Sunday, March 31, 2013

Proof of the resurrection is here

There is no way to prove that the resurrection really happened. If such a thing occurred in our time, we could send in a crime scene investigation team and they could get to the bottom of it by examining all the evidence scientifically. But instead, all we can do is trust the testimony of a bunch of people we’ve never actually met. They claim that they saw him after he rose from the dead. They talked with him. They ate with him. They touched him. And it was enough for them to leave everything behind to devote the rest of their lives to telling everyone they encountered the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead. That’s all we have to go on. Or is it?

There’s a problem we often encounter in our understanding of the resurrection. We make the resurrection too small by reducing it to a brief moment in time that happened 2,000 years ago.  It was an odd little incident in history. But when we limit resurrection to the past, we miss out on something much grander that God is up to in our world.

Or, we may limit our understanding of the resurrection to something that is going to happen for us in the future.  It’s something we cling to so that we can face, what for most of us, is our greatest fear-- death. Yeah, I know some people will tell you that no Christian should fear death. But I have trouble accepting that because I’m a Christian, and I’m definitely afraid to die. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and that scares me. I know I’ll be going through it alone, and that scares me. It will mean letting go of everything and everyone I hold near and dear in this life, and that scares me. Well, if you’re like me, and you’re in no hurry to die, the resurrection can bring you some consolation.

But we’re limiting the power of resurrection if we use it as a band-aid for our mortality. For resurrection is not just a topic to speak about at funerals. And it’s not an insurance policy against the loss of life. It’s something much more than that. It’s the presence of new life in the face of death, to be sure. But that’s not just something that happens for us when our bodies give out on us. We face death every day. And we encounter opportunities for resurrection every day. 

The fact is, a resurrection that happened 2,000 years ago doesn’t do a lot for us. And a resurrection that will save us sometime in the future after we die, doesn’t much matter today. But what really counts is resurrection right here, right now.  We can’t only look back on a resurrection of the past and we can’t only wait for a resurrection in the future because we need resurrection right now.

We need resurrection right now because all around us, in the free-est nation on earth, people are hungry, families are living on the streets, children are denied access to an adequate education, because they are poor.

We need resurrection right now because the highest court in the land is considering whether or not a gay married couple should have the same rights and protections under the law that straight couples take for granted.

We need resurrection right now because the day before yesterday one of the members of our congregation was on lockdown while an unstable man in her neighborhood was shooting and killing people who wanted to cut down some pine trees, and our elected officials seriously can’t decide whether or not it’s advisable to ask for background checks before a person can purchase a gun.

We need resurrection right now because it’s too easy for us to stand in judgment of those who don’t see things our way, and those we perceive to be our enemies, and those we are convinced are evil. We need resurrection right now because judging is the way of death, and loving is the way to life in all its fullness.

We need resurrection right now because we all are prone to hurt the ones we love the most. We need resurrection right now because evil is pervasive in this world and we all participate. We need resurrection right now because it promises us that in the end, all wrongs are made right.

 It’s not an idle tale, friends. No, we can’t prove it. But that doesn’t really matter a whole lot. We don’t need to prove the resurrection. What we need is to be the proof of the resurrection, ourselves. We do that by living resurrection lives. By living in a way that bears witness to the fact that hatred always loses and love triumphs. That death always loses and life triumphs.

 When death stares you in the face and scares the bejeebers out of you, the risen Christ always shows up. The resurrected Christ makes himself known, not just to us. But the resurrected Christ makes himself known through us.  

Look around you and you can see it for yourself. He is risen!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Walk this way, please

After wandering around in the Lenten wilderness for six+  weeks, we’ll soon be gathering in packed houses of worship with trumpets and choirs and lilies, proclaiming, “He is risen!” But not yet. We have one last stop along the way. We call it Good Friday, although there doesn’t seem to be much good in it until you can look back on it with resurrection eyes.

For many people, what makes the crucifixion good is knowing that Jesus died for their sins. And while that’s one way of making sense of Jesus’ death on the cross that has resonated with people of faith for a long time, it’s not the only way to make sense of it. And, to be honest, it's not a perspective that resonates a whole lot with me.

I prefer to consider the 
Jesus story through the lens of this passage from Philippians:
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
       6who, though he was in the form of God,
      did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
      And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself
      and became obedient to the point of death —
      even death on a cross.
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
      every knee should bend,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.
  (Philippians 2:5-11)

This past Sunday, we began our worship with a cheering crowd celebrating Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and we ended it by recounting the story of a crowd shouting “Crucify him!” and his death on a cross. Talk about a downward spiral! That’s the Jesus we read about in the second chapter of Philippians. He was in the form of God but didn’t exploit that. Instead, he humbled himself by taking on the form of a slave.

That word humbled is a key to understanding who Jesus was and what he was about. Is being humiliated and humbling yourself the same thing? Although they both come from the word humus, which means dirt, there is a difference. To be humiliated is something that someone else imposes upon you. They treat you like dirt. But to humble yourself is to make yourself like dirt. When you’re humiliated, someone else has the power. But when you humble yourself, you are the one with the power. Jesus’ was not stripped of his power. He showed his power by emptying himself. It was his doing, it was his choice to take on the form of a slave.

 A slave, like the one who would get down on his hands and knees and wash his disciples’ dirty feet. A slave, like the one who would be nailed to a cross. Wealthy people were not executed on crosses. This was the form of execution reserved for slaves. In Jesus’ life and in his death, he didn’t just take on human form, but he identified with the lowest of the low. How often do we consider this when we look at the figure of Christ crucified?

 We tend to personalize this act, focusing on what Jesus has done for us on a cross. And we miss the fact that he identified with the outcasts and the untouchables. He became as a slave. His death on the cross was an act of solidarity with the lowest members of society. To have the mind of Christ, as this ancient hymn recorded in Philippians suggests, is to empty yourself and identify with the ones Jesus himself identified with in his life and in his death. It may be more comforting to focus on ourselves and the way that Jesus died for us. But there’s more to his death than that. It’s not all about us.

 Now, none of us needs to go to a cross the way that Jesus did; that’s not what these verses from Philippians are suggesting. What they are suggesting is that we have the mind of Christ. That we adopt a pattern for our lives that follows the pattern of Jesus’ life. It’s a way of life that is radically different than the life the dominant culture around us would have us live. We are more than the fa├žade we present to others. We are more than our cars and our jobs. Our value is not measured by popularity or awards.

 In fact, everything we have learned in our culture about success is wrong. We can only become the people God created us to be by divesting ourselves of the world’s trappings so that we can stand naked before God without any of the stuff that stands between us. For, it’s only in emptying ourselves that we can be filled with God’s grace. This is a radical way of being in the world. It means thumbing your nose at the values of the world around us and living the Jesus way. That is, the way of the cross.

 Although it may bring us great comfort to look at the figure of Jesus dying on the cross with the assurance that he died to save us from our sins, that he died for each of us personally, there is so much more going on there.  The figure of Jesus dying on a cross is a living/dying demonstration of his central teaching: “If any would be my disciples, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For whoever gains their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will gain it.” The cross is Jesus' invitation to all who would follow him: “Walk this way, please!”


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Yes, Clarkie. Here we go again.

A tender-hearted boy in my congregation named Clarkie was distraught at Christmastime. The thought of Jesus being born was too much for him. “Why is Jesus going to be born again? Then they’re just going to kill him all over again!” Really, he had a point. Why do we keep going through the same story over and over again when we know it’s always going to end the same way? Isn’t once enough? Someday, I hope that Clarkie will understand why once will never be enough.

We all carry stories inside us. And there is a story above all stories called our master story. It’s the story that determines how we see the world, the meaning we attach to life, and our values. It guides our moral decisions. It’s good to be aware of what our master story is, although most people carry around master stories within themselves with absolutely no awareness of them. Our master stories come from our culture and are often passed on from parents to children. We internalize these stories that shape our lives and they become so much a part of who we are that we may never realize they’re there.
Let me give you a couple of examples from our American culture. One very common master story is the rags-to-riches story of success. If we work hard, we can all achieve great things. In this story, poverty is a temporary state and there’s always the hope that things will get better -- for the deserving. People who have lived out this story tend to be the ones we admire most, those who came from nothing and made a name for themselves. It’s part of the appeal of shows like American Idol, which is a variation on the rags-to-riches story.

Another common master story for Ameicans is the story of the lone, self-reliant hero, classically expressed in the American cowboy. This is a story that depicts simplistic, clear-cut confrontations between good and evil. There are guys in white hats and guys in black hats. The villain is purely evil, beyond redemption. Because of this, the hero must act decisively through violent means to eradicate the evil. We can see this master story played out in the movies, not only in westerns, but in characters like Rambo and James Bond.
Faith groups have master stories that they share with others in their community. There is a master story for Muslims that is about a faithful prophet who followed God’s will completely and was justly rewarded for that faithfulness. That’s what it means to be Muslim.

For the Jews, there is a master story that is a story of redemption for God’s people. It’s the story of the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. Jews have internalized this story so that it clearly shapes their lives.
Christians have a master story, too, and at the center of that story is the cross. At its most basic level, the church is a community formed around this master story. Our master story makes a difference in the way we live our lives as a community and as individuals within the community.

When we accept the cross as our master story, it shatters all competing stories, as well as our lives. When the cross becomes our master story, we can no longer use and abuse other people to achieve our goals. When the cross becomes our master story, the philosophy that says “the person with the most stuff wins” breaks down. When the cross becomes our master story, power is never about bullying and threats and exerting physical strength.
So, Clarkie, here we go again. This week Christians are re-telling the story of Jesus’ death. I hope that as you grow in years you will grow to appreciate hearing this story again and again.  I hope that when you hear it, you will come to know that it’s more than just a disturbing account of how a little baby’s life ended. And I hope you can hear it, not just as one of many little stories that informs your life. I hope you hear it as The Story – the one that shapes our life as a community, and the one that shapes your life as a person.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Easter at the Department of Justice?

It seems a bit surreal to be going through my day preparing for another Good Friday and Easter while the Supreme Court is deliberating decisions that could radically change the course of history in our country. While I have known this day would come eventually, I can hardly comprehend that it’s here. I don’t know what the outcome will be or how any of us will be feeling about it in a few days. But I do know how the wind is blowing and I do know that, if it doesn’t happen this time, it will happen.

The irony of the fact that we should be waiting for the world to change during Holy Week is not lost on me. I think of the sacrifices so many have made to live authentically, as the people God created them to be. And it reminds me of Jesus. I think of dear friends  who have been relegated to the margins of society because they do not meet the expectations of others. And it reminds me of Jesus. I think of all the pain people I care deeply about have endured because of who they love. And it reminds me of Jesus.

And when I’m reminded of  Jesus, I think of the story of one who suffered and died, knowing that story doesn’t end there, because it’s God’s story. And in God’s story, death always leads to new life. And so it shall be. New life is on its way. I have no doubt about it. I just don’t know when. And so, with so many people I love, this day I wait, holding my breath, afraid to exhale. And I pray that it will soon be Easter morning.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Getting Jesus

She showed no restraint. She didn’t hold back. She put it all out there. Without provocation, she opened a jar of perfume that was worth more than a common laborer earned in a year. And she poured it on… feet! Not just a little bit, but all of it. Then she let down her hair like a woman with no sense of pride or propriety and she dried those feet with her hair. It was too much. She was too much.

Of course the other dinner guests were taken aback by her behavior. She embarrassed herself and everyone in the house.  They were all wondering how she could be so inappropriate. Well, all except the one whose feet she had anointed. He actually seemed to praise her for it. Was he just being kind, or was it possible that this woman others saw as either crazy or clueless was really the only person at dinner that night who got Jesus?
Her name was Mary. She was the one who often sat at Jesus’ feet and took in every word he taught, much to the dismay of her sister Martha, who was always scurrying about serving all her guests. Jesus was a frequent guest at their house in Bethany. It was just outside Jerusalem, so a good place to stay while traveling to and from the city. Jesus loved Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. In fact, he had raised Lazarus from the dead. Mary had so many reasons to love Jesus. And she wasn’t about to hold back.

Did Mary know what was about to unfold? Did she know that soon Jesus himself would demonstrate how washing feet is a symbol of love for his closest friends? Did she know that in a few days Jesus would need to be anointed for his burial? Or did she simply know that no genuine act of love is ever too much?
It’s scary to let love get the best of you like that. Few of us want to get caught going overboard, even for the sake of someone we care about. Love needs to be carefully measured in a balanced, reciprocal manner. Like gift-giving at Christmas. You don’t want to give someone a $100 gift and then have them give you a $10 gift. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved.  Often when we are given too much we’ll respond, “You shouldn’t have”, and we really mean it. You shouldn’t have given so much. It makes us uncomfortable.

That’s the world we live in, isn’t it? Extravagant love is hard to accept. What do you do with a love that doesn’t know when to quit, filling your cup to overflowing? What do you do with a love that goes overboard, feeding over 5,000 hungry people and then leaves you scrounging everywhere for enough baskets to store the leftovers? What do you do with a love that spares no expense, by turning water into massive jars of the best wine you ever tasted? What do you do with a love that empties itself completely on a cross? What do you do with a love like that? It’s too much!
Mary knew she had received extravagant, over-the-top, no-holding-back love like that. And she welcomed the opportunity to give as she had received. Until we can learn to do the same, I wonder if we will ever really get Jesus.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thank goodness!

It’s  a beautiful spring day and I have some azalea bushes I want to get into the ground. But first, an overdue visit with Melba. She’s the oldest member of our congregation and almost 40 years my senior. Although she has lots of physical challenges, mentally she remains at the top of her game, and the reality of her life often makes her cranky. I can’t blame her for that. Today, I just want to knock this visit out so I can get on to other things. I will briefly enter the little world of her room at the retirement home and return to my larger life in no time.

 We chat about the new Pope and her flat-screen  T.V.  and the church and her pain. Then the time comes to move on to the main reason for my visit.

 I open my little box of Holy Communion-to-go, set a wafer and a tiny glass of wine on the table, and launch into the Brief Order for the Confession of Sins. I say the words I have said a bazillion times before: “Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves…” Let’s see. I picked up four new azalea bushes; three are bright pink, and the other one, I believe is white… “We have not loved you with our whole heart…”  Should I plant all three of the pink ones under the pine trees in the front yard, or should I plant two pink ones and one white one and then put the other pink one someplace else or I could put the white one someplace else?… “For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us...” Maybe I’ll have to figure it out as I go. First I’ll have to dig four holes and mix some Miracle Grow with the soil…

 Okay, the confession is over. So we move on to the absolution. I assure her that because of Jesus, her sins are forgiven. And I’m wondering if I have enough Miracle Grow to get the job done. “As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Reflexively drawing the outline of a cross in the air, I punctuate my words in the customary way, “Amen.” I expect to hear her echo my Amen with one of her own.

“Thank goodness!”

 Wait a minute! What was that? Did she just say thank goodness!? Thank goodness!? It seems that, unlike me, she had been paying attention. She was not somewhere else. She was present in the room. She heard the words of forgiveness, and she knew they were words of life for her.

 Thank goodness! Those two simple words jarred me like being awakened from a deep sleep by a fire alarm. Thank goodness!

 As I consecrated the bread and the wine and then placed them in her hands, I wasn’t thinking about azalea bushes anymore. I was thinking about how my routine visit to this dear woman of faith is anything but routine for her. This is a holy moment. Jesus is present in the bread and wine. Melba is present in our community of faith at Holy Trinity and we  are present in her. God is here! Instead of showing up at her door like I was delivering a pizza, I should have removed my shoes in reverence for the holiness of the ground beneath my feet.

I take her hands in mine and pray for her in the way pastors are expected to pray in these situations, offering God’s word of grace to someone who so desperately needs to hear it.  “Amen,” I say, indicating that this will conclude the sacred portion of our program for the afternoon.

 But Melba doesn’t release my hands. Instead, she offers a prayer of her own. This time the word of grace is for me.  She seems to know that I need to hear it, too. But I doubt she realizes just how desperately.  

 Melba finishes her prayer and squeezes my hands as we both say, “Amen” together.  Yes, Melba, amen!  And, thank goodness!


Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Every party has a pooper, that's why he invited you..."

If I were going to name the story most of us know as "The Parable of  the Prodigal Son", I would call it "The Parable of the Party Pooper." Let me tell you why. 

Its meaning is lost on us unless we read it in its context. So, we need to begin with what prompts Jesus to tell it. Here’s the deal. Jesus is hanging out with tax collectors and sinners and this isn’t going over well with the fine, upstanding religious people of his day, the scribes and Pharisees. “It just isn’t right!” they insist.
So, he responds to their complaining with three stories, one after another. The first is about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One wandered off and he left the 99 to go and find it. As shepherds go, this wasn’t a real smart thing to do, but it all seemed to work out. He found that one lost sheep and brought it back home. When he got there, he told his friends, “This is something to celebrate. Let’s have a party!”

Then the second story is about a woman who had ten coins. She lost one and turned the house inside out and upside down in order to find it. When she finally did, she called to her friends and said, “This is something to celebrate. Let’s have a party!”

And, in case his audience doesn’t quite comprehend what he’s trying to tell them about why he spends so much time with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus tells them one more story to seal the deal.

As I said, we know it as the parable of “The Prodigal Son.” And that very title indicates a bias in the way we interpret it and apply it to our lives. We really like the part about the son who makes a mess of his life and returns home to his father, who is waiting with open arms. It assures us that no matter what we may do in this life, no matter how far we may stray, God’s grace never fails. It’s a story that brings tears to our eyes, especially if we’ve ever experienced our own version of it in real life.

But there’s another son in this story. Another son who separates himself from a father who never stops loving him. Another son who is given all that life has to offer and chooses the way of death instead. The son who really makes a mess of his life. The party pooper.

Jesus’ original hearers knew who he was talking about when he got to this part of the story. They were not the younger son who went off and blew all his inheritance on foolishness. They were the older son, the good one who always did the right thing.

Any Jew of this era would have recognized that the central message always comes at the end of a parable. That’s the way they were taught to listen to them. The punch doesn’t come at the beginning or the middle. It comes at the end. In addition, the story of the older brother also happened to be the story that comes at the end of three parables that were all a part of the same thread. All addressed the issue posed by the disgruntled scribes and Pharisees who were complaining about the company Jesus was keeping. So, Jesus’ big finish to his extended teaching here comes with the story about the older son.

A friend of mine, ELCA Pastor Paul Meier, blogged about this week’s gospel text and referred to it as the parable of “the whiny Protestant Son.” What a weird thing for him to say, I thought. But then he pointed out something in the text I hadn’t noticed before. The father divided his wealth to them. Not just the younger son who asked for his share, but the father divided it between the two of them. The younger son asked for what was rightfully his. And, we all know how that turned out.
But that part of the story is only secondary to the real zinger at the end. We may try to focus on the poor misguided son who is such a mess that he needed the grace of the father. Yeah, that preaches. We like it. But then Jesus moves from preachin’ to meddlin’.
Pastor Meier writes, “Don’t get me wrong, the grace part is highly important for those living recklessly.… The chapter starts by saying Jesus is talking to tax collectors and sinners. They need to hear the good news.…God places no demands on those who are found. God throws a party when God finds them.

“The resentment in compliant sons is that they don’t get to look down their noses at their disgusting brothers to see them grovel and pay for their prodigalness. How can the father accept them with no disciplinary action? They need to be placed on eternal probation so there’s a perpetual hammer over their head that keeps them in line. 

"Lest we forget, the father divided his possession to them.” If the father apportioned the family possessions according to custom, with two sons, the older one got 2/3rds while the younger one got 1/3rd. The elder son got a double portion.
Pastor Meier continues… “The younger son took his money and tried to find happiness. He spent all his money, albeit foolishly. And that’s partly why I don’t think the younger son was Protestant. He was able to spend his money on fun things – which is not saying I agree with his choices of trying to find his life. We usually have to make some mistakes before we come to our senses.
“But Protestants tend to think work comes before fun. Protestants tend to think putting money in the bank for retirement is fun. Protestants tend to think if you’ve got a smile on your face, you’re up to no good. Protestants don’t make mistakes. If they do, they have to repent eternally, until they fail again and the cycle starts over. Protestant is an appropriate name because these people have the most fun when they are in a group protesting about what other sinners are doing or not doing that doesn’t meet with their self-imposed restrictions. And then when they see someone else spending their own money and making some mistakes, they get all whiny about it. They call them names, berate them, call them irresponsible, losers….
“They’ve received a double portion of the father’s wealth – the knowledge of the Father’s love as well as God’s blessings – and still that’s not enough. They hate it when people aren’t miserable like them. They hate it when the Father embraces sinners unconditionally who haven’t paid their dues.
“How do I know this? I was born a Protestant—born to look down my nose at sinners. It takes one to know one. Jesus’ parable is simply a mirror for those of us who read the Bible or go to church to see ourselves in action.
“So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have some fun by putting a little money in the bank. Then I’ll meet up with my buddies over coffee and solve the problems of the world by whining about all my lazy prodigal brothers and sisters out there.”

Now, Pastor Meier was blogging with his tongue in his cheek regarding Protestants, to be sure. But he was making a strong point. Especially, when you look at all three of these stories together and you notice that they have more in common than the fact that they are all about the lost being found. Each of them also describes the same response to the lost being found. In each story we hear: “This is something to celebrate. Let’s have a party!”

 And that was exactly what the elder brother couldn’t bring himself to do. He had received twice as much as his younger brother, but he couldn’t bring himself to rejoice and celebrate when his brother was restored to his family. The older brother had a way of looking at the world that said people get what they deserve and the most deserving should get the most.

So, is that what Protestantism looks like? I don’t know if I would go that far, but it does make a great deal of sense when you consider how what we call the “Protestant work ethic” operates. The Protestant work ethic teaches us that if you want anything in this life you’re going to have to work for it. And if you work hard enough, you will be rewarded. It’s an interesting way of looking at life, and I know it’s so engrained in our culture that many people will fight to the death before they will admit that it might not necessarily happen that way. Or, God forbid, that maybe it shouldn’t happen that way.

We hear a lot of talk these days about entitlements. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but entitlements are never spoken of in a positive way. Of course, the word choice implies that we are giving people hand-outs, that people are receiving what they don’t deserve. But that's not what it means to be entitled. The irony is that the ones who are most enraged by this are those who, in fact, believe they are the ones who are entitled. They have worked hard and they deserve to be rewarded. Because they are entitled to what they see as rightfully theirs. Does that not sound a whole lot like the elder brother to you?

When the younger son finally returns home, why does the father say, “Let’s celebrate!?” Is it because the son came and groveled at his feet? The father had his arms around his son before the boy even had time to finish the little apology he had been rehearsing the whole way home. We don’t know if the son was truly repentant or if he was just desperate and poor. This son was totally undeserving. And that, of course, is the point. Because that’s the way grace works. What the older son might have perceived as a father’s misplaced entitlement was simply love and compassion. And it was too much for the older son to bear.

 Is the reason why we downplay the part of the story where the older brother whines about how unfair this is because we resemble that remark?  Do we see the older brother’s perspective so clearly because it tends to reflect the way we see the world, too?

I remember once taking a group of college students to Washington, DC on a mission trip. We served lunch to the homeless in a soup kitchen. It was a real learning for the students because of some of the assumptions they had about homeless people. The students assumed that those coming to the soup kitchen would be humble. And grateful for the food. They would realize that these were college students who had chosen to come here over their spring break when they could have been in Ft. Lauderdale. So, they would appreciate these kind young people who were serving them. Well, some did. But some did not. They complained about the menu. They grumbled about the portion sizes. They didn’t say “thank you” when they were served. A few of the students told them what they thought of their behavior and I had to intervene. We had a lot to talk about during our group meeting that night. It was a good learning. They were reacting as the older son who expected a little more in return for his exemplary behavior. These ungrateful homeless people didn’t deserve their kindness. Yeah, that’s about right, isn’t it?

Despite the worldview of the culture around us, we need to be reminded of how things work in the Kingdom of God. And we need to figure out which kingdom we will pitch our tent in. God’s kingdom is not about deciding who deserves food, and clothing, and health care, and an adequate education for today’s world, and who does not. God’s kingdom is a place of mercy and compassion for all. Especially those many of us would deem undeserving. God’s kingdom is not about excluding the undesirables who don’t meet our standards. It is a place where all are welcome as children of God, without reservation.

God’s kingdom isn’t even about gritting our teeth and extending love and mercy to those we may deem undeserving because it’s our Christian duty to do so, doggone it! It’s about celebrating and throwing a party whenever we have the opportunity to participate in God’s loving embrace for all.

“This is something to celebrate! Let’s have a party!” Jesus says. Certainly, it’s an invitation to those who may not deserve it. But I can assure you that it is also an invitation extended to those who are absolutely convinced that they do.