September 17th, 2013
By Pastor Bill
Lost and Found
Jeremiah 14: 11-12, 22-28/ 1 Timothy 1: 12-17/ Luke 15:1-10
17th Sunday of Pentecost/Year C/ Sept. 15, 2013
Several years ago Sam, Gen and Aaron went with their mother to Ireland and Italy. They went to experience first hand how people in another country and culture showed hospitality or welcome to people from different places. They took with them, because it was easier to pack, a picture of the Jesus Doll like the one we have here at Wilson. They took it with them especially when they went out to dinner or to one of the local pubs. They took pictures of the people they met holding the photo of Jesus. Several people at the church where Kathy serves as pastor were a bit scandalized when they heard they took Jesus to pubs and bars. They thought it was being sacrilegious and irreverent. As I read these texts for today, especially the gospel text, I was reminded of their experience.
Jesus has come to town. He had gone to the local watering hole in the town square where the so called sinners and tax collectors and all manner of people liked to gather and share their stories and a drink or two. While there Jesus began to share the good news with those who would listen. The Pharisees and the scribes, the local ministers if you will were upset and grumbled that “this man welcomes sinner and eats with them.” (Luke 15: 1-2)
Those who gathered there were there for various reasons. The disciples were there to receive instructions; the Pharisees and scribes were there to keep tabs on this radical preacher/teacher; the others were there because they were looking for something to give their life meaning, others were there because they were outcasts, not welcome in the prim and proper society of 1st century Judaism. These were the people no one else wanted to hang around with for fear that the reprehensible reputations of one or another would implicate and damage the good reputations of the others. It was, as one writer has said, “a group of strange bedfellows, hardly a dinner list that any one of any salt would put together.” (Feasting on the Word, Volume 4/ Year C/ p. 68) All of these were there eating with Jesus. Eating with Jesus; “Eating isn’t catching a quick bite at the local coffee house and moving on. Eating — that is, sharing table fellowship — is a mark of camaraderie, acceptance, and friendship. And so in eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus is demonstrating a deep and abiding acceptance of those society has deemed beyond the moral pale.
While we’re used to thinking “we’re all sinners,” that’s not the way Luke sees it. Rather, when he describes someone as a “sinner” he’s talking about someone whose pattern of sinning is so habitual, even second nature, that the whole community knows of it. Similarly, by “righteous” Luke doesn’t mean those who are either perfect or self-righteous, but rather he describes those who actually and actively try to live up to the law. All of which means that Jesus is welcoming the local untouchables and ne’er-do-wells, the morally disgraced and public outcasts — welcoming, accepting, and befriending, to the point of embarrassment. And the decent folk are — quite understandably — concerned.” (Lost; Reflections on Luke 15:1-10; David Lose, The Text this week.com)
In that context, Jesus tells some stories. But they’re not, as soon becomes clear, stories about the difference between sinner and righteous. Rather, they are about things we lose — a sheep, a coin, a son — and the joy we experience when we find these things again.
This is where the kick comes in. Most of Jesus parables, you see, have a bit of a bite or kick to them — something that doesn’t set quite right and keeps you thinking, wondering, wresting with the story until you begin to wonder if you’ve understood it all. In these stories it’s the reaction of the shepherd and woman. “Which of you,” Jesus begins each story, implying that their behavior is normal. But is it? In the first case, a shepherd searches for a lost sheep. Natural enough, we think, as that’s the shepherd’s job. But to do it he puts 99 sheep at risk, leaving them in the wilderness with no protection or shelter, to seek out one that was lost. And when he finds the lost sheep, he hustles the whole flock home and calls his friends and neighbors to join in his celebration. Normal, ordinary? Hardly.
In the second case, a woman who loses a tenth of her wealth lights her lamp and sweeps all night searching for the coin. Makes sense to me. But then, when she finds it, she also calls together her neighbors and invites them to celebrate which, likely, meant that she provided food and drink and perhaps spent on this celebration as much as she recovered from her search. Normal, ordinary? No chance.
Which is, of course, the point. This kind of ridiculous celebration is what characterizes God’s response to sinners who repent.
Jesus shows us how God is like the shepherd, who values each sheep in the flock, like the woman who accounts for every silver coin in the purse. God treasures every child of the family. God goes into search mode. Because God’s nature is love and love looks like one who goes out tirelessly searching, because the one who is lost is so lost they cannot find their way back home. The Shepherd and the woman search diligently for the one that is lost and in finding, calls the neighbors to join in a celebration, to rejoice in the return of the one who is lost.
These two stories were a direct response to a criticism from the religious insiders that have followed Jesus. They are upset by the radical hospitality they are witnessing. This rabbi is a sharing meal with outsiders and it offends their sensibilities. Jesus reminds those who are gathered, sinner and saint alike, that those whom he seeks are already near. They are in the flock, they are as near as your sheep; they are in the house, as near as the coins in your own pocket. Don’t be threatened that I share a meal with them as I share it with you. The intimacy of breaking bread is a tangible act of nearness of welcome.
Religious insiders can still be easily threatened in the sharing of a meal. Many churches put conditions on who can and cannot come the table. But Jesus never puts conditions on those who come to him. He even goes so far as to say that he came not to those who are already in but to those who have been shunted to the outside; the lost, the sinner, the tax collector, those who have wandered from the fold. So the shepherd and the woman go in search of the one that is lost. And when they are found they are filled with joy. Those gathered there that day would hear a comforting message of hope, of welcome. This God is one who will travel into the wilderness, or to the wilds of the mountain, the slums of the city, the local pubs and pulls you out of the hole that you have dug for yourself and lifts you up and out and carries you home rejoicing. The search is one not only to save but also to welcome. We are often more comfortable with saving the lost that welcoming those whom we perceive to be lost. As one writer has said, “Saving is about power, whereas welcome is about intimacy. Saving is focused on the individual, whereas welcoming is focused on the community.
This story reminds us all that we are all sinners. All of us are lost in one way or another. Can you be righteous and still lost? These stories were meant to call those who were listening to repentance. Repentance may include a mending of one’s ways and moral reform, but the chief characteristic is a turning around, a change in perspective, a recognition, to bring us full circle, of being lost and a corresponding desire to turn around and be found.
And yet we have a God who was willing to come in search of us and welcome once more into the community of love and compassion that God intended for all of humankind, the household of God. Who among us has not felt lost and alone at one time or another? And so we’re back to my original question: Can you be righteous and still lost?
• Might the parents who want their children to succeed so much that they wrap their whole lives around hockey games and dance recitals be lost?
• Might the career minded man or woman who has made moving up the ladder the one and only priority be lost?
• Might the folks who work jobs they hate just to give their family things they never had be lost?
• Might the senior who has a great pension plan but little sense of meaning since retirement be lost?
• Might the teen who works so hard to be perfect and who is willing to do just about anything to fit in be lost?
• Might the earnest Christian who is constantly asking whether people have accepted Jesus into their hearts and then turn their backs on them instead of welcoming them to the table be lost?
The sinners in this story are the ones who need to have their minds changed. God rejoices when we all change our minds about who is in or who is out. The rejoicing happens when community is complete and there is no such category of one and ninety and nine. True repentance happens when our minds are changed to such a degree that we cannot see a community whole until all are included and not are lost. These parables call the community to open its doors and rejoice. This call is repeated over and over again through out the gospels. Sinners and tax collectors, housewives, and doctors, teachers, and children, senior adults and young adults, men and women, all are welcome at the table with the Christ. Rejoice, laugh and be Glad! The sheep that wandered away is now home. The coin that was lost is now found. We can feast. Hope is restored. When one in our community goes missing, we all are affected. When even one is restored we are all better off for it. That is how it is in the household of God.
June 16th, 2013
By Pastor Bill
Hospitality and Righteousness
1 Kings 21:1-21a/Galatians2:15-21/ Luke 7:36-8:3
4th Sunday of Pentecost/ Year C/ June 16. 2013
There some reality shows that I really like and others I could care less about. One of my favorites is back on TV for the summer, “America’s Got Talent.” I love to watch the people who come on the show with oddball acts and stupid pet tricks and little or no talent to speak of making fools of themselves in front of millions of people. Every once in a while though there are people who come on the show who are so very talented it makes me want to praise God for the gifts they have been given. But sometimes when we hear the back story of how these people got here to this place and this time it can be heart breaking. This past week was no exception. I the midst of the insanity and the silliness and the outrageous, a timid shy young man steps on to the stage and shares his journey to this moment in time. His name is Jonathan Allen. At age 18 his parents threw him out of the house because he told them he was gay. He has not seen, nor talked to his parents in almost two years. He came on the show to prove that he was somebody who was worth something, not something to be cast aside and judged unworthy of love and compassion. He wanted to share the gift that God had given him with the world. And with that he opened his mouth and began to sing. And sing he did, with a glorious tenor voice that belied his age he sang his heart out, with a song from Andrea Bocelleli about love and forgiveness. He sang in both Italian and English, his voice towering above the screams and shouts of a stunned and amazed audience. When he finished the whole of Radio City Music Hall was on its feet, judges and all giving that unloved young man love and affection and pure delight in the gift that he had just shared. Once the crowd quieted down so the judges could speak, Howie Mandel, the head judge of eh four; Howard Stern, Heidi Klum and Mel B, spoke for the judges and the audience as well, I think. He said:
“Let me just say, you seem like a good person, and you have a dream, and a talent, and your own family disowned you, but with your talent, this show has become your family, and we’d like to say ‘welcome home.’ We love you, we accept you, and we are so proud that you came here.”
In one moment in time the life of one young man, cast aside by his own family and forced to live away from those he loves, is given a gift that cannot be taken away, acceptance and love.
In many ways, that is what is happening in our text for today from Luke’s gospel. We are dropped in the midst of a dinner party for Jesus hosted by one of the leading Pharisees in the community. While they were at table waiting to be served an unnamed woman from the city streets enters the banquet hall and approaches Jesus seated at the table. In Jesus’ day meals were served on low table with couches, not chairs for the men to sit on. Women were relegated to the outside or to the role of serving the men. To have a woman, particularly one who seems to be known by those at the table as an unsavory dinner companion, come to the table and kneel at Jesus feel and begin washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair was considered by the host and those with him to be an outrage. And when she then anointed his feet with a scented ointment and kissing them, Simon the Pharisee is apoplectic. Stunned and outraged and thinking to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is touching him—she is a sinner.”(Luke 7:39)
Before Simon can take any action to stop the sacrilege, Jesus speaks.
“Simon, I have something to say to you!” Simon somewhat abashed says “Teacher, speak!” Jesus then told him a parable of a man who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii and the other fifty denarii. When they could not pay the debt , he canceled the debt of both.
Jesus then asked him: “Which of them will love him more?”
Simon quietly says “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”
Jesus answered him saying: “You have judged rightly.”
End of discussion right? Wrong!!!
Simon may have judged the woman for being a sinner, but Jesus sees beyond the sinner to inner person, someone who was seeking to be accepted as a person, not a thing to be used and abused, cast aside as a piece of trash. She was a woman who deeply loved, but made bad choices in seeking that love. Now having heard and seen Jesus and what he has done she comes seeking forgiveness and acceptance, dnd finds it.
At this point in the story the emphasis shifts from the woman to Simon the Pharisee. And Jesus is about to give him a piece of his mind. Simon is man bound by honor, by the codes of Judaism. He lives a ritually pure life and follows the law to the letter. And yet, in the midst of the splendor of the house he lives in, he has shown Jesus nothing but inhospitable behavior. If Simon were true to his breeding and his teaching, he would have made Jesus feel welcome the moment he walked in the door.
Jesus then proceeds in a gentle fashion, to berate Simon for his lack of hospitality saying.
“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you
gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
I have often wondered what that woman felt like at that moment when Jesus forgave her and set her free. Anne Lamott in her book “Traveling Mercies” gives us a pretty good understanding of what that woman must have felt like. Anne had been living on the edge for a number of years. After graduating from College in the early 70’s, she turned to writing as a career. As that career played out over the next several years she found herself on the edge of collapse, addicted to alcohol and drugs. In desperation she turned to a priest who lived near her for help. She called him just as he was leaving for an appointment and he tried to put her off with excuses. But she was desperate to talk to someone, anyone. He agreed to wait for her. When she got to the church, she was frightened, she had never been to church on a regular basis, both her parents claimed to be atheists , but were, as she puts it, more likely agnostics.
When she walked into his office at this imposing Episcopal Church that looked like some kind of fortified castle, she found as skinny, middle-aged guy, who seemed to her to be both smart and tenderhearted. As she poured out her story she realized that he was really listening to her. At some point in the conversation Anne said: “I don’t think God could love me.” The Priest, looked at her with brilliant blue eyes with a tiny smile on his face and said, “God has to love you. That’s God’s job.” At that point Anne realized she had found home. Later in another meeting with Bill the Priest, she asked him, “What did you hear in my voice when I called? He said, “I just heard that you were in trouble.” Then she asked him “What does it mean to be saved? Most of the Christians I’ve ever had met seemed almost hostile in their belief that they were saved and you weren’t and that bothers me.” He said it bothers him too. Anne writes, he tried to side step the question a few times but she kept pressing him until he said:
“I guess it’s like discovering you’re on the shelf of a pawnshop, dusty and forgotten and maybe not worth very much. But then Jesus comes in and tells the pawnbroker “I’ll take her place on the shelf. Let her go outside and live.” At that moment, she writes, I knew that is what I wanted more than anything, to be free and to be loved for who I am. It took her four more years to get herself clean and sober. (Traveling Mercies, P.42-43)Today she serves as a pastor in a Presbyterian Church in Marin County California, a church that ministers to the outcasts, and vagrants, the homeless, and the sick and the dying. It is a church living on the edge sharing the love of Christ for all God’s people.
She writes of an experience she had, of someone like Simon the Pharisee and his actions toward the woman and toward Jesus. The church she attended for much of the four years of her recovery from addiction was a small Presbyterian Congregation in San Francisco,
Kevin Nelson was dying of Aids, he started coming to the church with a Jewish woman about a year ago. She came with him nearly every Sunday, even though she did not believe in Jesus. Shortly after he started coming to the church Kevin’s partner died of Aids. The Sunday after Brandon’s death, Kevin told the small congregation gathered that Sunday that right after Brandon had died, “I felt Jesus slide into my heart filling the whole that Brandon’s death had left there. And he has been there ever since.”
Now, according to Anne, Kevin was not much to look at. His face was ravaged with the disease, his body emaciated, but his smile was always radiant, even on the days he felt so sick he could not stand.
Now there was in the congregation a woman by the name of Ranola. Ranola was a large, beautiful and talented black woman who sang in the choir every Sunday. Her voice was like low thunder and silver rain as Kevin described it. Now Ranola was raised Baptist. She had been carefully taught that people like Kevin were an abomination. She steered clear of him most of the time. When she did have to look at him there was always a look of confusion on her face. How could someone like that be so kind and so gentle and be so faithful she thought. It’s not right. It was hard for her to break through that moral code she had been taught for so many years. But It finally happened. About a year after Kevin started coming he was gone for about six weeks. When he came back the disease had taken his strength, he was now confined to a wheel chair. He sat in his chair, shared his prayers, his hopes, and his joys with everyone. On this particular Sunday, the opening hymn was “Jacob’s Ladder..” Ironically, Kevin could not stand up to sing the song nor could he climb the stairs with his hands. But he sang with the hymnal in his lap his voice screeching along with the rest.
At the end of the service after the sermon, the congregation stood to sing “His Eye on the Sparrow.” Ranola was standing in the front row of the Choir began singing, watching Kevin skeptically as he tried to sing along with everyone else. As they got to the part that says
‘Why should I feel discouraged? Why do the shadows fall? Something happened to Ranola. Suddenly the hardness of her heart melted, she rushed from the choir, and knelt beside Kevin taking him in her arms then lifting him like a rag doll she sang out with this scarecrow of a man Because he had chosen Jesus as his portion. That is why he could sing, that is why he was always happy, even in the darkness and the pain. In that moment Ranola and everyone present hearts were pierced with joy and with love. Kevin died a few weeks later and Ranola sang just for him “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” (Traveling Mercies, p.63-65) God comes to us in many ways and in many forms, God’s gifts are given indiscriminately and with grace abounding. Can we do any less?
May 22nd, 2013
By Pastor Bill
St Bernard Community Vacation Bible School
Sunday July 28 – Thursday August 1, 2013
6:30 – 8:30 pm
Location: Immanuel United Church of Christ
210 Jefferson Ave, St Bernard, Ohio 45217
Event Supported by
Wilson Memorial Presbyterian
St. Clement Catholic
& Immanuel United Church of Christ
VBS is designed for children ages 3 to 12 years of age
Please try to arrive about 15 minutes
before to register your child
ALL Children are WELCOME
Hope to See You There
May 22nd, 2013
By Pastor Bill
Come join us at Wilson Memorial Presbyterian Church this Sunday May 26 at 10:30 a.m. Our service will be celebrating the Trinity. Our guest Soloist will once again be Ms. Claire Hudkins, a student at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. she will be singing “Ode to the Triune God” by Britten. Come join us as we sing and pray our selves into the perichoisis ( Communal Dance) of the Triune God.