This life of faith is not an easy one is it? the readings from today remind us with no holds bared that we are to live a life that models that of our savior.
a life of integrity.
a life of sacrifice.
a life of humility.
a life of righteousness.
in today’s parable a dad says, “go work.” the first son says, “no way, Jose”, but then goes. good that he went, but bad that it was not when he was called.
the second son says he will and then he doesn’t. um, that honoring your father thing? i think he missed it.
these days i tend to act more like the second son, “yea, sure God, I will go...I will feed...I will clothe...I will heal...but first let me....write this sermon, say this prayer, check my facebook....oohh gee...darn...too late now God...someone else already did it. Guess you really didn’t need me after all.”
does that sound familiar at all?
as i say that i have to be honest and share that the reality is i am more like the first son. i stand here today because God called me from a place of darkness, of brokenness, of sin, of pain the result of my own choices. much like the tax collectors and prostitutes i was an outsider. one of the lost. i was too busy living my life on my terms, in my time...God...pfft...there was no room for God.
before i entered a church i knew i had to get cleaned up, put my life together, get rid of the piercings, and buy the right clothes. and if i did get there? i knew i wouldn’t be accepted. see i used colorful language, didn’t know all those songs all y’all learned at camp, my family wrote the textbook series on dysfunction...oh and i smoked and drank...i’d been divorced and had heard the bible didn’t allow that either.
the few funerals and weddings I'd been to in churches showed me the pews were filled with a whole bunch of hypocrites too. when i would go i would see these people that i knew outside those doors were not very nice.
even in my ignorance i didn’t think the whole God thing was like a drive through car wash...come in, get cleaned up, and go back out and get dirty the minute you leave. so i thought i had to wait until i got it all together so i could fit in better.
then i met sandy. she had this thing...it was hard to put my finger on it...but she had it. her life was not an easy one. she had a major medical condition that caused her constant pain. her 16 year old daughter got pregnant. her husband had strayed a few times and they fought some times when i visited. her job was always in danger of ending due to budget cuts.
yet in spite of all of that, she always had a sense of peace about her. a joy that came from way down deep. from a place i didn’t even think i had. i spent months just talking with her. when we would pass in the halls at work, hours would pass before i realized it. i just like being around her, listening to her, learning from her.
after yet another disastrous life choice i had hit my bottom. i was tired. i was lonely. i was afraid. i was hurting. and so i asked sandy how she got that thing she had...that peace...that joy...that thing.
and you know what she said? she said i could have it too. she didn’t own it. it came from God. there came that pfft thing again...how could what she have be a God thing? it was a sandy thing. in spite of wanting to walk away i felt like my shoes where nailed to the floor. i couldn’t have left if i wanted to.
sandy then shared her story with me. i won’t share it with you today, because it is hers to tell. but i will share that it was a sad story filled with more pain than a person should have to endure in ten lifetimes. she said she spent many years angry and hurt. she had left home trying to run away from the pain and herself. as she was sitting in a bus station an older gentleman gave her a book. a book he turned to a page. on that page were these words:
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
she shared that somehow those words went to her very heart and changed everything for her. she was tired of her anger and her pain. she also realized that her worth was nothing without God and that putting others first did not have to make her a doormat. she had run away and found home. let God catch up to her.
that thing she had? she said it was her working out her salvation with fear and trembling. but not in the way i thought. the fear and trembling had more to do with going to the throne of God and being so overcome by his love that she was in awe. it was that kind of fear and trembling. i wanted that kind of fear in my life.
i asked what i had to do to have that thing she had. she told me i already had it. it was God. all i had to do was say yes to God. much like my shadow, God was right there. i just had to say yes.
i told her i was too messed up to go to church...she said it was less about church and more about God. she then told me this parable about these two sons....
she shared that she had been...as i had been, like that son. she then told me other stories. stories about some pretty messed up people. people like...
this couple in a garden that did what they weren’t supposed to...
this guy who cheated his brother out of his inheritance...
this guy who wandered with a bunch of people in the desert...
this king who killed a man so he could have his wife...
this guy with really long hair....
this guy who persecuted Christians....
this guy who betrayed Jesus...
these people that didn’t belong in church when they started either. yet as they said yes to God, over time, they found they did belong, just as I belonged. as you belong. some of them even came to the point that they believed God loved them.
we are called to live lives of integrity, of sacrifice, of humility, of righteousness. but we are not called to live them on our own merits or due to our own efforts.
we are called into a community. a community that allows us to come to the throne of God in fear and trembling and take on the mantle of Christ. a community that we can enter with all our yuck. we are accepted not because we are perfect, but because God loves us. the only requirement is that we say yes. we don’t have to worry about how we talk, what we wear, or even the color of our hair.
that mantle we take on will give us the ability to see Christ in us as we begin to see Christ in them.
i still have trouble believing i belong here...my language has gotten better, sometimes i dress right, yet now i have a tattoo...
Jesus loves me this I know....