Thursday, March 28, 2013

Proclaiming the Lord's Death

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Moorhead, MN
Maundy Thursday—March 28, 2013
I Corinthians 11:23-26

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

Welcome to worship!  I’m really glad you’re here—because today you will be giving the sermon!

What was that?   You’re saying:   “I’m giving the sermon??”

“Well, that’s a fine how-do-you-do!   I didn’t show up here today to be put on the spot.   I came to sit in the pew, sing the hymns, pray the prayers, and hear God’s Word.”

“I didn’t come here to preach,” you’re probably thinking.

Except that today you WILL be delivering the sermon.  You may not have picked out a text, drafted an outline, found any illustrations or practiced your delivery.

But—not to worry!  The text is one you know.   The outline is provided.   A powerful illustration is already here.   And most of you have practiced this sermon so often that you can probably give it in your sleep.

You will be preaching the sermon this afternoon/evening.

In a few moments you’ll step forward with your fellow worshipers, hold out your hands, receive some bread and wine, consume this Meal, and hear how all of this is “for you.”

And that will be your sermon…”for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes…”

That sentence is so simple, so stark—and for good reason. The Apostle Paul needed to do an intervention with the Christians living in Corinth.  Paul had to get their attention fast and re-orient them to the power and purpose of  the Lord’s Supper.

The Corinthians, you see, had forgotten what the Lord’s Supper was all about.   Back in their day, when the Supper was still a real meal, the Corinthian Christians came together to eat real bread--lots of it--and to drink even more real wine.

Except that they didn’t really “come together.”  

The Corinthian church around 50 A.D. was a “house divided.”    They had well-to-do members, the poorest of the poor, and everyone in between.

The rich folks got off work early and started partying with the other rich Corinthians.  Only later did the poorer members arrive—the ones who had to work a full day and punch a time clock.

So the Lord’s Supper, which was meant to draw Christians together, instead became a point of dissension in the Corinthian church.  The social and economic divisions that ordered daily life spilled over into the community of Christ.  

It got so bad that some Christians were getting filled up and drunk, leaving little food for the ones who arrived later.   “This is not the Lord’s Supper,” Paul solemnly warned them.

So here in our Second Reading Paul re-orients, re-educates the Corinthians about what they were actually doing when they come together for the Lord’s Supper.   

The Corinthians were proclaiming something by how they celebrated the Supper—but it was the wrong sermon.   They drew attention to who’s well-off and who’s not, to the social divisions that separated them from one another.

The Corinthians had to re-learn that this wasn’t their supper, it was the Lord’s Supper.  It was about the death of Jesus Christ for their sins and the sins of the whole world.    Believers stand on level ground at the foot of the Cross and at the communion table—preaching one unifying Word, “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.”

What about us?  Thank God, we don’t turn the Lord’s Supper into a time of carousing or a game of one-upmanship  the way the Corinthians did!  We take this Supper far more seriously, don’t we?

But is “taking it seriously” perhaps merely another way to drain this Supper of its profound meaning and power?   Have we domesticated this meal, reducing it to the barest of acts that sometimes feels like a tack-on, a” liturgical lean-to “that (we hope!)  won’t make the worship service exceed the sacred sixty minutes?

My dear friends, whether we treat this Supper too frivolously or too seriously, we’re always in danger of losing the profound significance and power of this Meal.    Therefore we never outgrow our need to ask ourselves what it means to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes?”

It means this:  coming to the Lord’s Supper  is the biggest deal of your life.  All the ways we fritter our days away can’t hold a candle to what happens here, in the sharing of the bread and the wine, the Body and the Blood of our Savior.

Indeed, every single time we approach this Meal we preach a powerful sermon….the sermon you will in fact preach in just a few minutes.

It’s a sermon, first, about our hunger and thirst, our fears and our doubts, our insufficiency and bankruptcy.   As often as we eat this bread and drink this wine we proclaim that without it—without Christ—our lives aren’t worth a plug nickel.  We’re starving for this Food!   There is something about us that only the death of Jesus can fix.

But what if we don’t always feel this hunger?  When that happens Martin Luther suggested, “First put your hand in your bosom and ask whether you are still made of flesh and blood.  Then look about you and see whether you are still in the world…and finally, if you cannot yet feel the need therefore at least believe the scriptures…for they will not lie to you…. Listen to Paul when he cries out:  ‘I know that nothing good dwells with me, that is in my flesh.’”

We preach a sermon here about our hunger for God.  That’s why the proper posture at the Table is with hands outstretched and open.

Second, we preach a sermon here about God’s nearness, God’s actual presence here in the Supper.   This is where God de-cloaks, where God shows up, where God  draws so near to us that we take God into our bodies, and thus become the body of Christ.  

Whenever we “proclaim the death of Christ until he comes,” we proclaim the amazing nearness, the inside-of-us-ness of God in Jesus Christ--whenever we eat the bread and drink the cup.

Third, we proclaim our interdependence.   “Independence” or autonomy are not Christian virtues.  That’s why, properly speaking, the Lord’s Supper is something you cannot do for yourself.  It takes a bare minimum of two Christians, always, to celebrate this sacrament.

Here at the altar, unlike so many other places we inhabit, there is no “first class” seating area for big contributors or heroic deed-doers.  Those with masters degrees line up with 8th grade graduates, those who wear denim rub elbows with those who wear 3-piece suits, those who pay-their-own way kneel with those who never make ends meet.

We’re all here because we all received the same invitation.   We’re all present and accounted for because Jesus’ last will and testament names us ALL as his heirs, beneficiaries of his goodness.

Fourth,  we proclaim that this Meal changes us.   After going to Holy Communion we can never return to “business as usual.”   This is the meal of God’s New Covenant, God’s New Creation, God’s Reign among us.  

If you just want to stay the same as you are, this Meal probably isn’t for you.   Because eating this bread and drinking this wine will not leave you unscathed.

By partaking of this Supper you lean into God’s gentle and glorious rule in Christ the crucified and risen one.    This meal gives you the gumption to start living now as if the Kingdom of God were already here, among us.   Eating this food makes you long for peace, pine for justice, and turn in compassionate ways toward your neighbors and this good creation.

….which brings us to the fifth thing we proclaim here:   we proclaim our hope.   “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  That is to say:  until Christ returns to bring to fruition all that God is up to.    In this Meal we proclaim that we have a God who plays for keeps and who will finish the good thing he has begun in us.

This meal is God’s “earnest money,” God’s downpayment on the New Creation.  We proclaim that God’s going to finish what God has started--of that we can be certain.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the wine you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”   That’s all you need—your text, your outline, your illustration, your sermon.

I need to shut up now.   It’s time for YOU to preach.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.    

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A New Creation Mind in an Old Creation World

Joint Lenten Worship Service
PioneerCare Center, Fergus Falls, MN
March 20, 2013
Philippians 2:5-11
In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

So Lena calls Ole on his cell phone while he’s out driving on the freeway.   And Lena says:  “Ole, be careful out dere! I yust heard on da radio dat some nut is driving his car the wrong direction on one half of da freeway.”

To which Ole replies:  “Yiminy Christmas, Lena, it’s not yust one nut driving da wrong vay—dere must be hundreds of dem doing dat out here!”

Thirty-two years ago I actually found myself in a similar situation, and believe me, it was no joke. 

My wife, my mom and I were driving down an entrance ramp onto Highway 36 in Roseville, when we hit a patch of ice, spinning our car around 180 degrees….leaving us facing right into oncoming traffic.

FORTUNATELY that oncoming traffic was still about a mile away from us at the time, giving us just a few seconds to scoot out of the roadway and off onto the shoulder.

But for one terrifying moment--frozen in time--we knew how frightening and disorienting it was to be heading the wrong direction on a one-way road.

That image might help us make sense of what our Lord Jesus experienced as Paul describes it here in Philippians.  

…because what Jesus did was to travel the wrong direction on a one-way road.   That’s what got him betrayed, framed, strung up, killed and tossed in a borrowed grave.

And it wasn't one of those situations where the DOT or the street department pulls a switcheroo and suddenly makes an old familiar two-way street into a new one-way street, either.

No, Jesus didn't get caught unawares here.  Rather:  Jesus deliberately headed the wrong direction on a street that had known nothing but one-way traffic forever and ever...

The street Jesus went the wrong way down, had been a one-way street ever since the serpent slithered up to Adam and Eve in the Garden and hissed:  "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of [this fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."  (Gen.3: 5)

On that day, lost to us now in the mists of our primeval past....our first parents set us all on a course we've been traveling ever since.  It's a one-way street from emptiness to fullness, from humility to glory, from earth to heaven...and all who travel it (ourselves included) assume that by following this one-way road we’ll somehow "become like God."

This one-way street that is stretched out before us...always seems to be leading us onward and upward.  Signs along the way tell us to:  "Make your own decisions.  Chart your own course.  Claim your destiny.  Be full!  Grab some glory!  It’s all within your grasp!

Here in Philippians 2 Paul tells us that it was on this road that Jesus set out to travel, deliberately heading the opposite direction on that one-way street.

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus," Paul writes, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross."

All the road signs screamed:  "Grab it.  Seize the advantage.  Get ahead.  Enlarge your holdings!"

But Jesus didn’t even notice those signs….because he was heading the other way on that one-way street.  So Jesus didn't exploit his position—or grab and hang onto his divine prerogatives.

 Jesus didn't fill himself up with good things.  Instead, he emptied himself out.

 Jesus didn't hang on to life with a white-knuckled grip.  Instead, he let all of that go...pushed it all aside.

 Jesus chose to walk straight down the middle of a one-way street, heading in the wrong direction.

 And what happened to Jesus is what happens to anyone who gets caught heading the wrong direction on a one-way road:  Sin, death and the devil—coming on like a Mack truck!-- hit Jesus hard, wiped him out, laid him low, and buried him!

 And then with Jesus out of the way....the traffic resumed, roaring up that one way “glory” road from earth to heaven.

 But three days later....something astonishing happened.  (To hear the full story you’ll have to show up for worship a week from this coming Sunday.)

 But for now, let’s just say that three days after Jesus got “creamed” on that one-way street....everyone woke up--including Jesus!--only to discover that in the darkness of the night Someone had switched all the road signs.  Someone had turned the one-way street arrows around 180 degrees. 

 On Easter morning, God changed the direction of that road once and for all.

 And when God did that--lo and behold!--we began to see what God had intended for us from the very start. 

 Here--we had it all wrong!  The one-way street we human beings had been traveling was heading in the wrong direction all along.  It was never meant to run from earth up to heaven.  All along...God the Almighty Creator, God the Consummate Self-Giver...all along God had intended it to be a road from heaven down to earth.

 And Jesus traveled that road faithfully, courageously for you and for me.  Jesus headed in what seemed to be the wrong way on a one-way that we might see, finally, with eyes wide open, that Jesus was actually traveling the right way, the only way on God's royal highway...traveling down for us from heaven to earth, down from mastery to slavery, down from glory to disgrace—and then back again to glory.

 "Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

 This is how God gets to us, how God transforms us, makes us new…by going against the customary flow of traffic in this dying world and opening up for us a new and better way, God’s way.

 Friends, we don’t really know what a god is….we don’t truly understand who the one and only God is, until our eyes behold Jesus, who discloses God’s true nature as the God who always comes down, the God who sets everything aside and becomes empty for us, the God who suffers and dies and is buried for us.

 Jesus shows us not a command-and-control version of God.   Jesus reveals to us not a “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive” Superman-style-God.

 Jesus shows us…indeed Jesus is for us the God who descends, becomes empty, embraces humility…because that is God’s way of being God….and God’s way for you and for me.

 …and that’s why this passage from Philippians starts out by saying:  “Let the same mind be in you [all] that was in Christ Jesus….”

 God in Christ wants to get inside our heads, our hearts and our hands.   God intends to form the “mind of Christ” in us communally.  As NT scholar  Elizabeth Shively observes:  “Paul does not call on individuals to imitate Christ in the privacy of their prayer closets….Paul aims [instead] to form a collective mind that informs collective actions….following Jesus’ example of humility and service to others.”[1]

 God gives to us a New Creation mind in this old creation world.  God opens up for us an alternative existence—God invites us to come down, to empty ourselves, to live the humble, cross-shaped life of Jesus Christ.

 Last week I think we may have caught a fleeting glimpse of what that might look like in this time and place. 

 Moments after the white smoke poured from the chimney of Rome’s grand Sistine Chapel, a friend of the new pope embraced him and whispered three words into his ear:  “Remember the poor!”

 In that moment, Argentina’s Cardinal Bergoglio realized he had to take Francis for his name—for Francis of Assisi, who in the 12th spurned his family’s vast wealth to embrace a life of poverty and Christ-like self-giving.

 What would it look like, my dear friends, if all of us, if the whole church, the whole Body of Christ on earth heard—and heeded!--that same voice whispering in our ears:  “Remember the poor?”

 In the name of Jesus.





[1] Elizabeth Shively, Commentary on Second Reading, Working (accessed on 3/18/3013).

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Marked for Death

Lake Grove Lutheran Church, Waubun, MN
Lent 5—March 17, 2013
John 12:1-8

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

When you hear a story, what do you notice?  What grabs your attention?  What shocks you?

This morning’s gospel tells a story that is found in some form in each of the four gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Some features of the story are consistent in all four versions.  

·      A woman comes to Jesus, in a public setting, and does something to him that is intimate and shocking—arousing strong reactions from onlookers.

·      In each of the stories a woman anoints Jesus with very costly perfume.  The anointing evokes various interpretations from those who are watching, and they respond to it—always unfavorably.

·      In each of the stories, though, there is one person—Jesus himself!--who defends the woman—stands up for her and receives her anointing for what it is:  an act of sheer devotion and pure love.

As you hear this story, what do you notice?  What captures your attention?  What shocks you?

Perhaps, like so many others over the years, you wonder if it was appropriate for a woman to take such liberties with a man.    Lots of the negative reactions to this “floating tradition” focus on the ways the woman broke first century social taboos by touching Jesus’ body—entering intimate space normally reserved only for a spouse.

We could go down that familiar road, I suppose.   Sexuality—relationships--how men and women connect with one another—that’s a topic we’re always ready to think about, maybe even talk about, especially if we can talk about someone else’s sexuality!

But that’s not what John’s gospel focuses on.

We could, instead, zero in on the costliness of the perfume.   Three of the four gospels hint at an astronomical price-tag:   suggesting the ointment cost 300 days’ worth of wages.   Who would do such a thing?  Pour out ointment that cost the equivalent of nearly one year’s salary?

In three of the gospels, the extravagance of the woman’s act is what comes under scrutiny.   “Why wasn’t this money given to the poor, instead?”

Several times this past week, as all eyes were glued to TV reports about the conclave of cardinals electing a new pope in Rome, I heard folks remark on the extravagance and splendor of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome….raising the question of why “those Catholics” spend so much money on opulence rather than compassion for the poor.

We could go down that road, too, with this text.  That wouldn’t be hard to do.

But that’s not what John’s gospel focuses on.

No, what John’s gospel emphasizes is something else.   The dead giveaway is the part of Jesus’ body that Mary anoints with the costly perfume.

She does not anoint his head—as if she were marking him as the King of Israel!

No, Mary went to the other end of Jesus’ body—anointed his feet, something that was never done to a living person.

Feet were anointed by first century Jews—but only after a person had died.

There’s the shocker in this text.   Mary, a close friend of Jesus, treats Jesus’ body as if the life had already gone out from him.   Mary marks Jesus for death.

And Jesus gets that—and announces it, loud and clear:  “Leave her alone,” Jesus responds.  “[Mary] bought [this ointment] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”

There, right there is what should shock us as we listen to this story.    Our attention needs to be riveted not on any social taboos Mary broke, nor on her extravagant waste of resources that could have gone to the poor.

Rather, our attention needs to be focused on the Great Unmentionable, death itself.

Mary’s unsettling prophetic action fixes our eyes on what was about to happen to Jesus.  Indeed, she performed her act of devotion as if it had already happened.  

Mary treats Jesus like a “dead man walking”—and that is what’s most shocking here in John chapter 12.

Mary’s dramatic act prevents us from keeping death at bay, out of sight, out of mind.   Mary forces us to see what is soon to happen to Jesus.   Mary confronts us with death.

Mary does this in a setting, and among a cast of characters, over whom death has already cast a pall.  It’s the home of Lazarus, who not that many days previously had himself been dead for a while.

You know the story from the eleventh chapter of John’s gospel:  Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, had fallen seriously ill.  Jesus had been sent for—but he arrived in Bethany too late.   By the time Jesus got there, Lazarus was already dead, buried-in-the-tomb dead.   Decay was already taking its toll on Lazarus’s body.

And it grieved Jesus so deeply that at first all he could do was to weep with all the other mourners at Lazarus’s grave.  And then, as Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, Jesus in his grief “roared so loud at death that he scared death away.”[1]

But death didn’t depart from the scene for long.  

Death hangs over this story in John chapter twelve.   For we know where this story is heading.  We see them sitting there in the living room in Bethany:  Lazarus who was dead and Jesus who will soon be dead….in conversation with Judas who will betray Jesus into death.

The air is thick with death, and Mary only makes matters worse by doing something so shocking that no one can ignore its implications.    Mary marks Jesus for death.   And Jesus receives Mary’s devotion and names it for what it is.

This is what John focuses on:  the gathering storm clouds soon to engulf Jesus, the conspiracy that is already playing itself out that will leave Jesus in the grave, switching places (as it were) with Mary’s brother Lazarus.

This is what John focuses on.  This is what should shock us in this story.

But, in truth, it is even deeper than that. 

It’s not just that Jesus will die that should shock us here.

It is that Jesus will die for us and for our salvation.

Mary marks Jesus not for some accidental encounter with the Grim Reaper.   It’s not as if Jesus will step off a curb and be run over by a careening truck or something…

No, Mary marks Jesus for a death that he is ready to take on freely, for you and for me.

·      There is something wrong with us, that only the death of Jesus will make right.   

·      There is in us a waywardness, that only the death of Jesus can heal.

·      There is in us a self-centeredness, from which only the sacrifice of the Son of God can free us.

·      There is in us a rendezvous with death—our mortality--that only the death of our Savior can undo. 

This time, when Jesus roars at death on the Cross on a Friday afternoon...when Jesus rails against death….he won’t just scare death away temporarily as he did at Lazarus’s tomb.

No,  Jesus’ words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”…Jesus’ embrace of death will spell the end of death.   Jesus’ going down to the grave for us, will transform the grave from the End it used to be to the Beginning of the New Creation that walked out of the grave on Easter morning.

That, all of that, is what Mary’s astonishing action, a week before Jesus final Passover, signified….and not just for Jesus, but for you and for me and for all people.

Mary marked Jesus for death, but not just any death.   This is the death that puts an end to the old—puts an end to sin, death and the power of the devil.

This death of Jesus for us on the Cross puts an end to the old, as it paves the way for the new…God’s New Creation in which sin will not have a future with us, in which the power of the devil is neutered, in which death no longer holds sway over us.

In this New Creation, in which we are already privileged to live and move and have our being….in this New Creation we are not ashamed to love Jesus as extravagantly as Mary did, or to care deeply for the poor who are always with us, or to look forward eagerly and move ahead not in fear but in hope.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

[1] “The Prophet Mary,” a sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor on March 21, 2010 (accessed at

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What Makes Angels Do Cartwheels

Faith Lutheran Church, Pelican Rapids, MN
March 10, 2013
Celebration Sunday for “Build on Faith” Campaign
Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32

In the fifteenth chapter of St Luke’s gospel we find three of our most favorite parables--three parables of Jesus that are bound together by two red threads.

First, these are all three parables of lost things:  a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. 

It’s terrible to misplace precious things or to lose people that are near and dear to us.   We get frantic, we become sad, we feel bewildered.   Something or someone we were counting on—simply disappears.

But how awesome it is when the lost is found!   Life can begin again, we get back on track, we get unstuck and start moving forward once more.

Which leads me to the second red thread binding these three parables together.  

They aren’t merely parables of lost things.

They are also stories about finding the lost—and the celebration that erupts whenever that happens.

These are three parables of lostness, but they’re also three parables of celebration—that the lost has been found.

In each of these homespun tales, a party breaks out.    The jubilant shepherd, carrying home the wandering lamb, invites his neighbors to join him for a feast.   The frazzled woman, after turning her house upside down, invites her friends over to rejoice with her.   And the father, the patient waiting father—no sooner does he wrap his old arms around his wandering son—but he’s barking out orders for a feast to end all feasts….complete with rich food, flowing wine, dress-up clothes (starting with the lost son himself).

Somehow I don’t think the waiting father had in mind a quiet little party at home.  

No—he flings wide the doors, asks the whole neighborhood to come over, spares no expense, goes a little crazy in celebrating because “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (Luke 15:24)

Three parables of lostness.  Three parables of celebration.

And, as is true of all of Jesus’ best stories, these parables of life here on earth reflect conditions that simultaneously prevail in the kingdom of heaven.   What these parables describe as happening here below reflect something that is playing itself out in the heavenly throne room, before almighty God.

Have you ever wondered what it takes for an angel to do a  cartwheel?   What makes the members of the heavenly host “break out the bubbly?”   What transforms heaven into “Party Central?”  

Just one thing:  just one sinner who is lost, finding her way back home.

Just that.  That’s all it takes.  One wandering soul regaining the GPS coordinates for “home.”   One miserable sinner saying:  I can’t take it any more.  I can’t do it on my own.  God, help me, rescue me, save me.  

There….something as small as that, makes the “whole company of heaven” enter a state of ecstasy.  It’s what God longs for most.

The words God pines for more than anything else go like this:  “I’m tired of wandering.  I want to come home.”

Say those words with me now, if you would:  “I’m tired of wandering. I want to come home.”

There—did you hear it?   An angel just let out a little squeal of delight.   One of the cherubim—or was it one of the seraphim?—uncorked a champagne bottle.   And God—God just about split a gut, laughing with tears rolling down his cheeks at the prospect of just one more sinner coming home.

So, things that happen here on earth can reflect what’s also going on in heaven….

…and—here’s the kicker—what’s going on in heaven “bounces back” here to earth.

Which leads us to the purpose of this day here at Faith Lutheran Church.   For you belong to the God who rejoices in just one lost soul turning up found….and the joy that God gets out of that regularly echoes here in the community God has established, the Body of Christ in this place.

For we too, find our greatest joy—do we not?—in being a community that specializes in finding lost things, rescuing lost souls.

That is, when all is said and done, what goes on here and in every Christian community.  

We all take turns being lost and being found, wandering and seeking out….and when that happens, how can we not throw a big, big, big party?

We’re gathered for such a party this morning! 

You have completed a marvelous building project here at Faith.  After saying goodbye to your old fellowship hall, you constructed a new one—a place for gathering as God’s people, teaching the faith, doing the “business” of this congregation, and welcoming under your roof so many fine organizations here in Pelican Rapids.

By putting up this new fellowship hall, by opening your doors to your congregation and your community, you have announced that Faith Lutheran Church intends to be known as one of God’s lost-and-found places here in Pelican Rapids.  

You have created space that is free, inviting, accessible…a place where God our waiting father runs out to meet us, embrace us, restore us and make us new.

And that is no small thing in today’s world!

It is not a foregone conclusion, shared by all, that all the lost should necessarily be found…or that we should rejoice when every single wanderer returns home.

There are attitudes and realities in today’s world that are nasty and brutish, unwelcoming and inhospitable.

If someone is lost, we wonder:  “What did this person think or say or do to get in such a pickle?   How did this person contribute to his ‘lostness?’”

Such questions are nothing new.   They’re here in this gospel lesson, voiced by the elder son—the older brother of the prodigal son.

The elder son was the responsible child.  He stayed close to home—no wandering off.  He did his duty—to a fault.   He served his father—day and night.

The elder son was in no mood for rejoicing when his good-for-nothing brother finally dragged his sorry carcass back home.

This part of the story comes to a head when the celebration begins—and isn’t that interesting?  It’s the celebration that smokes out the deep, deep resentment of the elder son.   Everyone is having a good time—the father, the wayward younger son, the servants, the neighbors who came over to see what all the fuss was about.

But the elder son is out in the backyard, away from the celebration, seething in anger, stewing in his own juices, unable to fathom what his worthless little brother ever did to deserve such a homecoming.

But you see that was the wrong question!  It’s never about “deserving” to be found.

The younger son did nothing to deserve the party that was thrown for him.   It wasn’t about “deserving,” but it was about having a waiting, watching Father who ran out to meet him before he had come all the way home, before he could deliver his little “repentance speech,” —the father had already started to wrap the prodigal son in lavish mercy…

I wonder if the Apostle Paul was offering his own commentary on this parable when in Romans chapter 5 Paul writes:  “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

If we’re lost, we don’t really deserve to be found.   The elder son got that part right.

But what he failed to see is that “being found” has nothing to do with “deserving.”

Being found just happens—like a gift out of the clear blue yonder.  Being found is the result of belong to a searching shepherd, a persistent house-sweeper, a fiercely determined waiting Father.

Being found, you see, is always a “God thing.”   It’s what God in Jesus Christ does, what God loves to do more than anything else.  It gives God joy—to find just one wanderer, to restore just one lost soul.

That’s what makes the heavenly rafters shake.

That’s what makes Faith Lutheran Church a lost-and-found place.

That why we’re celebrating today—celebrating so unabashedly that we even dig down deep into our pockets to give ourselves away--all to be part of God’s great party in heaven above and right here below, in this place, in this moment.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.