Perhaps this parable is even more important for us today than for Matthew's church; maybe this is an age that needs most to hear words about standing firm and acting decisively in life!! Mostly we just bumble along the surface – we don’t mean to – but time just flies by and we wake up once in a while and wonder at what happens, and also, at what doesn’t.
Reflecting on that picture from the book of Revelation, of the saints gathered at the throne of God, Frederick Buechner says, "All the company of heaven means everybody we ever loved and lost, including the ones we didn’t know we loved when we lost them."
There was a growing desire among the sincere religious to “go back to the practices of the early church,” a time in which there were no grand cathedrals, and instead, Christians met in one another’s houses. For them the words of Jesus had been enough.Into this milieu came Martin Luther ...
We Value What Is Truly Valuable, and Nothing Counterfeit
God or Caesar. Perhaps one of the reasons why we come to church is to ascertain the relative worth of the conflicting values in our lives. I think that should certainly be one takeaway. There are those singular moments when, in a flash, the value of things comes into focus and we see what is truly valuable.
Let me call time-out for a moment here and remind you that this sermon is Part Two of an October series I’m calling, A Credo for Our Time. Maybe I should have called it, A Credo for a Dark Time. No matter, each week is an extended discussion of a precept necessary for healthy living in such a time as this. Last week the precept was, We Take Our Stand in the Here and Now. This week it’s, We Trust in Something Larger than Ourselves
You know, all of us have a crazy relationship with time. Both the past and the future. Depending on who we are, we tend to dwell on one or the other. Ironically, that takes a lot off time. More than we even know. And more ironic than that, neither the past nor the future really exist. As we all know, at least intellectually, the only real time is right now. This given moment.
Along with the parable of the Prodigal Son, the parable is one of those stories of forgiveness so radical that it offends, because it seems to reward those who have done the least while it sends those who have worked the hardest to the end of the line. "So the last will be first and the first last," Jesus says, scrambling the usual order of things, and challenging all the usual assumptions by which most of us live our lives.
Forgiving someone once is one thing, but are you going to give him a third chance? Wouldn’t that make you feel like a ninny? Would that make you co-dependent? How about seventy times seven times? Come on?
There are plenty of people who seem to have the foresight to see catastrophes coming. Some of them are scientists and some are religious prophets of one sort or another. The question is, do we have the will to work together and do something to limit the damage that is coming in this era of aging infrastructure, and inadequate sea walls, and building codes that can’t stand up to what we might be facing in the years and decades ahead?
Many years ago I had my daughter Margaret in tow. We were visiting the Portland zoo, one of our favorite places. We were standing before the huge glass cage that was part of the home of the orangutan family. It was a cool fall afternoon, and we watched as the baby ran to it’s mother to cozy up – get warm. The mother took a large wool blanket, perhaps her only possession, shook it out like any mother would do, and then swung it around her shoulders as gracefully as a Martha Graham dancer. She pulled it down around her little one and sat there looking at us as we stared back. Any thought I ever had that these creatures might be of less value than human beings evaporated away that afternoon.
Here they were, women who lacked the only honorable distinction given to women in their day, to give birth, but through the madness and fear of a king, they found themselves in a unique position of power. And they used that opportunity to make a difference. They played the only part they could play, but it was one that would change the world, setting the stage for the liberation of an entire people from a tyrant.
The story starts so small. Joseph is merely on an errand for his father. He’s sent out by his father to locate his brothers – make sure they are okay. That part of the story means very little – it’s just kind of ironic. And he is about to go back home, because he can’t find them, when a nameless man happens along and tells him that he overheard his brothers say that they were on their way to a place called Dothan. That’s it. But it makes all the difference in the world.
The remarkable writer, James Baldwin has said, If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving.And let me add a corollary: the concept of God should never ever make us smaller, stubborn about needed change, or more judgmental. It should open life up and our hearts up too – not close them down
This is one of the great consolation passages in the Bible. The greatest. And as much as I revere the wisdom I find in other religions of the world, you know, there’s nothing like this in any of them. Other religions, like Buddhism for instance, give you techniques to deal with suffering – effective ones, but they don’t wrap you in a blanket of sheer love like this passage from the mouth of Jesus. Nothing else comes close.
A year ago I worked with one of our young scouts on his Duty to God badge. We looked intently at the teachings of Jesus, and this was one of the verses we discussed. With no introduction to it, I asked my young friend what he thought of those words on face value. And he said, “It makes Jesus sound kinda braggy.”
I had to agree. It makes Jesus sound arrogant, and exclusive. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The family story that we, in my family, are most proud of is the story of a cousin of mine who is now 87. She’s more like an aunt, really, and I go out to Sacramento to see her a couple of times a year. Without going deeply into her story I will just say that, at the age of fifty, living in a jungle in one of the regions of the Amazon River, she lost her husband and only child, a daughter, to a terrible strain of malaria, a strain which she also contracted and survived. Then, all alone, she survived for 5 more months until those who regularly supplied the family with staples, found her, having been unaware of her plight. I will add to that that she was legally blind and legally deaf since childhood. My daughter grew up with that story as an assurance that there was a vital strength in our family line, and people to be fiercely proud to call your own.