Ash Wednesday – February 13, 2013 Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 – Blow the trumpet. Sound a fast. Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Tear your hearts, not your garments.

Isaiah 58:1-12 – Fasting as you do will not make your voice heard on high. This is the fast I choose: loose the bonds of injustice, set the oppressed free, share your bread with the hungry, invite the homeless poor into your house.

Psalm 51:1-17 – Indeed I am guilty, a sinner from my mother’s womb. Wash me thoroughly and I shall be clean.

2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 – Be reconciled to God. Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation! We have endured many afflictions. Dying yet alive. Punished yet not killed. Sorrowful yet rejoicing. Poor yet rich!

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 – Don’t practice your piety before others ostentatiously, so that you can be seen. Direct your fasting to God. Your reward is in heaven.

Lent 1C – February 17, 2013 (February 21, 2010)

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – You shall share your first fruits with the Levites (priests) and aliens as a response to God’s awesome acts of salvation, for you were once sojourners in Egypt.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 – Eagles’ Wings. Lest you strike your foot against a stone, which the devil quotes to Jesus in the wilderness, in the gospel, below.
Romans 10:8b-13 – Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Jew and Greek. There is no distinction. But they can’t call upon him if they haven’t heard. Blessed are those who bring good news.
Luke 4:1-13– Jesus tempted by the devil in the wilderness. The devil quotes Scripture (Ps. 91).

Lent at-a-glance

  • February 13 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
  • February 17 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
  • February 24 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
  • March 3 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
  • March 10 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
  • March 17 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
  • March 24 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.

The Prodigal God – A Lenten Series Suggestion

During Lent my posts will be focused on the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15, which comes up on March 10, Lent 4C. For a post on the lectionary texts, click the link to my 2010 post above. A number of our congregations are using Timothy Keller’s excellent book, The Prodigal God, as a guide. There is also a Study Guide to go with the book. If you would like to make it a small group discussion there are guides and DVDs available. If you register with Zondervan you can get the books for 50% off. Here is the full curriculum information.

Feb 17 – Lent 1 – Chapter 1: The People Around Jesus

Feb 24 – Lent 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Lost Sons

Mar 3 – Lent 3 – Chapter 3: Redefining Sin

Mar 10 – Lent 4 – Chapter 4: Redefining Lostness

Mar 17 – Lent 5 – Chapter 5: The True Elder Brother

Mar 24 – Palm Sunday – Chapters 6 and 7: Redefining Hope, The Feast of the Father

Lent 1 – Chapter 1 of Prodigal God: The People Around Jesus

Prodigal sonThe story of the Prodigal Son, or the Lost Son is one of those archetypal stories that not only works its way into the human psyche after even just one hearing, it also works its way into the cultural psyche of any society. If Luke’s echo of Jesus has such staying power, it’s hard to imagine the power of hearing Jesus speak in person. It taunts me to consider the many stories Jesus must have told that are not recorded in any of the gospels.

The story of the Lost Son, is slated for the fourth Sunday of Lent, March 10. I have invited our community of congregations here on the Gulf of Mexico (the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod) to study the book Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller during Lent (February 13-March 30, the 40 days before Easter). I chose this book because, in our cycle of readings, this important story comes up one Sunday every three years. That Sunday comes this March.

My devotions in Lent will focus on this story. Even if you are not using this as a series in Lent, I hope these reflections are a blessing to you, and broaden your appreciation for this important story.

Using the book will take shape differently in each congregation, depending on the context. Some will simply shape Sunday sermons around the seven chapters. Others may do that and also organize the congregation into small groups to discuss the book on Wednesday evenings, Sunday mornings or at other times of the week.

The series may end on Palm/Passion Sunday, depending on how you time it. Some congregations have no sermon on this day because they read the Passion of Christ. Other read the Passion on Good Friday. Still others are reclaiming the Palm Sunday tradition and preaching on the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. The last two chapters of Keller’s book are “Reclaiming Hope” and “The Feast of the Father.” They can certainly be adapted for the day. I will offer some ideas about this in my post for that Sunday. It is, however, important to mark this holy day of remembrance with palms and “Hosanna to the Son of David!” As always, adapt the series as both fits the patterns and piety of your congregation, and also best equips your congregation to welcome the outcast, marginalized and those disenfranchised by the religious establishment.

Keller points out that the two sons very obviously represent the two different groups of people with whom Jesus is interacting in Luke 15 verses one and two.

“Now there were tax collectors and sinners gathering around to hear him, but the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The first group, tax collectors and sinners, are the younger son and the second group, Pharisees and teachers of the law, are the older son. He’s not the first to point out this parallelism, but it’s important to catch if we are to get Luke’s point.

Notice that these two groups respond to Jesus’ ministry quite differently. The first group gathers. The second group grumbles.

Jesus’ preaching, teaching and healing ministry are magnetic to the first group of outcasts. The second group has a completely different reaction. They are offended by Jesus. What’s the problem? Jesus welcomes. That’s the problem. He welcomes those whom he should not be welcoming. This bothers them. He “welcomes sinners and even eats with them.” Eating is an outward sign of acceptance.

We tend to sentimentalize the parable by imagining Jesus’ listeners are touched by God welcoming the first son with open arms. God’s unconditional love for the sinner is indeed profound, but that’s only half of the story. Most likely the Pharisees and teachers of the law saw themselves clearly in the second son, and were offended that the sinner gets to go to the party while the faithful son is left out in the dark. The story is a stunning encapsulation of Jesus ministry.

How about your church? How do people respond to your ministry? Who do you attract? Do you attract younger sons or older sons?

Keller goes on to critique today’s church under the sub-heading, “Why People Like Jesus but not the Church.” You don’t have to be in ministry long to discover and be amazed that Jesus is riveting, even 2,000 years later. At the same time, however, the community that bears his name? Not so much. Outsiders are often put off by our church culture. Think Dana Carvey and Church Lady from the old Sunday Night Live sketches. This is the world’s impression of church. That’s why the sketch was funny. It was a caricature, but it hit a nerve. (You younger folks can You Tube it.)

“Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious,” Keller points out, “while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day.” Then he suggests that our churches today do the opposite. The broken and marginal avoid the church. We tend to attract the older-brother types.

In small groups people can be invited to talk a bit about birth order. Who were the older, middle and younger children growing up? Who were the black sheep? With which person in the story do you identify? Then perhaps we might risk asking questions about our own faith community. Is it welcoming? Does it attract the irreligious or do we tend to attract the morally superior (sic)?

What if reimagining and renewing the church means reorganizing ourselves to attract younger brothers rather than catering to the older brothers?

I don’t have any pat answers for reimagining and renewing the church, but my gut tells me it will happen organically when we stop competing for the dwindling market share of older brothers, and adapt our ministries to attract the increasing number of younger brothers, nones, irreligious people in our society who are spiritually hungry, searching, seekers.

As with all of Jesus’ stories, there is good news and bad news, law and gospel for us.

BAD NEWS: Warning: Being a church that welcomes, attracts and rivets younger brother types will not make you popular with the Pharisees. This will likely mean the older brothers will be offended and refuse to come into the party. If you do this, some people may not like you. Might get hostile. Keep in mind, they did crucify Jesus, behead Paul, stone Stephen. Was this a string of bad luck, or did they have an edgy, radical way of life that threatened the establishment?

There are plenty of churches that cater to older brothers. Most of them, in fact. Let’s be the church that searches for the younger brothers of this world. Let’s be the church that seeks the lost, the wandering, the outcast, the broken-hearted, the disenfranchised, the stranger/immigrant.

HERE’S THE GOOD NEWS: No matter who you are, or what you’ve been or where you have been, God loves you with an everlasting love. Whether your sin is wandering, or self-righteousness, God loves you. This lavish, extravagant, reckless, prodigal father desperately loves both of his sons with abandon, the wayward younger son, and also the self-righteous older son. God loves both Cain and Abel. God invites both and all into the party.

Yours in Christ,Michael Rinehart, Bishop