Thursday, October 2, 2008


Today’s lessons seemed to me like a slap in the face. Especially after last week’s emphasis on standing in the grace of God and de-emphasis on doing as a way to find self worth I had to think long and hard about what to do with Jesus’ story of the two sons. But isn’t that what scripture is supposed to do; to challenge us and force us to reflect on our lives of faith.

Jesus responded to the Pharisee’s question with a story and a few questions of his own. The story was relatively easy to follow, there are two sons one tells their father that he will go work in the field and never gets there the other one verbally refuses but later on decides he should and works in the field anyway.

However Jesus’ question and its implication is what I found myself thinking about throughout the week. He ends his latest parable with a question which one is doing the will of the father? Like his stories this question is more than it seems at first. He takes the answer that the Pharisees gave him and turns it right back on them. “Truly I tell you the tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God ahead of you.” This strange turn of events causes one to ponder why are those who engage in behaviors that are blatantly sinful being praised by Jesus and compared to the son “who the will the father”. On one hand they are doing things that are wrong and that behavior needs to be condemned and cannot be accepted. But on the other hand we know that they are people who have been shunned by society and if we recall from last week Jesus tells us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, yes we understand that Jesus loves those that society doesn’t. But what is the will of the father that Jesus is talking about here? It can’t be the work that prostitutes and tax collectors have typically engaged in, can it? And where do the Pharisees come in? What role do they play?

Throughout scripture the Pharisees as seen as Jesus’ opponents and we may be led to look at them in disdain. But in actuality they aren’t much different than many Christians today. They have made their life’s pursuit the pursuit of religion. By adhering to a strict set of laws and practices they chase after holiness. This chase after holiness they hope will ultimately end in becoming closer to God. When Jesus comes and challenges all they hold dear they hide behind manmade laws and traditions. In the end their way to holiness becomes a trap of self-righteousness. Sometimes as Christians we fall in the same trap, the religion we practice as a means to worship the God who has given us life eternal becomes a citadel, a fortress shielding us from the world that God loves. We become like the son who vows to the father to do the work the father calls him to do. But we don’t ever leave the comfort zone we have made for ourselves and do it.

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about a religionless Christianity; A Christianity in which disciples lived a life of worship. A Christianity in which disciples served the Gospel of Jesus Christ and word in deed out in the world; A Christianity in which a special set of rituals and language was not reserved for a compartmentalized faith. Faith isn’t supposed to be safe it calls us to grow and leave our comfort zones. It challenges us to serve God by loving what God loves. And it brings us to authentic repentance.

I believe that this is the will of the Father that Jesus calls talks about today. Through the preaching and baptism of John and the teachings of Jesus many people, including some tax collectors and others of disrepute, have come to realization that they are sinners loved by God who need the forgiveness and grace that god offers freely. This is where they differ from the Pharisees who hide behind their religion of self-righteousness and fail to see their need. The repentance that should characterize all of those who have heard the call of Christ is marked by an utter dependence on God in who we find our source of life. It is also marked by a love for life and the world that springs out of our trust in God. The religion of repentant disciples isn’t about hiding away in a citadel of rituals and norms; instead it is about being strengthened and nurtured to live out our faith in a sinful and fallen world.

Kathleen Norris writes about a little boy who wrote a poem called "The Monster Who Was Sorry." In the poem the boy explodes about how he hated it when his father yelled at him. In anger he threw his sister down the stairs, wrecked his room, and then destroyed an entire town. His poem concludes: "Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, 'I shouldn't have done all that.'"

The boy was indeed the Monster who was Sorry. He serves us as a model of repentance. Repentance begins with a liberating awareness that the mess is ours. This is liberating because once we realize the mess is ours we can turn to a God who has come to live in the midst of our mess. This makes possible finding our way amidst the mess cleaning up the shards of shameful memories and broken relationships on the way. Let’s leave church today not self-righteous Pharisees but sinners utterly dependent on the Grace of God to enter God’s kingdom.

Please pray with me.

Gracious God we come before you bearing our sins and our faults. We know we can’t live as we should without the gift of your son Jesus Christ. Thank you for the amazing gift of grace that makes a new day possible. As you cleanse Chloe in the waters of baptism cleanse us all in your love and grace.

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