Getting Ready

49126-house-cleaning-11514On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’”  So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.   Matthew 26:17-19 NIV

Today has been a whirlwind of activity at the church for me.  A very different Maundy Thursday from the past.

There was no Sanctuary to prepare … no alter decorations … no last minute music details.

No one but me.  I have spent the day recording, editing, uploading all the services for this Holy Week.  The work is done and now we wait to celebrate and remember together … virtually.

I have been thinking of the Passion narratives and a comment made this week in an online Bible Study I lead.  This week is filled with ritual and routine.  Anticipation and remembering.

The same was true for Jesus.  I hadn’t thought much about the idea that Jesus has already planned everything.  And when it came time there was Jesus …

fgdhkjWhen evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.  Mt 26:17-30 NIV

Perhaps our efforts are easier on a day like this … in a time like this … because we do our work in advance … knowing that Jesus will show up tonight as we gather around the virtual table already set and waiting for us to partake.

We also know that the tomb will be empty come Sunday and we will celebrate the hope of resurrection.

Maybe if we could keep the anticipation of Easter alive during the week, it would change how we prepare each and every week for Worship.

The anticipated encounter with the Risen Savior tends to change how you act.

Oh and that thing from Bible Study?

Well we were studying Leviticus – I know exciting stuff?!

As we looked at all the rituals and practices outlined in the book, I asked, “What does ritual mean to us today?”

I expected comments about how the rituals of this week would be missed, etc, etc

And then from the blank square (voice only on a Zoom Meeting) came a profound observation:

“I’ve always thought of ritual as preparation for worship.  I wonder if we have lost our love of ritual in a culture of instant gratification?”

Wow!

Perhaps we are getting a reset on our thinking.

Taking the time to prepare.

More family meals – less microwave specials.

More intentional planning of our time … and our worship.

May we discover the ritual of preparing … and may we take the time to be prepared for all the activities of Easter … and our worship.

Did you hear the one about the sheep?

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The story of the lost sheep

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:1-7 NIV

This is a story worth telling over and over again, but I think in this season it has a new meaning. I’ve been reviewing the stories (parables) of Jesus from the perspective of Easter looking back. That’s has provided an interesting view for many of Jesus’ stories, but this story has a particular new context as we approach Easter 2020.

So often this story is told as a means to encourage the church (the 99) to seek after the lost (the one). And that is a great way to look at this story … leave the safety of your church walls and search after those in need of a shepherd. But we are already outside of the church this year.

The story is also told so that the lost (the one) might know that God is searching for them.

Again I love that message, but the lost (the one) have to be around to hear it.

And it is that idea that has me rethinking this entire story. You see, suddenly the greater church has had to take their message beyond their walls. Overnight it seems the church has discovered that technology has evolved past the 1900s. The church has discovered online meetings, online streaming, cell phones, texting, and shockingly THE INTERNET!

All kidding aside, this rush to connect with people has created an interesting outcome.

More people are connecting to the messages of the church than ever before.

People that rarely entered the doors of our buildings are connecting through technology.

The message of God’s love is reaching more people today than a month ago.

And that is a really good thing! But it also reveals a problem. Have you stopped to ask

WHY?

Why are more people connecting to the church?

The easy answer is there are no atheists in a foxhole,

but I really don’t think that is entirely what is happening here. This is something more!

I truly believe that for the first time across our culture, people are able to connect with church without having to deal directly with God’s people. Let me repeat that ….

people are able to connect with church

without having to deal directly with God’s people.

Is it possible that the 99 in the story Jesus told drove away the one or at least kept the one from having a safe place amidst the 99?

I don’t have an answer yet, but I am hopeful that this time away from the church building will cause us to ask, what practices can we leave behind so that those that found us through technology outside of our buildings will also find their way into the community that gathers inside a building.

And with that thought, may God forgive us for the things we have done that kept the ONEs from gathering in the safety of our Churches. Give us the heart and eyes of The Good Shepherd to seek and bring home the ONEs. And may we find comfort in the knowledge that we have all been that ONE at some point in our lives.

AMEN

Did you hear the one about the 2 sons?

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The prodigal son … we’ve heard it countless times and thanks to Luke, we get it.  Right before the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus says: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And so we get it the point before the story is ever told … there is great rejoicing by God for the one who returns home.

Since Jesus first told this parable, those that have heard this story and taught it have always focused on the prodigal son’s return. But the way Jesus begins the story should mean that we can’t ignore that this is a story of two sons.  Remember Jesus says at the start: “There was a man who had two sons.”

Maybe we have missed the whole point of this story because we have long focused on the wrong son.

Let’s recap the story of BOTH sons:

A man had two sons and the younger son demanded his inheritance and took the money and ran. He went away and wasted all the money on wild living. He ended up broke, hungry and miserable in the mud and mess of a hog pen. When he came to his senses, he confessed to God that he had sinned and he headed home. He wasn’t sure how his father would receive him, so he was prepared to take the job of a servant. But when the father saw him, he ran to meet him. The Father embraced his son and they had a wonderful celebration.

So if you are hear this story and you are someone who is distant from GOD, far from the Father’s provision and love- you identify with the prodigal son.

If you are someone who has ever hit rock bottom, who has tried everything to rise up from the pigpen, but to no avail – you identify with the prodigal son.

If you are someone who knows what it means to come to your senses and long for home, someone who believes there is still mercy in God’s heart – you identify with the prodigal son.

For all the prodigal sons, Jesus wants you to know that, just like the Father in the story, God is willing and waiting to receive you back. There is nothing you’ve done that is so bad that God won’t forgive you and embrace because God Loves you just as you are! He’s waiting for you. He has suffered for you. You can go home again. A Heavenly celebration is planned for you. So come home.

And for most of us that is all that we know or believe about this story.

So it would be nice if the story ended there, BUT IT DOESN”T

What about the other son?

Meanwhile the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” He replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” 

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

For lack of a better term, I am going to call this older son – ‘the stayed-at-home Prodigal’.  Jesus was far more direct in the day.  For Jesus the other son in the story was the religious establishment – those who had a problem letting go of the traditions & establishment of the day.  This other son represented the many religious people today who haven’t sinned against God by running off and going wild.

These ‘stayed-at-home Prodigals’ have been around the church a long time keeping a pew warm or perhaps a sofa at home, but when it comes to really celebrating what God is doing in the lives of others, they have forgotten how to rejoice.

I’m convinced there are more people in the church today who are guilty of being ‘the stayed-at-home Prodigals” than there are those guilty of being the younger wandering prodigal and perhaps that is why the church struggles to grow.

Here’s our problem: For so many of us, we’ve grown up knowing the Lord, and we have forgotten what it was like to be in need of God’s grace and love.  Simply put, we have forgotten the joy of being welcomed into the family.

So to every Prodigal, God says, “Come on; join me in the celebration, because there is joy in the presence of angels over just one who repents!

And that brings us to the end of the story.  How does the story end?

We don’t know.  We’re left hanging.

Does the older brother stomp off, nurse his bitterness, never returning?  Or does he uncross his arms and allow his father to put his arms around his shoulders as they walk into the house together to celebrate?

Jesus doesn’t tell us and I think Jesus left it open-ended on purpose.

It’s up to you.

What will you do?

How will you respond?

Which prodigal are you?

The Good News is that God invites … encourages … compels … both sons to come join the banquet … For in that moment of celebration, you will receive the gift of forgiveness and all of Heaven will rejoice.

Give thanks this day for the gift of forgiveness for each of us given to us through the life of Jesus Christ and revealed in the story of the Prodigal Sons.

I don’t know about you … But that’s a story we need.

And a story worth telling over and over …. and over again.