Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hope Springs Eternal

Green Monstah, Fenway Park

Green Monstah, Fenway Park

Having lived in Boston for a dozen years, part of my heart still is there! I confess to loving the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics. I was fortunate to live in Beantown when the Sox finally broke the Curse of the Bambino, and the Patriots won three Super Bowls. And, the Celtics improved, finally winning a championship a couple of years after I moved.
In October 2004, our daughter was born on the day the Red Sox came back from three games down to defeat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. We celebrated for two reasons!
One of the rituals of life this time of year is Opening Day in the baseball season. And, no matter what happened last season, there always is hope in Spring! The last two years have been tough on Red Sox Nation with the collapse in 2011 and last year’s debacle. But, hope springs eternal!
The new season begins on April 1 as the Sox head to Yankee Stadium to take on the Yankees. Then, Opening Day at Fenway is April 8. I’ll put on my Sox cap and root for the team.Green Monstah Left Field - Rotated
Go Sox!

Prisoners of Hope

Entry into Jerusalem, Fernwood Baptist Church, Spartanburg, SC

Entry into Jerusalem, Fernwood Baptist Church, Spartanburg, SC

During worship at our church on Sunday, we celebrated Palm Sunday, which marks Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the final week of his life. We read from Zechariah 9:9-12, which often is read on Palm Sunday because of the prophet’s words about the coming ruler of God’s people. Zechariah says: “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, leading his disciples to hail him as the long-sought King of God’s people.
Zechariah continues, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope, today I declare that I will restore to you double.”

During worship, my wife, Lisa, offered the following prayer:

O God, I like the idea of power, of controlling life – my life.
And the sounds of the prophet resonate with me –
Rejoice greatly! A King is coming triumphant and victorious.
Yes, I like that!
And yet in the same breath I hear that
the way of the king is humble, lowly, near to the earth.
Help us this day in our lives to be attracted to humility rather than control.
How will you help us live out our lives as followers of Christ if we look through the lens of humility?
O God, I feel the very real experience of opposition.
As we live our lives, there are times that it feels like we are being opposed by
We may feel surrounded by difficulty and disappointment,
disillusionment and even forms of death.
Your Word reminds us that in those moments, in those days, in those months and maybe even years of struggle,
that we are
Bound by hope –
prisoners of hope,
not prisoners of evil.
We can trust that you are always working with us to restore us.
We claim and we call upon that promise,
as those with hope. Amen.

Trust and Gratitude

Throughout Lent, our church has focused on the story of the Prodigal Son, which is found in Luke chapter 15. Much attention is focused on the Younger Son who leaves, squanders his money, and is received back into the family by his loving father. The parable includes an Elder Brother who is livid at his brother’s and father’s actions, and the story ends without a clear sense of what happened with the elder brother. Did his resentment and anger subside? Did he receive his father’s forgiveness and establish a relationship with his younger brother? Did he continue to seethe and live the rest of his days without his father and brother? We do not know.

Nouwen Return of the Prodigal SonIn The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen discusses the ways in which many people, like the Elder Son, are lost in resentment and anger. Nouwen also writes about the possibility of the elder son’s return. He says, “I guess that all of us will someday have to deal with the elder son or the elder daughter in us. The question before us is simply: What can we do to make the return possible?”

Nouwen suggests two disciplines, two concrete daily practices that may allow us to move beyond resentful anger toward relationships. The first practice is trust, which is a deep inner conviction that God wants to be in relationship with you. The second practice is gratitude, which is a conscious choice to recognize that all of life is a pure gift to be celebrated with joy.

Nouwen writes:

Both trust and gratitude require the courage to take risks because distrust and resentment, in their need to keep their claim on me, keep warning me how dangerous it is to let go of my careful calculations and guarded predictions. At many points I have to make a leap a faith to let trust and gratitude have a chance: to write a gentle letter to someone who will forgive me, make a call to someone who has rejected me, speak a word of healing to someone who cannot do the same. The leap of faith always means loving without expecting to be loved in return, giving without wanting to receive, inviting without hoping to be invited, holding without asking to be held. And every time I make a little leap, I catch a glimpse of the One who runs out to me and invites me into joy, the joy in which I can find not only myself, but also my brothers and sisters. Thus the disciplines of trust and gratitude reveal the God who searches for me, burning with desire to take away all my resentments and complaints and to let me sit at God’s side at the heavenly banquet.

Reading Nouwen’s book and reflecting on the Prodigal Son during Lent, I have recognized my Elder-Son tendencies. And, I am open to practicing Trust and Gratitude. What do you think?

The Elder Son

Ralph Waldo Emerson said the Prodigal Son is greatest story told in the Bible or out of it. The most fascinating character in the story is the Elder Son whose anger, hurt, and fury at his brother and father boils over.

I find it helpful and interesting to imagine the story told in the present day. Perhaps you will find the contemporary interpretation thought-provoking and helpful as well.

Luke 15:25-32
A Contemporary Interpretation

Now the elder son had been working in the office of the family’s business all day. On his way home, he drove by the country club, and he recognized many cars in the parking lot. He saw familiar people going into the club where there was music and dancing. He stopped in the parking lot and asked one of the workers what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father is hosting a big party because he has gotten him back safe and sound.”

Then the elder son became angry and refused to go inside. His father came outside and began to plead with him. But the elder son replied to his father: “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you in the family business, and I have never once disobeyed you. Yet, you have never given me even a little party; you never had a party for my little league team when we won the championship; you never celebrated when I made the honor roll. But when this son of yours came back, who has burned through your money – taken from our company – with prostitutes, you host the biggest celebration this club has ever seen!”

Then the father said to him, “Son, my dear child, you are always with me, and all that I have – all that I have built – is yours. But we had to celebrate because this brother of yours was as much as dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Offensive Behavior

Have you ever done anything offensive to others? Probably so, and I’m guessing that likely it was unintentional. Or, perhaps, in a flourish or a fluster, you did something you knew would offend others.

Rembrandt, "The Return of the Prodigal Son"

Rembrandt, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”

In the next three weeks, our church will consider three people whose behavior was deeply offensive. In our worship, we will focus on one of Jesus’ best known stories (or parables) found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15, which commonly is called “The Prodigal Son.” A better title would be “Lost Sons” because the story provides details about a father’s two sons, both of whom are lost: the younger son who leaves home and squanders his early inheritance and the older son who stays home and simmers in anger.

Perhaps an even better title would be “The Offensive Family” because all three characters – younger son, older son, and father – act in ways that are deeply offensive to the norms of their day.

The younger son brashly demands his inheritance, in effect wishing that his father is dead. The Greek verb is an imperative, which means the son says, “Give me the money” with nothing close to a “please” included. No respectable son would make such an offensive demand.

The older son, upon hearing the party given to celebrate his brother’s return home, acts in offensive ways when he refuses to enter the party and confronts his father in view of neighbors and hired workers.

And, perhaps the most offensive behavior of all is displayed by the father. Rather than treating his wayward son as others expected, which was to consider him dead and separated from family and community, the father runs to meet the younger son upon his return home and gives him the best things possible – embrace, kiss, robe, ring, shoes, and party. Surely, any neighbors would have been aghast at the father’s behavior. And, when the older son refuses to enter the celebration, the father goes out to him and pleads with him to come join the party.

Fred Craddock, noted Biblical scholar and preacher, refers to the “offense of grace” that Jesus provides in telling this story. How offensive – and how wonderful – that a parent is not held back by social expectations but instead goes after both sons in love.

The next three Sundays in our worship, we will remember each of these characters. I hope you will come – and prepare to be offended!