Monday, March 4, 2013

Coming to Our Senses

Coming to Our Senses is our worship theme for the fourth Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2013. Our focus scriptures are 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 and Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.

This year in Lent we are exploring the lectionary passages with an eye out to discover foundations of peace. In these passages Paul and Jesus address points of turning, of coming to our senses, which create the possibility for peace.

In 2 Corinthians Paul writes from the perspective of one who once persecuted Christians. Trained to be an unswerving Pharisee, he thinks of Jesus as an imposter, a law breaker whose followers are corrupting the faith he loves. Yet as we see in his famous passage in Romans 7:14-25 he struggles with his inability to keep the law that his mind sees as perfect but that the wants and needs and fears of the whole of his person prevent him from fulfilling. So “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do”. The only solution is that “while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). But Paul comes to this conclusion, not by thinking it out, but in a personal spiritual experience of the presence of the risen Christ.

Whatever it is, this is such a powerful experience that he includes himself as one of the witnesses of the risen Christ, whose experience is as real as Peter’s or any of the others. It is an experience of God’s love, so profound that when Paul refers to it in 2 Corinthians, he says that, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” For Paul, God acts in love to bridge the great chasm that his sins create. Then God calls Paul and the other apostles to become bridge builders themselves by announcing God’s love for us in Christ and creating communities of reconciliation where the members love God, Christ, and one another.

Similarly in Luke 15:11b-32 Jesus tells his profound parable of the lost son, whose prodigal father takes him joyfully back into the family, while the elder son sulks and considers his options. This parable is actually told to Pharisees and other leaders of the faith who are put off by the welcome that Jesus gives to sinners and even to Gentiles (see Luke 15:1-3). Like the elder son, they are the “good ones” – the ones who keep the rules, at least outwardly. But like jealous children, they seethe inwardly when they see Jesus welcoming those less worthy. To hear Jesus teach, as he does in Luke 15:7, that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” makes them furious. Unlike the younger lost son, they do not come to their senses and return to the circle of God’s love and grace. As the parable ends, the elder son has yet to come to the party. His father’s invitation to reconcile rings in his ears. But we do not know his final answer.

These passages teach us that God does not want us to stay frozen in enmity to God or to one another. Harry Emerson Fosdick once wrote: “Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it. Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it. Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it. Bitterness sickens life; love heals it. Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes.” Strengthened by the power of God’s love for us in Christ, we can come to our senses and see that hatred and bitterness beget more hatred and bitterness, whereas love and forgiveness beget more love and forgiveness. That was true in the time of Jesus and it is true today. It is true of our relationships with family members and it is true of the relationships between the nations.

Here is a Call to Worship based on 2 Corinthians 5:16-20. Please use or adapt anything that is helpful to you.

Call to Worship    From 2 Corinthians 5:16-20

L: Friends, we no longer evaluate people by how they look from the outside.
     Once we looked at the Messiah that way and made a huge mistake!
P: Now we look inside Christ and ourselves and what we see is this:
     United with Christ our inner selves are reborn.
L: Our old, fearful and selfish selves die. God makes us completely new!
P: Just as in Christ God calls us close and forgives our sins,
     so God also calls us to reconcile ourselves to one another.
L: In fact, God also gives us the job of telling everyone what God is doing.
P: So we are Christ’s ambassadors and this is our message to the world:   
     halt your hatred; make things right with each other and with God.
 All: Let us worship God!

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