons
To see a number of archived sermons, please scroll to selected choice.
Keeping the Faith
The Secret of a Loving Heart
The Emmaus Surprise
Dear Old Dad
Did I Say That
Keeping the Faith Acts 9:32-43
What is it like for you to come to church? As the service begins, what is going on within you? Are you distracted by people or noises around you? Are you planning your afternoon activities? Are you thinking about something that is concerning you?
When you focus on the service, what is it that you enjoy? Perhaps it is the music, or the words of the songs. Maybe you enjoy connecting with others, or having a quiet moment. For some, it is the prayers, the reading of Scripture, or the message….maybe it is a combination of many things that help to make this a positive and worthwhile experience for you….one worth coming back for…..or perhaps you simply go to church out of habit.
I often wonder- do you come to church with any kind of spirit of expectation? Do you come to church hoping that something is going to happen that stirs you deep inside? Do you come to church on any given Sunday, or every given Sunday longing to have God’s Spirit touch your life in some powerful, profound way? Do you want to be affected in some way by your faith? Do you even dare to think such things ???
For some, things are just fine as they are thank you very much and there is no need for any excitement or change or uproar in your life. Some of us have the Do Not Disturb sign up on the door to our hearts.
Others are searching and hoping and praying that the Spirit of God will blow in upon their lives like a strong, warm gust of wind and lift them to a whole new place.
Where are you on all of this?
Let’s look for a moment at this Biblical text and put it beside this list of questions I have just asked you.
I have said many times that it is essential to read any passage of Scripture in context. Where does this story fit in, with respect to the bigger picture? What has come before this passage? What comes after?
Well, it is after the death and resurrection and ascension of Christ. The disciples are trying to re-group. In chapter 9 of Acts the story of the amazing Paul begins. He is living a passionate life as a Jewish zealot. He believes that Christ was a blasphemer, pretending to be the Son of God! He is on a ‘seek and destroy’ mission of any and all who were followers of Jesus. Then we learn about his dramatic, life- changing conversion on the road to the town of Damascus.
In verses 32-35 we learn that Peter’s ministry is going well. He is dedicated to it, and people’s lives are being changed by the power of God through him. He heals a man who has been paralyzed and bedridden for 8 years!
In verses 36-43 we see how God’s power, through Peter brought back to life a disciple named Tabitha. We haven’t heard the names of many women disciples at this point and the only other times we have heard of resurrection is when Jesus raised Lazarus, and the daughter of the Roman soldier. Now God through Peter, is doing great things. We are told that this miracle convinced many others in the power of God. It was an exciting time!
The history of early Christianity is filled with stories like these. They occur too often to allow us to discredit them as fiction. While Biblical scholars submit that some of the stories may be exaggerated, every one of them has this truth at the very heart of it – wherever the power of the risen Christ is present, handicaps of the existence can be overcome. Miracles happen. They happened then, and they happen now.
Are you open to the possibility of miracle? Are we a Christian community in which there are signs of new life? Is this a congregation where there are indications that people are rising in their faith, and service and grace? Do disciples of God live here- disciples of truth and goodness and love and generosity and kindness? If the answer to ANY of these questions are no, then we have some very serious challenges to address.
We are a country and a community of luxury. We are so blessed in so many ways. But like almost everything in this life there are advantages and disadvantages of our circumstances. One of the disadvantages is the toxic infiltration of at least two very detrimental attitudes: #1. We ‘take it for granted’, and #2. we falsely believe that we can do it all ourselves, without any need from anyone or any ‘Thing’ else.
Do you worry about having enough food in the house for dinner tonight or do you just take it for granted there will be an overabundance? Do you worry about your safety as you travel here, or to work, or even in your home, or do you just take it for granted? How about your job, your friends, medical care, education, family….are not all these things loaded with expectations of assumed certainty?
When it comes to ‘getting by’ or even succeeding or excelling….we delude ourselves into thinking we are smart enough, rich enough, capable enough to do it all on our own and every good thing that happens in our lives is because we alone, made it so!
Luxury can seduce us into lethargy. Abundance can lull us into complacency. Lack of appreciation for where we are and how we live can burn like a brush fire in a dry forest. Self-pride and the delusion of our own invincibility gives us a false sense of our own power with no need to rely on God.
When you see the horrific pictures coming out of Guatemala, or Africa, and many many other places where the only abundance for millions of people is an abundant absence of health care, food, clean water, safety, education – in the midst of that abundance of hardship and sorrow, what you also see there is tremendous appreciation for any little gift or blessing…. of food or attention or medical care, or help or hope. A frisby or soccer ball is received with great excitement, huge smiles, eyes flashing with unbridled appreciation.
Have you seen their church services? The singing and dancing and rejoicing and thanksgiving!! The churches are filled to overflowing with people who often walk for miles and miles to get there. There is much celebrating in the air! Even in their suffering and poverty there is much rejoicing for they are so aware that they have so much to be thankful for. They live with expectant, appreciative hearts, thanking God for His goodness, and seeing miracles even in the midst of every day and knowing that in God, all things are possible!
We often sing this song….As the deer pants for wateer, so our soul longs after You.
Is this us? Do we pant and yearn and long for God?
Where there are no signs of new life, there there are no indications that people are rising above the dead level of their old selves. Where there is no air of gladness, and thanksgiving and ministering to one another there is something radically wrong. Where there is no air of expectancy, there is no life in Christ!
As evidenced by this story in Acts, the early church did not believe that the power to perform miracles was confined to Jesus. Jesus promised that his disciples by the gift of the Spirit would do greater things. This passage tells us that they had begun!
The language of our day may be different, but the sign is the same – new life om Christ, vibrant life as the result of resurrection power. Do you see it in your own life or in the lives of others you know? Do you see evidence of it in this community of faith? Is the spirit of thanksgiving, joy, generosity, hospitality, caring for one another, service,…are these signs of God alive….in you….in your home, in your community of faith?
Acts 9:42 tells us that many others came to believe in God because they saw His power alive in others and changing the lives of others. Look around and see the power of God alive in others. People being blessed by God through others, and through you. Live in expectancy….that the power of the risen Christ is alive and well today. Believe this?
Let’s give thanks for it! Let’s celebrate it! Let’s live it!
God’s grace and peace to you. This day and all the days of your life!
Everyday Relationships Oct.22, 2006
It seems we are a people determined to measure everything. We have gauges for this, measuring containers for that, and scales for all sorts of things.
A thermometer inside our front door measures the temperature in the house. A needle on the dashboard of our car indicates that I am once again on empty, and the weigh scale in our bathroom never gets used! Some things we don’t care to measure.
Have you ever noticed in ‘religious’ circles, that deliberately or not, people, often times with no ill intention, put a gauge on other peoples’ faith, or religiousness, or spirituality. “Oh, I wish I had ½ as much faith as him”. “I wish I was ½ as holy as her.” Or, “And they call themselves a Christian!”. So often, we come to conclusions about the measure of faith or Christianity or holiness, or spirituality of others, based solely on external, superficial signs or practices. Sometimes we are accurate, often we are not. How big is the cross they wear around their neck? How busy are they in the life of the church? How much Biblical knowledge do they seem to have? How often are they in worship? How many religious buzz words do they use in one sentence?
When I first entered into ministry I kept getting tricked into thinking that those happy faces I looked out onto when I preached, those well dressed bodies, those happy bunches of families were immune to the pain and tragedy that can be part of life. What hurt or sorrow have these smiling faces known? Obviously none. What trauma or disaster have these happy people ever known? Obviously none. Has anyone out there ever lost a loved one, ever had a serious illness, ever lost all their money, or their home or their self respect? Hardly. People who have known pain and hardship look different than this! Again and again, as I got to know some of those people, as they let me in on the stories that made up their lives, I was quickly educated into reality. You can’t judge a book by its cover. What we see on the outside is only ever just a part of the story.
There was a man who was an elder in another church in which I served. He was a man of few words and most of the ones I ever heard were fairly rough. He came to church by himself every single Sunday without fail. He sat near the back. His face was expressionless. You could never tell if he was happy, sad, angry or elated. I never knew if being a child of God was a joyful thing for him or not. Unfortunately, I never did get to know what was going on between he and God, but it must have been something. Week after week, year after year, he never missed worship. The church was obviously important to him. His faith was obviously important to him…but I never got to know why or how.
The Pharisees of Jesus day were wise. They knew who loved God and who didn’t. They knew who was going to heaven and who wasn’t. There really was no guesswork involved. They knew for sure that God loved them because they obeyed all the rules. If you adhered to the strict Jewish dietary standards, you loved God. If you went to synagogue faithfully, you loved God. If you kept the Sabbath, you loved God. If you wore the prayer shawl and the phylacteries, and knew the Scriptures….your soul was healthy, you were a good person, you loved God and God loved you and you were going to heaven. Fall down in any of these practices, and you were in big trouble. Your salvation was in jeopardy.
The Pharisees were highly trained, biblically literate passionate believers in God. Unfortunately, and Jesus tried to convince them of this again and again, they were passionately wrong. Their passion was misplaced. It was on the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law. The Pharisees were using the wrong gauges and Jesus came down hard on them for it.
Looking to others, and putting a spiritual gauge to them can inspire and motivate us or intimidate us. In either case, trying to measure someone else’s faith is an unhealthy approach to growing in our own relationship with God.
We need first and foremost to attend to our own backyard. If we are putting a spiritual gauge to anything, it needs to be a monitor on our own progress. Do you want to know what can inhibit our own progress? Things like busyness, fatigue, fear, a judgmental spirit and selfishness can get in the way of our own spiritual development. We need to monitor ourselves closely for these intrusions, and limit them as best we can.
In one way after another, Jesus has tried to tell us, that our primary goals need to be love of God and love of neighbour. What it means to love, is laid out for us in 1 Corinthians 13. Patience, kindness, humility, unselfishness, steadfastness.
So if love is the key to growing in our relationship with God, if love is the pathway to responding to Jesus’ call upon our lives, how do we get there? Well, why don’t we all just try harder!!?? Just ‘trying harder’ doesn’t work. You and I both know that. We’ve done it with diets, exercising, character development…all sorts of things.
If we decided we wanted to run a marathon and we were just going to do it by simply ‘trying harder’ the results would be disastrous. But training, rather than just trying, offers a greater possibility of success. 1 Cor 9 talks about the necessity and the benefits of training. When it comes to trying, we generally overestimate what we can do. When it comes to training, we generally underestimate what we can do. Smart training can take us to new heights, way beyond our expectations!
If we really were going to train for a marathon, it would require some re-arranging in our lives. It would require some changes in our eating, sleeping, and exercise habits. We might require some coaching. There are some pre-requisites that need to be put in place in order for us to become able to do that which we cannot presently do. This is what training is!
The same thing is true when it comes to spiritual growth, or growing in our relationship with God. Training is an indispensable ingredient when it comes to trying to be more loving. Trying harder doesn’t work. Training does.
Again, the purpose of becoming more loving is not to show others how spiritual we are, but rather to respond to God’s greatest commandments…to love God and to love one another.
Looking to Jesus as an example, how do we become more loving?
When we examine the Scriptures and see Jesus in relationship with others, three significant modes of relating become evident.
1. Jesus listened. He gave others time to think, and feel, and process and speak. James encourages us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Listening is difficult. We are so anxious to tell OUR story that we often do not listen to the story of anyone else.
Ask someone about their trip to England without telling them about your trip to England and your experience of England. Ask someone about their cold without telling them how it compared to yours, or your neighbour’s, or your daughter’s. Ask someone about their favorite TV shows without telling them about yours….its not easy. Their story triggers your story and soon they are listening to you, even though they had hoped you were interested in their experience.
The next time you engage in conversation with someone else, and when you ask them something about themselves, or their view on something, as you feel your story longing to burst forth, instead of responding with something about you, say these words, “Tell me more.” (say it) Refrain as best you can from telling your story and ask them more about theirs. Practice listening. It is an essential ingredient in training to becoming more loving. It is one of the ways in which Jesus loved.
2. Touch. Jesus touched the untouchables. He held little children, he washed the feet of his disciples, he touched the blind, the lepers, the disabled. We are certainly in an era when touch needs to be handled with sensitivity, but it is still so essential. A study at UCLA indicated that everyone needs 8-10 meaningful touches per day for emotional health. Are you getting that? Are you giving that? Perhaps your training in becoming more loving means that you need to practice with some warm, gentle, affirming, sensitive touching.
3. Words of love- The Word became flesh, full of grace and truth and dwelt among us. What is it like for you to receive a word of comfort, a word of encouragement, a word that tells you that someone cares? Is it possible that with some training, you could become more loving in your relationships by practicing speaking words of affirmation, praise, encouragement into the lives of others? When is the last time you can remember receiving a word of affirmation? When is the last time you offered some praise or encouragement, or appreciation?
Runners can’t run a marathon just by trying harder. They need to practice. They need to make some changes in their diet, in their exercise regime. They need to do some learning about what it means to run a marathon and they have to practice.
If you want to gauge how you are doing in your everyday relationships, if you want to grow deeper in your everyday relationship with Jesus, the key is to become a more loving individual. It will enable you to love Him more and to love one another better. It is all that He asks of us.
Are you ready to begin your training?
Grace and peace to you, this day, and all the days of your life.
The Secret of a Loving Heart Feb.12, 2006
By Rev Shaun Seaman
So this man walks in to an antique store (have you heard this one?), he looks around at the pile of knick knacks, junk, a bit of old furniture in disrepair, and in the midst of this overly crowded, dusty old store, he suddenly notices what looks like an ancient Chinese bowl. Without drawing attention, he looks closer at it and recognizes it as a priceless relic from the Ming dynasty. Clearly the owner has no idea about the value of it because it is filled with milk and the mangy shop cat is drinking out of it. The man sees the deal of a lifetime here. He thinks cunningly for a moment and then says. “Sir, that is an extraordinary cat you have. I would like to buy her.” “Oh the cat’s not really for sale”, says the owner, she keeps the store free of mice.”
“I really must have her”, the man counters, “tell you what, I’ll give you a hundred dollars for her.” “She’s not really worth all that”, says the shop owner, “but if you want her that badly she’s yours.” “Very well”, says the man. “I’ll need something to feed her from as well,” he continues. “Here’s another ten dollars for that saucer she’s drinking from.” “Here’s your cat”, says the owner, “but I could never sell you the saucer for $10. That saucer is actually an ancient Chinese vase from the Ming dynasty. It is my prized possession, whose worth is beyond calculation. Funny thing though; since I’ve had it, I’ve sold 17 cats!”
The ability to assign value is a precious gift. What is something really worth, and do we recognize its worth? People who live deeply in community learn to discern and express the value of other human beings. They become masters of living love into the lives of others. These kinds of people assign high worth, value, and importance to others by viewing them as priceless gifts. These kinds of people see that in addition to the ‘as is’ tag which every human carries, there is also another sticker they wear. God loves stickers. And the stickers He puts on His people read something like this: “Made in my image. Worth the life of my own Son. My prized possession whose value is beyond calculation.” When you look at others, are you the kind of person who sees God’s stickers on them, or just the ‘as is’ stickers? My mother was one of those kinds of people. She was a school teacher all her life, spending a great deal of her career in a one room school house teaching kids. Her class was composed of kids from grades 1 – 8. The last portion of her teaching career was her happiest and most fulfilling. She taught in the school at Rideau Regional Hospital. Joni came from her hospital room to my Mum’s class on a stretcher every day. Her only position was on her stomach and she wrote with a pencil in her mouth. She had an amazing spirit and a wicked sense of humour. Kyle was a smiling skinny kid confined to a wheel chair. His limbs looked seized in all sorts of peculiar positions. He had seizures frequently. Kyle had an incredible love of life. I used to go to her school as often as I could and she often brought students home for overnight stays. They loved to pet the horses, play with the dog, get out of the institution into a real home. My Mum was the kind of person who saw the ‘as is’ sticker on those kids, but she also saw God’s stickers plastered all over them. “My special treasure. You are loved. My precious child.”
Vicki Keith and John Monroe are these kinds of people and have dedicated their life to making this world a better place for a special segment of this population that most of us don’t even know how to respond to. Vicki and John see God’s stickers plastered all over the kids who come rolling, or hopping, or on crutches onto the pool deck.
Jordan chin is one of these kinds of people with his Mission initiative.
This congregation is filled with these kinds of people!
It is about having the heart of God, or at least a piece of God’s great big heart. It is about treating others with respect, and kindness, and love, and honour.
Listen to this story and consider the kind of people here and the value they place on God’s children?
A very religious well to do person, invites Jesus to his home for dinner. When Jesus enters, the religious person does the customary courtesy of honouring one’s guests with warmth and hospitality. The host does not offer to wash the feet of Jesus, he does not welcome Jesus with the customary greeting kiss, nor does he in kindness, offer to anoint Jesus’ head with oil. They are eating out on the deck this night, enjoying the night air and the abundance of good food. Suddenly, out of the darkness, a town prostitute appears and she approaches Jesus who is reclined at the table with the others. She begins to cry and her tears fall on his feet. She dries them with her hair. She kisses his feet and she anoints them with ointment.
Can you imagine what is going through the mind of the host and his other friends? (And this man claims to be a prophet? What Holy man would not know what kind of trash this woman is?) Jesus uses this scene to teach his self-righteous host something about honouring others…something about helping them to see the God stickers on others, not just the ‘as is’ tags!
There is sin defiling this dinner party, but it is not what the host is thinking. Rather, it is the sin of lips that won’t kiss, knees that won’t bend, eyes that will not cry, hands that will not serve, perfume that will never leave the jar. It is the sin of a heart that will not break, a life that will not change, a soul that will not love. God’s greatest command of all, is to love. The greatest sin is to refuse. If only the host could see his sin, and not just the woman’s. If only he would fall on the ground beside this sinful woman. If only he could see and feel pain over his sin as she does over hers. If only he could be overwhelmed by the realization that Jesus loves him anyway in the midst of his lovelessness. If only his tears would begin to flow and mingle with this woman’s, and they would bather the feet of Jesus together. Then the host would realize that he and this prostitute are just a couple of forgiven pilgrims. Two more members in the Fellowship of the Mat. The prostitute needs grace for a heart that is broken. The host needs grace for a heart that is hard.
As Mother Teresa taught young members of her community to care for the poor and dying on the streets of Calcutta, she told them that when they saw people on the streets, filled with disease, disfigured by sores, covered with maggots, touch them very gently and with great love and delicate care, for Jesus is there in the distressing disguise. As forgiven pilgrims, you and I need to remember and remember again, our purpose is simple. We are called to love.
When our children were small, as I would tuck them into bed and pray with them I would always ask them, do you know how much Mummy and Daddy and God love you? And they would go…this much….No, bigger…this much…bigger…this much …bigger…as big as the whole world?….Bigger!
As Big as you think God’s heart is…it’s Bigger….and he has a special place in His heart for each and everyone of His children. Receive that love…and share it with others.
God’s grace and peace to you…this day, and all the days of your life. Amen
The Emmaus Surprise April 23, 2006 Luke 24:13-35
When we dare to look around this room, we see one another and we see what is going on on the surface. But most of the time we have no idea what is going on below. One week after Easter, what is going on here in these verses of Scripture, often referred to as the Road to Emmaus passage? What is going on on the surface, and what might we speculate about that is going on underneath?
Well, on the surface, two of Christ’s disciples are leaving Jerusalem to walk 7 miles to Emmaus. They had been in Jerusalem prior to and including the time of the crucifixion and a couple of days after. They had heard the reports of the empty tomb but are on their way out of town, forever, or for a few days, we just don’t know. They walk and talk and are joined by what seems to be a stranger who they invite to stay with them in Emmaus for the night. In the breaking of the bread, they recognize that this man they had walked with was really the risen Lord! That, simply put is the story…on the surface.
But what lies beneath?
Jerusalem was a big city. They had known quite some time ago that His life would be in danger if he went there, but he insisted. Their time there was filled with anxiety, tension, chaos, noise, and ultimately despair and destruction. Now in the wake of all that had happened, they were anxious to leave, to escape almost, to head out into the countryside to Emmaus, a quiet village, simplicity, rest, recuperation, hope.
On the surface it was simply that they were leaving Jerusalem and going to Emmaus. Underneath, it was so much more than that.
They were leaving the big city for a small village, chaos for simplicity, noise for quiet, despair for survival, destruction for hope.
Whenever people suffer trauma, they go into shock, and if they are able to function at all, it is as if they are on automatic pilot. On the surface, things seem fine. They make decisions, they get things done, they carry on. But beneath the surface, it is an entirely different story. They are often, not really coherent, nor present…more robotic than human. They are functioning in almost an out of body experience.
So these two leave the big city for the countryside and the village. They get out on the open road and they walk in the direction that will get them to where they think they need to go. From out of nowhere, a third person joins them. It is Jesus, but these two who had lived with and served with and taught with Jesus did not recognize Him. They were so caught up in their own story and their own pain, that they simply acknowledged his presence as two became three. On the surface, to them at least it simply seemed that a third traveler had joined them. A traveler who was clearly not up to speed with recent events.
The stranger walked with them, he asked a question or two and got them to share their story with Him, and eventually He broke bread with them and He became recognized by them.
Have you ever noticed that whenever a person experiences great trauma, perhaps a death occurs, or some great loss…..it could be a job, or health, or a relationship, they learn very quickly, that life around them carries on…business as usual. The rest of the world is completely oblivious to this powerful catastrophe in our lives. We feel like screaming out at everyone and everything! Do they not know what unspeakable thing has happened?
I remember my dear friend Chris who died at the age of 40 with ALS saying that the day he and his new bride Susan walked out of the Dr’s office at the University of Western Ontario And almost immediately Chris noticed that on that bright, sun shiny day, all around him, life was going on as usual. The traffic was flowing, students were walking to class with their backpacks filled to overflowing with books, some students were cycling, the trees were blooming…..didn’t anybody know? Didn’t anybody care? Had they not heard the news? having just received the news that he had ALS, they came out onto the street, stunned and speechless.
And the disciple named Cleopas says to the stranger who joins them, “What are we talking about? What are we talking about? You have got to be kidding? Where have you been that you do not know what has happened?” Anger, resentment. Our Savior has been killed on a cross….but life just goes on as usual!!?? That is a choice we all have to make, isn’t it?
Before these two left Jerusalem, they knew the tomb was empty. The women who raced there in the early morning declared it and the men went afterward to verify the fact. Yet here these two are so downtrodden. That what Jesus had said was going to happen actually happened but in their state of trauma, it did not sink in! So much was registering with them in a cerebral way, but all together, it was way too much for them to absorb!
How often does this happen to us? Take worship for example…when we sing the songs and pray the prayers, and read the Word and hear the message, and join hands with our brothers and sisters….does it sink in? Is it an activity of the head or the heart, or both? Or, like these two disciples, do we sometimes not recognize who is with us?
Perhaps for the two downtrodden men making their way to Emmaus, it was only His tortured face, twisted with pain that burned in their minds and they did not recognize Him in this state. What is it that we are looking for? What prevents us from this recognition? What is the image, or the event or the feeling we are searching for?
Notice that when Jesus invites the two disciples to tell their story, that they open up to Him and He enters in. He listens, he empathizes, he asks clarifying questions. He takes an interest in them. They become engaged with one another.
And then, when they have told their story, he responds. And in responding He opens up the Scriptures to them, interpreting all that has happened. It is their turn to listen and feel connected with him.
They become so much apart of this stranger, that when they arrive at Emmaus, and seeing that he is planning to continue on his journey, they urge him to stay with them. They have connected. They want to provide this stranger with some hospitality and care, some food and a night’s lodging. On the surface, it seemed like this was just two men who were joined by another as they walked along. Beneath the surface it was so much more.
On the surface, Jesus was going to go further. In reality, beneath the surface, He had always gone further.
On the surface, and beneath it. That is the story of Emmaus. And that is the story of our own lives.
We know He died for us. We know He rose from the dead. We know His promise to be with us forever in the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, like Cleopas and the unnamed disciple we too travel the road, we take the journey. Like them, we read the Scriptures, we learn the stories. On the surface we are not so unlike them.
We mourn Calvary, do we celebrate the resurrection. We walk the road and meet many strangers….do we see Him in them…do we see Him in one another? We attend church. We sing the songs and read the Word. We might be part of a study group. He promised to be present…where 2 or 3 are gathered….do we see Him there? Do we see Him here? The choice is ours…to stay on the surface, or go beneath.
Peace and grace to you these days, and all the days of your life.
Dear Old Dad
Today the spotlight shifts from the boys to dear old Dad – the father who willingly hands over his estate early to his boys – the father who receives the younger son back with open arms, – the father who pleads with the older son to join the party.
Although he’s a rather magnificent figure, we should not avoid sending some hard questions in his direction. The father in the parable doesn’t do or say exactly what we expect of fathers. When the younger son asks for the inheritance, the old man hands it over. No protests. No seven day waiting period. No mutterings about ‘you ungrateful wretch.’ No anxious urgings to ‘spend it wisely’. The father simply hands it over and watches the younger son walk off into the distance.
There’s something odd too when the younger son returns, groveling, broken, filled with remorse for his error. He cowers, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you…”/ This is an opportunity to chide the boy for his sinful ways, to potentially rub it in with all sorts of ‘I told you so’s’. Yet the words of repentance are barely out of his boy’s mouth before Dad’s working on the guest list and the fancy menu for the welcome home bash! Doesn’t the father worry about what’s going to happen a month from now when the son gets tired of home once again? Doesn’t this son have some explaining to do? What is with this old man? This is his opportunity to teach this ingrate son of his a lesson.
It’s what you might call ultimate love. It’s a love that startles us, both by its simplicity and its depth. There is a freedom in this father’s love. It’s a love that recognized the freedom of others. You can wish this father dead and still have a go at life. Your meal ticket does not get revoked just because you complain about the food. Even those who tell God to get lost and drop dead continue to be loved by God. God’s love persists. God’s love does not give up. God’s love does not hold a grudge. There is nothing we can do or say to make God love us any more or any less than He already does. God’s love is infinite. There is freedom in God’s love.
At the same time, though, it is a tough sort of love. It may not lecture or browbeat, but it allows us to bear the consequences of our decisions. It doesn’t prevent the son from running off to a far country or wasting the father’s property, but then, neither does it shield the younger son from the consequences of his actions. The father doesn’t send a private detective to the far country to track his son down; the father doesn’t warn the bartenders not to serve him more than two drinks. The father’s love lets go, no matter what might come to the child due to obstinancy and rebellion. It’s a tough love.
But in the end, it’s the sort of love that overwhelms us and draws us back, even when we are mired in the midst of tragedies of our own making. Look at the close up part of Rembrandt’s painting. Notice particularly the father’s hands sheltering the weary child. Aren’t those hands marvelous? They caress and comfort. They shelter and shield. If you look closely, you might notice that they are two different hands. The father’s left hand is gnarled, strong, protective, masculine. The right hand is soft, elegant, comforting, perhaps feminine. Some art historians think that Rembrandt may have painted a masculine and a feminine hand to show the wide ranging love of a genderless God. There is no more wide ranging love than the love of God- a love that sets us free, a love that opens its arms to let us go when we insist – a love that beckons us back and enfolds us.
(words to Softly and Tenderly)
In reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son, most of us oscillate back and forth between identifying with the two sons. The younger son touches that rebellious side of us that wants to be off on our own, finding our own happiness, setting our own rules, pursuing our own agenda. The older son touches the resentful side of us that seeks to earn love and respect by obedience, all the time, secretly wishing to be off cavorting in a far country.
Where do you find yourself in this parable? Are you the younger son or the older? Or, are you the father? Perhaps there are parts of all three in you!
Henri Nouwen writes: “It was during a period of immense inner pain that a friend spoke the word that I most needed to hear and opened up a new phase of my spiritual journey. When this friend spoke with me about the Prodigal son, she said, “Henri, whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realize that you are called to become the father. You have been looking for friends all your life; you have been craving affection as long as I’ve known you; you have been interested in thousands of things; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right. The time has come to claim your true vocation – to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.”
This story, insightful as it is into our tendency to rebel and run away from God or to resent our obedience to God, most strikingly provides a glimpse into our calling as Christians – to become spiritual mothers and fathers who can welcome God’s children home without asking any questions and without wanting anything from them in return – merely rejoicing in their return.
Love that is filled with freedom. The real question is, “Are you interested in becoming like the father?” do you want to be just the one who is forgiven or also the one who forgives? Do you want to be just the one who is welcomed home, or also the one who welcomes? Do you want to be just the one who receives compassion, or also the one who offers it? Do you want to be just the one for whom the party is thrown, or also the one who throws the party?
This challenge to Godly compassion is the greatest calling in our lives – to achieve the spiritual maturity to let others be themselves before God. It calls us to give up power and control. It calls us to stand in God’s shoes and hold out god’s arms, to pull on our robes, jump off the porch and run down the street, throw dignity to the wind, and clasp God’s lost children in our arms. Do you want to know who you are? Or, do you want to consider who it is that you are becoming?
God’s grace and peace to you.
Did I Say That? Sept.17, 2006
“Talk is ____” “Sticks and stones….”
Is that true? Is talk cheap or does it carry great value and potency? My experience tells me that talk is powerful and words can be very rich in meaning and make a huge difference. Talk/words can carry great value.
And as for sticks and stones breaking bones but words or names never hurting….is that your experience?
I don’t know what goes on inside us, but it always seems so strange to me, that we can hear 50 compliments, but one word of criticism can sometimes bring the walls tumbling down. Is it not your experience that one mean word, can wound us terribly…it can anger us, it can hurt, disturb, sadden, deflate, discourage, even paralyze.
Verse 5 of James 3 says, “… the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.” James uses common, tiny objects which, when properly engaged, make an amazing difference for good. A tiny bit in a huge horse’s mouth can guide and control a mammoth beast. A tiny rudder can guide a huge ship through terrifying storms on rough seas, or through rocky, dangerous waters. And so it is with the tongue. Saying just the right thing at the right time, or as Ecclesiastes reminds us, knowing when to speak and when to keep silent, the tongue can make a powerful difference for good.
But then James acknowledges that it only takes a small fire to set a great forest ablaze. And so it is with the tongue, staining the whole body, starting a great fire in the lives of oneself, others, sometimes whole nations. The tongue is a force to be reckoned with.
Can you think of a time when you have spoken a word or two and it has been such a blessing in the life of someone else? …a word of encouragement, a word of praise, a word of support, a word of thanksgiving for someone else or something someone did for you. It is one of the 5 Love Languages…Words of Affirmation. The song says, “It’s only words, and words are all I have…”. We should never, never underestimate, the awesome power of words!
Words can inspire a nation to heroic action. Words can lift a person from the depths of despair. Words can bring hope and healing, and new life. But words can also instigate wars, drive someone into depression, start quarrels, destroy friendships and break up homes. Words are powerful.
What words do you remember from the likes of Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, John Diefenbaker, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, or Jesus Christ? Words can endure a lifetime or even centuries.
My mother always used to remind me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Such simplistic, yet valuable advice.
Somewhat more elaborately, Beth Day in 1855 wrote in a poem entitled Three Gates of Gold,
Before you speak, three gates of gold;
These narrow gates. First, “Is it true?”
Then, “Is it needful?” In your mind
Give truthful answer. And the next
Is last and narrowest, “Is it kind?”
And if to reach your lips at last
It passes through these gateways three,
Then you may tell the tale, nor fear
What the result of speech may be.”
You know the power of words. You know only too well, what words others have spoken to you that have lifted you up, warmed your heart, given you life! Hopefully you also know what words you have spoken into the lives of others that have done the same for them.
But sadly, you are only too aware I am sure of the power of words that others have spoken in your lives, that have thrown your heart against the rocks, wounded you, brought you crashing down. Perhaps you are also aware of how your words have done that to others.
James again reminds us that though we are made in the likeness of God, the tongue is untamable, full of deadly poison and with it we bless the Lord, and with it we curse those who are also made in the likeness of God.
So what are we to do? How can our religion, how can our faith, how can the reality that we are children of God help us with any of this?
Last week I challenged you to do some reflection and to decide how it is you wanted to grow in your relationship with god this year? I told you that you had 2 weeks to think about that, and then you are to tell two people what your goal is and one of those people had to be me. I have already heard from some of you. Make sure you have also told someone else.
Growth requires change. Change is deliberate and not always easy or comfortable.
If the words that come out of your mouth need to be changed, if they need more to reflect the image of God, that needs to be a conscious change. My childhood minister always used to say before he preached, “May the words of my lips and the meditation of my heart, be now and always acceptable to thee oh Lord.” Are the words of your lips always acceptable to God? How are you in the patience department these days? How many times this week did you say words to others which built them up, encouraged them, let them know you appreciate them? What did you say that was kind, loving, affirming?
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” If your religion or our faith gives us no control over our tongue, then what good is it? How does our faith affect our daily living? How do we let the love of Christ’s light within us shine into the lives of others?
James says, ‘the tongue is a fire, a small member of the body yet it boasts great exploits.” May the words of your mouth bring blessing and encouragement to others all the days of your life.