Monday, March 21, 2016

"Joy to Grief" MCC Windsor, March 20, 2016, Palm Sunday

Contemporary Words:
“Even now, I wonder: if I meet God, will God take and hold my bare hand, and focus God’s eye on my palm…? … It is I who misunderstood... God, I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain. So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.” 
--- Annie Dillard’s essay “God In the Doorway,” in the book Teaching a Stone to Talk. 

Ancient Words
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 
Give thanks to God, who is good;
    God’s love endures forever.
Let Israel say: God’s love endures forever.”
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Holy One.
 This is the gate of our God
    through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Holy One has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
God has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.
God, save us!
    Holy One, grant us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God.
    From the house of the Holy One we bless you.
 The Holy One is God,
    and has made God’s light shine on us.
With branches in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise you;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Holy One, for God is good;
    God’s love endures forever.

Luke 19:28-40
Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Holy One needs it.’”
Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them.  As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
They replied, “The Holy One needs it.”
They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

The joy of Palm Sunday. The rejoicing of the people of Jerusalem as Jesus enters, the one who has been teaching and healing and comforting them—riding in like a conquering hero! Is it possible, they must be asking themselves, that he will take over from the priests, that he will send the Romans packing, and that Jerusalem will be ruled by a Jewish—truly Jewish, not a Roman puppet like Herod—but a real Jewish ruler? Can it be? That would be like heaven on earth! And so they shout and celebrate with a joy that can’t be contained. As Jesus himself says, the very stones of the streets and houses would shout out, even if all the human voices were stilled. 

The words from the Psalm are probably very reflective of what the disciples and the people of Jerusalem were feeling. 
“Give thanks to God, who is good;”
“I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Holy One has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
God has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.”
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God.
    From the house of the Holy One we bless you.
 The Holy One is God,
    and has made God’s light shine on us.
With branches in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.”

They could not help but celebrate—their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations all seemed to be coming true! No more Romans, no more grinding taxes, no more arrogant foreign soldiers ordering everyone around—just freedom to live as the laws of God demanded, with justice and peace and righteousness and mercy. 

What is your fondest dream for your nation, your city, your workplace, your family, your community? What would you want to have happen above all things?  Take a moment to think about that. What is it that you picture as the best thing that could possibly happen for that situation? A new leader, a new strategic plan, a new attitude or atmosphere? Maybe a reconciliation between some people who have had a falling out? Perhaps there’s a project or a change in policy or procedure that would radically improve things. Imagine what it would be like to have that, whatever it is, in place and working, and your dreams coming true. Imagine that the person who can make that happen is standing in front of you, promising to do just that—bring in the new leader, change the policy, fund the project, spark a new attitude—whatever it takes to bring your dream to life.

That is what the people of Jerusalem think they see in the near future. Jesus has been so wise, so kind, so just, so full of healing and comfort—surely he will now take the next step and evict the Romans, and take over as the ruler of Israel, as he is entitled to do, being a descendent of David. Isn’t that what all his travels and teachings and work were leading up to? Isn’t this the perfect moment now—at the celebration of the Passover, which is the ceremony of the remembrance of the exodus of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery to freedom in their own land—so now Jesus can be a more perfect Moses, and lead them out of slavery to the Romans, and rule them in their own land of Israel—isn’t that what this is all about?

Could there be a more perfect time? Clearly not, and so the people of Jerusalem celebrate the coming of the anointed one, the Christos, in Greek—no, it’s not Jesus’ last name. And so they shout and dance and wave the palm branches of victory. 

Luke 23: 22-49
When the soldiers had brought Jesus to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Holy One, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, the chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the Ruler of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the Ruler of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this one has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your realm.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Beloved Creator, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this one was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Wow. That was quite the change. Sunday the celebration and joy and welcome…Friday the rejection and confusion and grief and death. 

In the course of history, we in the Christian church have lost the sense of progression through Holy Week, as the days between Palm Sunday and Easter are called. Christianity was the organizing principle of civic life for many centuries—as it still tends to be in many ways, but not as it was in, say, the Middle Ages or even the Renaissance or the 18th century. Holy Week  meant no frivolity—depending on the time period, that meant only religious plays, oratorios instead of operas, no gambling, no balls, even at court; law courts closed and so did shops and theatres. In contrast to Christmas, which was celebrated with gusto—food, drinking, revels, and parties—Holy Week and Easter were seen as more somber and serious holidays. Monday through Wednesday were days of prayer, each with an observation, but it was Holy Thursday and Good Friday when things went into high gear. Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, remembers the Last Supper—Jesus’ last meal on earth with his disciples and the institution of what we call today Communion or the Lord’s Supper. 

It may have been a Passover meal—the Gospels aren’t clear on that—but it was clearly an intimate meal, shared with close friends, a chosen family, as a Passover seder meal often is. I’ve been privileged to attend a couple of seder meals with Jewish friends, and they are very much family meals. It is also partly a worship service, and the order of the service is called a haggadah, and there are many versions available—a women’s haggadah, the Jerusalem haggadah, an LGBT haggadah, and so on. It is customary, even expected, for there to be discussion and dispute over the ceremony and what is done when. There’s a part for children—a piece of matzo, the crackerlike unleavened bread of Passover is hidden, and the one who finds it wins a prize—and there are questions to be asked by the youngest child, about why the meal is eaten the way it is and so on. It can actually last a long time, and is full of tradition, both religious tradition and the individual family’s traditions, depending on their background.  If you are ever invited to share in a Passover meal, please do—and if you have been fortunate enough to be part of one, you know what it is like! But please, unless you have a Jewish friend who is willing to lead you through it, please do not attempt to have a seder meal on your own. I compare that to a non-Christian person trying to celebrate Communion to see what it is like for a Christian…just not the thing to do. 

And then Good Friday. It is interesting to me that here in Canada, which is much more secular in many ways than the USA, Good Friday is a holiday, or a half-holiday, for many people—which it is not in the US; and the same is true of Easter Monday. 

Good Friday in some traditions is observed with the Stations of the Cross—remembering various events of Jesus’ last hours of earthly life as he went from Pilate to Herod and back again, as he was tortured by the soldiers, taken to Calvary and crucified, as he dies and is finally laid in the tomb. This is the one day in the Christian year when Communion is not celebrated—because the Communion host represents Christ, who on this day died, and so cannot be the living bread. In Roman Catholic churches, the tabernacle with the reserved host, that is, the Communion hosts left from the Mass, is left open and empty, to symbolize Christ’s death. As Christ is in the tomb, the tabernacle is empty of the living Christ. 

Holy Saturday one would think would be a day of stillness and Sabbath—of mourning and quietness; a day of nothingness. But simple logistics get in the way here. Easter Sunday is the greatest feast day in the church year, and so all the best linen, all the brightest candle sticks and altar decorations and vestments must be brought out to adorn the church. Not to mention the flowers! And of course all this can’t be done in an hour or two! So in reality, it is a busy day of decoration and beautifying the church sanctuary. Some traditions have an Easter vigil on the Saturday evening or Saturday night, and that can be a lot of fun. The story of the relationship between humans and God is told through the Bible stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, the Tower of Babel, The Exodus, and so on, through readings, skits, songs and hymns, right up to the resurrection—when light bursts into the church, all the candles are lit and everyone begins ringing the bells they have brought, the church bells ring, and a huge party starts! I recommend an Anglican or Episcopalian congregation for the Easter vigil—they know how to do it right!

In other traditions, Resurrection begins more quietly, with a sunrise service; then a worship celebration at the usual time, albeit with all the musicians the church can muster, all the stops out on the organ, flowers everywhere they will fit and everyone dressed to the nines. 

It’s a progression—from that joy of Palm Sunday, through the farewell of the Last Supper and the grief and horror of Good Friday and the nothingness of Holy Saturday to the joy of Easter—that we don’t see anymore, not really. Most of us don’t or can’t attend worship on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And so we miss part of the story, the power of the joy and revelation of Easter. 

So sometime in the 1960s or 70s, pastors and church musicians began noticing that people weren’t able to come to all the services. And so we now compress Holy Week to one Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday, and try to be sure that no one goes from the palm branches of Palm Sunday to the joy of Easter without going by the tomb of Good Friday as well. 

Because that’s why we’re celebrating, It’s not that the hopes of Palm Sunday—the new strategic plan, the new leader, the new policy—it’s not that they were put into place and they are working. Far from it. In fact, that new leader, that new policy we had such hopes for was basically thrown out the window. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” The hopes and dreams were crucified on the cross with Jesus. That’s what Good Friday is all about. Everything we thought we were promised, that new beginning, a new way of dealing with each other—it’s done. It’s gone. It’s over, because Jesus is dead and in a tomb. That’s our grief. That’s why we are numb on Holy Saturday. We don’t know what to do now; where to go, what to do. Jesus is dead. What do we do now?


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Dare to Dream" March 13, 2016, MCC Windsor

Contemporary Word

“I would say, if God didnt want you to be so inquisitive, then why did God give you so much curiosity? Can you trust the Map-Maker a little more? Because I feel like the fear that comes from not wanting to examine your beliefs looks an awful lot like a lack of faith. …[I]f your faith is so strong, then it shouldnt be a problem to, you know, think about it…So I think that it shows an absence of trust in your Creator who created you exactly as you are, you know? If God wanted you to be narrow minded and uninterested, you wouldnt even be asking questions to begin with. So trust the One who made you and behave as you were made.”

            ---Elizabeth Gilbert

Ancient Word

Isaiah 43:16-21

This is what God says—
    the One who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honour me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
    the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesushonour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesusfeet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasnt this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a years wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”


Will you pray with me? Holy one, open our hearts to recognise your presence; to forgive others as freely as you have forgiven us; and give us grace to love as completely as you do. In all your names, amen.

Lent Five! One more Sunday in the season of Lent—and I always feel like next Sunday doesnt entirely count, being Palm/Passion Sunday, after all. So we are still in Lent, still in a place of reflection and self-examination—still asking ourselves those questions. Or maybe we are still stuck back a week or two, not sure if we should be asking these questions; afraid of what the answers might be; afraid of not finding an answer right away. But Elizabeth Gilbert, in our contemporary reading, has it right, I think. We were created with a brain and a spirit that question, that wonder, that want to know more. Otherwise, we would still be living in caves and eating meat raw, right? We wondered, or one of our ancestors way back when did, what would happen if--- Or they noticed that when they did something, this other thing happened—if they protected the young plants they found growing in a field, and watered them, they grew and became grain that was good to eat. And if they saved some of the grain and planted it the next year, they had more grain to eat. But someone asked the question—“what if we saved some of these seeds and planted them in the spring?” They asked the question, and dared to look for an answer. They dreamed of enough grain for everyone. Dreams are what move us forward. Far from being a useless waste of time, our dreams are where our imaginations run free, where we can say, "what if--?"

Being in the middle of Lent doesnt mean we cant dream. The warmer weather, the return of the birds, the flowers and trees beginning to bud and push up from the ground—these are encouraging us to dream--of new possibilities, of new options, of new life--to imagine things that haven't been done yet, to think, as they say, outside the box.

The comic strip Pearls Before Swine is sometimes pretty dark. Recently, though,  theres been a series on Larry the crocodile trying to find a religion that will, as he puts it, let him drink beer and get mad at stupid people.  His latest attempt is a jack-in-the-box god, but his friend Bob, watching as Larry cranks the handle, points out that it only plays music—what kind of god is that? Until the lid on the box jumps open, and the jack-in-the-box springs out at them. They decide that this terrifying god is not for them, either. Well, I could have told them thats what happens when you try to put God in a box—God always gets out!

When we dream, we dream of better things, of course—not worse. We want peace and plenty and harmony, love and hope. And we want these not only for ourselves, but for everyone—because if our neighbours, whether across the street or across the river or across the ocean, arent experiencing that same plenty and hope, then they will come and try to take some of ours, wont they? And its not merely a selfish wish to protect what we hope to have, but its a genuine desire for everyone to have what he or she needs for health and happiness.

It can be hard to create that dream, though—there are so many options. All the political systems and economic systems of the world, ones that have been put into practice and ones that were only imagined, were formed with the idea of making the world into what it should be, what it ought to be. Whether capitalism, socialism, social democracy, communism, a republic, a democratic monarchy—they each have an idea of the ideal form of the world.

So Isaiah dreamed of a realm where even the animals, the jackals and owls, which are generally symbols of death, praise God, who is doing something new and unprecedented. “I am doing a new thing!” God proclaims--paths in the wilderness, water where there was a desert.

And that certainly how Spring feels, isnt it? Every spring feels like the very first one—as if the grass had never been green before, the trees never spread out green leaves, the daffodils and crocuses and forsythia and irises never bloomed before. Of course they have—but never in exactly this way, in these circumstances, in this year, when we have certain feelings and thoughts and hopes and fears. It is always something new for us.

Mary dreamed of something new. She anointed Jesus with precious oil as an honoured guest at her table, in her home, out of gratitude for the life Jesus restored to Lazarus, her brother. And yet, that was not the new thing. Jesus had brought others back to life—the widows son, the daughter of the synagogue leader, the soldiers companion—so while it was a wonderful miracle, it was not something new. Others beside Jesus had brought others back to life, too--Elisha, for example.

So what, then, was Mary dreaming of? Maybe of a time when people would do more than pay lip service to the words of Jesus. Maybe she hoped to see a world in which Jesusteachings were actually the standard by which people lived, and not empty words. Mary was so hopeful for this dream that she gave Jesus the most precious thing she had—this bottle of rare and expensive perfume.

What is your favourite smell in the whole world? Is it fresh-cut grass? Or maybe roses in bloom in the summer sun; coffee on a sunny morning; sandalwood and jasmine on a warm summer night; woodsmoke and sausages at a campfire? I love the smell of lavender, and of a spice cake with mocha frosting.

Think of that smell—close your eyes and imagine that scent all around you, drifting up around you, up to the ceiling, spreading out to fill the space around you. Bathe yourself in that scent.

That is what it was like in that house at Bethany, when Jesus visited his friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus. The scent filled the house—like a dream. I can see Jesus and the disciples and their friends closing their eyes, breathing in the wonderful scent, smiling; dreaming of something better.

And here comes Judas, stamping in and smashing the dreams to bits, throwing cold water on their reveries and their dreams. “We could have sold that perfume for a lot of money!”

I don’t know where this comes from for Judas. Were told hes an embezzler, that he steals from the money that was supposed to be shared with all the disciples. And maybe it is as simple as that. But I wonder if it is also that Judas has forgotten how to dream. He sees the others wrapped up in dreams, in hopes—but he cant share in those dreams. Perhaps he prides himself on his practicality, on being down-to-earth, a numbers man, bottom line and end of the day sort of person. No flights of fancy for him! And yet, here are all the others, caught up for a moment in their own beautiful dreams—and he cant stand it.

Judas retaliates with a very practical and charitable suggestion—instead of using all the perfume on one person, they should have sold it, and given the proceeds to the poor. It certainly wakes Jesus and the disciples from their reverie, but it does not have the intended result for Judas. Instead of Jesusagreement with him, Judas is rebuked.

There will always be poor people, Jesus says, and always an opportunity to do good. But he wont always be with them, so it is right to seize and enjoy and bless that moment when he is there.

Our God-moments, our times of blessing and joy, are not to be ignored or minimized or pushed aside. They are to be seized and enjoyed as the blessing they are. We have all the rest of time to study and think and work—but for these moments when we are so keenly aware of Gods presence, we can let go of those other things and just be.

I want to leave you with a thought? A poem? Not sure what to call it, but it goes like this.

Be still and know I am God.

Be still and know I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.


"Beginning Again" MCC Windsor, March 6, 2016

Contemporary Word
“...we thought that the Taliban are not that much cruel that they would kill a child, because I was 14 at that time. But then later on, I used to like, I started thinking about that and I used to think that the Tali would come and he would just kill me, but then I said if he comes, what would you do Malala? Then I would reply to myself Malala just take a shoe and hit him, but then I said, if you hit a Tali with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Tali. You must not treat others that much with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I said I would tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well and I would tell him, that’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”
            --- An excerpt from a transcript of an interview by Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education and youngest-ever Nobel Prize Laureate. When she was 15, she was attacked and shot in the face by the Taliban for supporting female education.

Ancient Word
Joshua 5:9-12
 Then God said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.
On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This one welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable:
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“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 when 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.’”

Will you pray with and for me? Loving and generous God, open our spirits and hearts to your word for us today. May all we hear and speak be reflections of your grace. In all your names, amen.

Our Gospel reading today is one of those parables that even people who don't go to church are familiar with, at least in the general outline--guy has a lot of money, goes away and wastes it all, comes home to ask forgiveness, Dad throws a big party, big brother is jealous, Dad says to celebrate because his brother has come home. It has even affected the language--not in the dictionary, perhaps, but often when people talk about someone as a "prodigal" they mean someone who has gone away and is now returning in shame. But the original meaning, the central meaning of "prodigal" is "extravagant, generous, lavish." So even though it is usually called the story of the prodigal son, it could also be called the story of the prodigal father. After all, he throws a wild party when he son comes home--this younger son who, in a sense, couldn't wait for his father to die, and grabbed his inheritance when he could.

Now, it's usually read as a parable of forgiveness, and the two short parables just before it--the lost sheep and the lost coin--reinforce that reading. And that's true, I think. But it's more than that. Isn't it also about new beginnings, fresh starts, a chance at a do-over?

We're halfway through Lent; beginning that slide down to Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and then Easter. We've been asking those questions about what we really believe, whose we really are, and how we respond to God--and whether we need to change any of that. Today we are looking at what that might look like.

Malala, although a teenager, has already learned a valuable lesson. Hatred solves nothing--it only makes us like those we hate. It doesn't bring peace or an end to violence, it doesn't resolve differences in politics, religion, or even in the family. And so she lets go of that hatred and anger, recognizing that, difficult as it is to let go of it, that hatred solves nothing. Only by caring for those who would hurt her as much as she cares for herself can she rise above the hatred. "Love those that hate you." Now who said that?

Joshua is not a book we often read in the course of the lectionary cycle, but there is some interesting stuff in there! And this is one of those passages. The Hebrews are letting go of what bound then to the past. They have been forgiven for their doubts on the long journey to the Promised Land, and as a sign, no longer are living on the manna from heaven, but only on the produce of their new land. It is now their land and they are farming it, keeping sheep and growing crops, planting vineyards and building homes. They have settled into a new place. They are finally starting over.

And so the the son and the father. The son realizes his error, and returned home. he is not looking to regain his former place; he knows the enormity of his mistake--anticipating his father's death, taking the money, and then wasting it. He didn't even invest it--just spent it "in riotous living," as the King James translation says. The older brother claims it was spent on prostitutes, but how he knew that is a mystery. At any rate, it's all gone, and so the younger brother returns home.

Robert Frost once said, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Which is a bit cynical, but also true. And so the younger son goes home--not in the expectation that everything will be as it was--he is willing to be a servant, just as long as he has a place to live and food to eat. Maybe he does think that he father will be lenient to him--after all, his father did give him they money he asked for, so he seems to be a bit indulgent--but he can't know that. And he isn't planning to ask for that, even if he hopes for it.

And he receives it. He is given a fresh start, a new beginning--a nice new clean robe, sandals for his bare feet, even a ring to wear--they start a party, with great food, and music and dancing, just because he is back home.

Now, the older brother is not happy about it all. And I think all of us have felt is was a little unfair of the father to throw this wild party for the return of the younger brother when the older brother, who had been dutiful and worked hard, never got any recognition. Especially those of us who have younger siblings who got privileges we didn't or got them earlier than we did, or, heaven forbid, at the same time we did. I remember resenting it mightily that my younger sister got her ears pierced at the same time I did. It seems silly now, but at the time, I felt it took something away from me, as the older sister.

But the father points out that the older brother has it backwards. He reminds him that everything the father has now belongs to him--the older brother--because the younger brother got his share, even if he wasted it. And besides, this is his brother--isn't he glad he's come home safe? I can easily imagine the father suggesting a new beginning-wipe the slate clean between the two brothers and start over.

Have you, in your Lenten thinking and journeying and questioning, been feeling the need for a new start? What better time than Easter, the day of Resurrection, the day of dying to the old and rising to the new? What do you need to let go of? What anger or hatred or foolish mistakes have you  made or that others have made do you need to relinquish in order to celebrate a new beginning?

My friends, take this opportunity for Easter rebirth; let go of the mistakes and pain of the past. Forgive where it is needed--whether yourself or others, let go of the resentment or anger. Start anew, grasp this new beginning offered to you, take it in both hands and celebrate starting over. In all God's names, amen.

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...