Grace: Simple, but Hard

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S (Scripture): Luke 15:11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. 13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. 26  He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. 27  The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ 28  Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. 29  He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30  But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ 31  Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32  But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”

I just couldn’t cut and paste parts of this story : )

O (Observation): So who gets grace? Jesus says EVERYONE gets grace: the older son, because everything that the Father has belongs to the older son, and the younger son, because his Father welcomes him back home.

The older son needs a change of perspective. Instead of ONLY thinking of grace as something given to those who “mess up,” we can think of grace as ALSO being that which God has already given us!

For the younger son, grace looks like a free gift, undeserved.

A (Application): We really like to forget about this story as Christians in the 21st century. We like to act like the older brother…expressing feelings of anger or jealousy as we “welcome in sinners.” (FYI, we are ALL sinners!)

How soon we forget that our Triune God welcomes all folks into the fold. And we can all do with that as we may. We can embrace the grace, or refuse it.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see the complexity of your grace: the joy that comes with it when we are the younger son, the refining grief that comes with it when we are the older son, and if you see fit, help us to be the father, embracing all… Amen.

We Pray: God Provide!

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S (Scripture): Genesis 22:6 Abraham took the wood for the entirely burned offering and laid it on his son Isaac. He took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?”

Abraham said, “I’m here, my son.”

Isaac said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the entirely burned offering?”

8 Abraham said, “The lamb for the entirely burned offering? God will see to it, my son.” The two of them walked on together.

9 They arrived at the place God had described to him. Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 But the Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven, “Abraham? Abraham?”

Abraham said, “I’m here.”

12 The messenger said, “Don’t stretch out your hand against the young man, and don’t do anything to him. I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.” 13 Abraham looked up and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the dense underbrush. Abraham went over, took the ram, and offered it as an entirely burned offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” That is the reason people today say, “On this mountain the Lord is seen.”

O (Observation): A very interesting story, indeed. Some look at this story and are appalled at such a disturbing set of circumstances. Some see this story as supporting child sacrifice (which cannot be further from the truth). Some see this story as the beginning of support for animal sacrifice.

Abraham has done almost everything God has asked, to this point. Abraham has been willing to follow God, but took one interesting part into his own hands (fathering a son, Ishmael, with his servant, Hagar). God called Abraham. God does not control Abraham.

So, God sets out for one final test…and does not fail Abraham. Isaac is bound (“akedah” in Hebrew). Bound, Isaac is about to be sacrificed to God. Abraham has been faithful, knowing all along that in some way, God will provide. Will God being Isaac back from the dead? What will happen?

God provides. God provides a ram, caught in the thicket. Abraham is faithful, even to the point of giving full dependence upon God. Even giving up the son that he loves dearly…the son promised by God.

A (Application): The father / son language is reiterated over and over again. You see very clearly the connection and relationship and wonder where the Good News is in this story.

As Abraham knows, God provides. In my study on this text, I came across the following, and leave it here for your reading, in hopes that you can see the Good News in such a text….the Good News that foreshadows Jesus the Christ:

The story of the akedah makes a claim on us: All that we have, even our own lives and those of the ones most dear to us, belong ultimately to God, who gave them to us in the first place. The story of the akedah assures us that God will provide, that God will be present. And, of course, as generations of Christian interpreters have seen, it foreshadows the story that forms the foundation of Christian faith – the story of the death and resurrection of the beloved son,5 son of Abraham, son of David, Son of God.

– Kathryn M. S Hoffner decker,

P (Prayer): Lord, you always provide for us. Help us to see your provisions around us. Amen.

Hello.  Who is this?

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 1:1 In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. 2 In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him.

O (Observation): As God’s people move further and further from Christ in the flesh, they seek clarification of Jesus’ identity.  Many in Jesus’ day claimed to have messianic powers, but this text shows Jesus as the true Son of God, higher than the angels.  

Ultimately, Jesus – the Son of God, is God’s true Messenger.   

A (Application):  The author of Hebrews makes pretty clear that God is speaking through Jesus. We hear clarification of the law and prophets through the lens of Christ. We interpret the Scriptures and our personal and communal discernment through the lens of Christ.  

As such, I seek to share Old and New Testament scriptures through the lens of Christ. 

I seek other new revelations through the voice of Christ, God’s Messenger.  

I seek communal discernment regarding how we are to be a Christian community through the messages of Christ. 

I seek to share a position of welcome and acceptance, because I see the world (at least I try to) through the lens of Christ, the voice of Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  

Our world twists and turns, and the only steady presence is the Spirit. The Scriptures give us a glimpse of God and God’s grace.   Now, we must interpret the present times through the lens / voice of Christ.   

May we be humble, yet bold in this process of discernment.   

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us steadfast in following your Messenger, Jesus Christ, through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Adopted and Loved

S (Scripture): Acts 15:32 “And we proclaim to you the good news about the promise to our ancestors, 33 that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.’”

O (Observation):  Paul and Barnabas are at a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch.  Paul is invited to speak to those at the synagogue.  He takes the opportunity to speak of Salvation History, pointing to God’s actions from the Exodus to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, to those who were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrected life, to the witnesses standing before them (Paul and Barnabas themselves).  

Paul reminds them (both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles) that God’s actions are like a parent adopting children.   They are all to sense that God has adopted all of them, that they are all worthy sons and daughters, made so by Christ’s death and resurrection. The promise to their anscestors has come true…in the person of Jesus Christ, who has overcome the power of sin and death. 

A (Application):  Sometimes, players on sporting teams feel as if the coach cares so deeply about them, the player almost feels like he / she is adopted by the coach…that the teammates become like brothers / sisters.  

In the same way, God adopts us into the larger Church – the family of God. Not by blood.  Not by nationality.   Rather, we are invited into God’s story.  We hear the message, we believe the message through faith (instilled in us by the Spirit) and we share the message to invite others to join.  

This cycle continues over and over again.  And the cycle never stops.   Yet for some reason, many of us believe that once we are “in,” that the journey has ended.   Well, I’m happy to share that this is NOT the end.  Rather, there is no end.  There is always opportunity.   To share grace, to show mercy, to live as Christ lived.  

Do you remember who shared God’s gospel with you?  Business friends?  Sunday School teachers?  Family members?   The possibilities are many.   I hope you can recall those who shared the Good News with you, and I pray you take the opportunity to share the Good News with others.  

Feel free to list any names of folks who have shared the Good News with you in the comments section below.  I list my parents, my pastors, and my friends at church camps over the years.  

P (Prayer): Lord, we thank you for adopting us as your sons and daughters.  Help us to invite others along for the journey.  Amen.  

The Parable Of The Compassionate Father

To read more about this rendition of the Prodigal Son sculpture, please click here.   

S (Scripture): Luke 15:11 Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons…”

25 “Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. 27 The slave replied, ‘Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.’ 28 But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. 32 It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.’”

O (Observation):  The older brother associates the awful behavior of the son with the partying going on inside their father’s house.  Is this younger, prodigal son actually receiving a party because of his actions? No!

The younger brother’s receiving a party because the compassionate father is welcoming him back home.  The younger son knew his wrong and wanted to come back home, and their father delighted to have him back.  

If it was up to the older brother, perhaps the younger brother would have had to work his way back into the family farm.  He might be made to stay in the barn for a time, before even living in the house. 

But Jesus says grace works differently than that.  The older brother feels slighted…but what does the father say to him?  “Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours.”   God’s grace is as much for the older brother as it is for the younger.  

The compassionate father teaches the younger so that there is a widened in God’s mercy.  The compassionate father teaches the older son that his love is equal for both children.  One happens to get a party…the other has everything that belongs to the father, and is always with the father.”

A (Application): Why is the church such a hard place to be welcoming and accepting?  What is the example Jesus gives in the story from today’s text?  When someone wants to be a part of the life of a congregation, shouldn’t there be rejoicing?!?!   A party?!?!

But what if they haven’t earned the respect of the people?   What if the newcomers are not like “us”?  What if they have not “put in their time”?  

Hopefully, they are welcomed in and accepted.  Maybe not for their past, but for their present desire to be with us.   Maybe we celebrate, because we can begin to see a hoped-for future…together.  

We can get so caught up in judging God’s grace, that we forget that we already have the Kingdom ( Luke 12:32)!!!  We easily forget that we have God with us (Matthew 1:23)!!!  We forget that we have a peace in God, through the Spirit (Philippians 4:7)!!!

For some reason, we’d like to forget the grace we’ve been shown, and simply work on other people’s problems.   Odd, isn’t it, that we would gladly help lay out a path for others, while ignoring our own brokenness?  

Perhaps a good way forward is to own our own brokenness and to invite others to share their own brokenness.  And somewhere in that mess…somewhere in that hurt and pain…we would see God celebrating as we are made whole, redeemed from the muck and the mire…being made new.  The pain will be there…but so will the celebration!

How do you see yourself?  As the prodigal son? The elder brother?  The compassionate father???

P (Prayer): Lord, we ask you to open our hearts to keep us in touch with our wounds, so that we might share burdens with others who have similar wounds and pains.  Amen.