Sunday, March 27, 2016

Christ is Risen! Pass the Ham.


24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Death is defeated!
The debt of sin is paid!
Hope is rising for the world this morning!

And I confess resurrection is something that I sometimes take for granted. The ritualistic words come so easily and naturally I forget how powerful they really are.

It’s easy to forget how shocking this Good News of Easter really is. We proclaim the resurrection from thousands of years of ritual and distance. We can say, "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!" and it doesn’t change our world view. 

We can sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!” and then go eat a ham dinner as if nothing has changed in the world. Today, we embrace the promise of resurrection, but we don’t stop to think about the reality of it. I mean what would you do if your dead mother, brother or father walked in and sat down beside you? Would you say, “Oh hi, I wondered when you would be resurrected?” Or would you flip out?

Luckily, when we read the Bible stories of the resurrection we are reminded about just how “out there” the news of someone being resurrected eternally from the dead really is. When we read the resurrection stories we are reminded that the resurrection of the body of Jesus Christ is mind-blowing and figuring out what it really means for our own lives isn’t always easy.

If you have your Bible open to Luke 24, do a quick scan. Do you see words like Alleluia? Joy?
No, the Easter story isn’t full of people singing and celebrating. The resurrection stories in the Bible are full of frightened people who are confused by what they are experiencing. The story has skeptical people who don’t believe what the witnesses tell them. And the story has faithful people who proclaim the mystery of resurrection even though they can’t prove it. Resurrection morning shows us people who are frightened, skeptical and faithful—sometimes all at the same time.

Let’s look closely at this powerful witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in Luke.

Early Sunday morning Mary and the other women get to the tomb and do not find Jesus’ body. The tomb is empty. But there are not hoorays or high-fives. It’s more likely that one turns to the other and asks, "Is this the right tomb? Did we turn left when we should have turned right?"

"Oh no, I recognize that bush," another one might say.

So they are puzzled and maybe a little bit nervous as they wonder what happened.  Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes appear to the women. They hit the ground bowing down in fright. The appearance of angels and the announcement of resurrection scare the women—not just in Luke, but in Matthew and Mark, too.

In Mark they are alarmed, trembling and bewildered.
In Matthew they are afraid (and filled with joy).

The women at the tomb didn’t know what was happening or would come next in their lives. They had spent the last few years following Jesus and they had no idea where their journey would take them now that he was dead. Even in the face of resurrection they still don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to explain it or what to make of it.

Perhaps you’ve been to this place where you are frightened because you don’t know what comes next. Maybe you are on a path heading toward graduation or starting a family. Maybe it’s getting to be time to retire or you are about to battle cancer.  Maybe you suffer from addiction and want to get clean. Or maybe you are at the end of your life and wondering what physical death will be like and what comes next.

We all come to these points in our journey where we are at the end of something and we can’t see beyond it.

It’s as if life is a path in the woods, green trees and shrubs line each side we come around a bend and suddenly there is a huge rock blocking the path. It looms in front of us, big and frightening because we know we will have to go off the path to get around it.

It’s like the giant stone that covered Jesus’ tomb. It blocks our view of everything else. We can’t see over it or around it. We don’t know what is on the other side.

Our friends and family try to talk us around the stone and through these big life transitions. They’ve seen the what’s on other side. But it can be so hard to explain it. 

Our words can’t really capture the experience of getting married or having a baby or changing jobs or going through chemo.  Our imaginations have trouble picturing what we have not personally experienced, like death.  And so we are like those at the tomb. Frightened about what is next.

The Bible has a promise for us when we are frightened by what’s happening in our lives. The Good News is that fear doesn’t get to have the last word. Trust that people have walked that unknown path before you and angels may guide you (maybe these are one in the same?). Jesus himself has walked that path and will accompany you.

In the story, the angels are the guides. They ask the women why they are looking for the living among the dead. Jesus has passed through death. The tomb is not the end. The stone is rolled away. A new path is becoming visible for them. The men in shiny clothes remind the women that Jesus promised that he would rise again. The women remember Jesus’ words and rush back to tell the other disciples the Christ is risen.

When they get to the disciples and they breathlessly share the amazing news that Jesus is risen, all they get are raised eyebrows. The disciples think, “Really? “

"Surely, these women must be overreacting and telling idle tales," the men think. "Nobody would trust a woman with this important information. God would not choose a group of women to be the first preachers of the gospel or to instruct us on what God is doing next." 

The disciples don’t believe the news.

In Luke’s gospel, only Peter goes to the grave. After which the Bible tells us he leaves wondering what had happened. He doesn’t know what to believe!

The people at the tomb are frightened people. The disciples are our second group—the skeptics.

Those who had been at the tomb are trying to explain the unexplainable to people who were not there. Their words can’t capture the way the angel’s clothes were shining. They couldn’t fully describe what it felt like to see the empty tomb and hear the announcement that Jesus is risen.

The gospels show us people who are frightened and skeptical about the resurrection. But you’ll notice that even through their fear and bewilderment some of them are faithful. Even though they didn’t see it with their own eyes, they begin to proclaim resurrection.

They tell the crazy news that Jesus’ dead body was raised up and somehow walked out of the grave. Even today, the world is full of faithful people who say crazy things because that’s what God calls them to do. 

Like me for example. I am here to tell you that Christ is risen. Not as a soul flying off to heaven, that’s easy to believe. But as a body that walks and talks and eats. If you aren’t a little bit incredulous, a little bit skeptical, you are not realizing the impact of this event.

In one way another, I seek to proclaim the mystery of faith week after week:

The church founders say it this way: 
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again

But my way sounds something like this:
The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope.

The mystery of resurrection is not something that I can prove to you with facts, but share with stories and experiences. Sometimes when I try to puzzle out resurrection for myself, my brain starts to hurt because there are so many questions—If we are made up of atoms and molecules that get reused over time, who gets which atoms for eternity in heaven? Which body do I get in the resurrection—my six-year-old body? My 19-year-old body? My 80 year-old body? A new glorified body?

There is a difference between proclaiming truth and proving it.

As witnesses we can proclaim God’s truth. And in faith, that is what I do. But, I really wish I could prove it! I wish that I could put it a neat package and deliver into your hands. I wish I could gift wrap all the proof you would ever need to believe in the resurrection, but I can't. Because that’s not how faith works.

In our life of faith, we can describe what we see even if we can't wrap it up and hand it to someone. It’s like these bubbles floating in the sanctuary. I can see them. I can point to them. I can describe them. But the moment I try to grab one so that I can hand it to you—it’s gone.

I can offer you proclamation. But I can’t give you proof. You'll have to take it on faith.

I can offer you my witness and my faith. I can tell you what I glimpse on the other of that big stone of ignorance that blocks our path. And it’s beautiful.

My proclamation is there is nothing like knowing that through Jesus Christ you are loved, you are forgiven, and you are called to be in the presence of an amazing God. For me, the resurrection means that I am forgiven of my self-doubt, which is really a form of self-centeredness. I am free to live without the guilt and negative thoughts that can hold me back sometimes.  I can let go of my worries, mistakes, and insecurities because they are not of God. I can take a deep breath in prayer and know that my biggest fears are tiny in God’s vast universe.

But your life is different from mine. Your sins are different from mine. Your glimpse past the stone that blocks the path comes from your own experiences with Jesus. Your proclamation is unique to you. 

And if you don’t know what your proclamation is, today is a good day to pray about that. If your proclamation is generic like Christ is risen! or Christ died for my sins! you may want to dig a little deeper. What are your sins that Christ forgives? What frightens you? What are you skeptical of? 

God is calling all of us here to the most important work in the universe: loving God more intimately and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, and maybe for you that means learning to love yourself. God is calling all of us to live and proclaim s new life in Christ. We do this most effectively when we use our own words from our own experiences.

When we do this. When we talk honestly about our experience of God and resurrection, when we describe our fears or questions in our own words, we proclaim  the risen, active Christ who is at work today in our own lives. And we grow in faith.

When we proclaim from our hearts, we can help each other see past the big tomb stones that block our path. We can help people know that when they are facing death (or graduation or job termination or cancer treatment) that it is not the end. Because of Jesus, there is something on the other side.  Because of Jesus there is hope.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

What does it mean for you?

Alleluia. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

King of the Hill

28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it'" 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34They said, "The Lord needs it." 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,
"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

Have you every played the childhood game King of the Hill?

When I was young we neighborhood kids used to play. If you don’t remember the game. It went like this. One person would stand at the top of a hill and be the king. All the other kids would try to dethrone the king by grabbing him or her and tossing him or her down the hill and taking over the top.

So as the king, your goal was to guard your turf and protect your kingdom. As someone at the bottom of the hill, your goal was to get to the top of the hill by yanking the king down or plotting with others about how to overthrow the king who was at the top.

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus rides into Jerusalem and is hailed as a king. By Friday, Jesus will indeed be king of the hill. But it happens in a way that nobody expected.

You see the people of Israel haven’t had a king in their hills and valleys for a long time. The Romans had conquered Israel and the Jewish revolutionaries were longing for their own king. On my trip to Israel this past fall, the tour guide told us that we don’t always appreciate the political climate in which Jesus lived. Here are some things you might not know about Jesus’ time:

Remember when Jesus was born and Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to be registered for the census? Because of the civil unrest created by Jewish revolutionaries, the Roman Empire wanted to keep track of every Jew in the country and this was not welcome news in Israel.

The Jewish Virtual Library says: The census was a profound shock to the Jewish people as a whole and it was only after considerable effort that the high priest at the time, succeeded in quieting the emotions aroused among the majority of the people. Nevertheless, *Judah the Galilean of Gamala joined forces with *Zadok the Pharisee to issue a call for armed revolt, since in their eyes the census represented outright slavery.” The Jewish people knew that being registered was yet another form of oppression. The gospels say Jesus was born in the midst of this.  

But, we know Jesus didn’t grow up there in Bethlehem. He grew up in a little town called Nazareth in the region of Galilee. But what we might not know is that Jewish rebels had attacked the Roman royal palace in Galilee a few years before Jesus was born. At one point the Romans crucified 2,000 people to stop revolutionary activity in Galilee. Jesus’ neighbors probably remembered this horror all to well.

We also may not realize that there were men who came before and after Jesus who claimed to the messiah. They gathered groups of supporters and planned attacks and skirmishes. They killed Romans when they could. They were protesting and sometimes rioting against the Romans.

So when we read our Palm Sunday story of Jesus, the donkey, the palms (which are actually not mentioned in Luke!) and people calling Jesus king, we have to remember the world in which Jesus lived. This wasn’t a worship service where people were lifting up their hands and palms in gentle praise and admiration. This was a world in which a rowdy crowd could quickly turn into a riot or rebellion.

And the palms that get waved? The palms are a symbol of Israel as a nation. Palms are carved into the stones of the ancient buildings and palaces all over Israel. Even today there are palms on the 1, 5 and 10 sheckel coins that Israelis use. Waving a palm was like waving the flag of Israel in the face of the Roman occupiers.

Calling Jesus a king was an act of sedition and revolution.

This probably wasn’t an orderly procession like all of our Sunday school pictures sow us, but something wilder, edgier. One word from Jesus and the revolution would begin in the streets.  People lined up because they heard Jesus might be the messiah—the one who would lead them like King David, and restore the nation through war. Jesus himself gave indication that is the messiah.

People were overjoyed to see Jesus riding into town on a donkey, because their Scriptures said that he would. The Old Testament book Zechariah says:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Seeing that Jesus was fulfilling scripture would have been a sign that maybe, just maybe, this Jesus is the real deal, the true messiah, the new king of a sovereign Israel. Maybe Jesus was the revolutionary who would bring victory.

But, Palm Sunday and Holy week unfold in a different way than the people expected. Palm Sunday reveals to us the upside down kingdom of God. Where meekness is power, the bottom is the top and kings ride donkeys instead of war horses.

From our vantage point in history, we can say Jesus is the messiah. Jesus came to offer restoration. But it’s a bigger restoration than the people who were lining the streets of Jerusalem were expecting.

They saw a national leader, we see a universal one. We see Jesus as coming to restore what was broken between humans and God in the Garden of Eden rather than restoring one nation to power. Jesus came to restore what is lasting and eternal, our relationship with God. His restoration isn’t just for one nation or people but all of humanity.

Jesus isn’t taking Israel back to its glory days, he’s going back to the glory days of God and humanity, before sin and selfishness entered the world.

Jesus’ message had very little to do with the Roman occupation or the borders of Israel as a nation. Jesus talks about the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom starts with Israel but it doesn’t end there. God’s kingdom expands beyond Israel and Rome and Europe and Africa and the world. God’s kingdom expands even beyond the borders of our own imagination. It’s a place where, as our scripture says, even the stones can cry out.

So what does the kingdom of God look like? What are the hallmarks of this place where Jesus is king? We look at Jesus ‘ life to find out. When we do we see healing, forgiveness, peace, and welcome.

·      Jesus heals people who have leprosy and people who are blind or deaf and even raises people from the dead. Jesus conquers disease and death, not political opponents.

·      With Jesus, justice is achieved through forgiveness rather than punishment. Jesus forgives the sins of the adulterous woman. When a paralyzed man gets lowered through the roof for healing, Jesus tells him he’s forgiven. Jesus teaches us to pray to receive and give forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer. He even forgives the people who crucify him.

·      When Jesus is king the cycle of violence ends and peace reigns. Jesus preached non-violence toward others and he practiced it. The Bible does say Jesus has a few temper tantrums and there is some talk of swords. But never once does he use his incredible power to hurt of kill someone, but rather Jesus restores life. He doesn’t call the crowd to fight with or for him. He’s a new kind of messiah.

·      In Jesus’ kingdom all nations come together. Everyone is welcome at the table—even Romans, Samaritans, tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus ministers to them all.

When Jesus reigns there is healing forgiveness, peace and welcome.

But this universal, Eden-vision isn’t what the people on the street wanted. They wanted nationalistic power. They wanted to make Israel great again in terms of this world, not God’s kingdom. They were an occupied country. They wanted to feel like they were in control of their lives and their livelihood. Who can blame them? They praised Jesus shouting Hosanna, which in the Old Testament means Help! or Save now! The only problem is, they were thinking too small.

And so a few days later, when it becomes clear that Jesus isn’t going to start a revolutionary war against Rome, the crowd turns. They wanted food for their bellies not some pie in the sky vision about a kingdom not of this world. They wanted a fighter, not a forgiver. The cheering crowd becomes a jeering crowd and calls for his crucifixion.

And Jesus is indeed made king of the hill. On a hill far away, on a cross, Jesus begins the
journey toward a new kingdom.  It’s not one where he defends his territory as king of the hill, shoving people down the slope so that he can stand above it all.

But rather one where he extends a hand and offers forgiveness—to you, to me. It’s a kingdom where (as Colossians 1:20 says) he draws all people to himself—all people up onto the hill—instead of pushing them away.

Jesus didn’t use his power to defend the kingdom of Israel, like the crowds wanted.

He used his power to extend kingdom of God through Israel.

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection show us that being king of the hill on God’s terms may not look like we expect it to. In God’s kingdom, we don’t win with a winner takes all attitude. We win when we have a winner gives all attitude.  Just as Jesus gave it all for you and for me.

So this week—this HOLY week—let’s ask ourselves: How can I begin to live in the Kingdom of God? How can I live like Jesus really is my king? As I ask the following questions, I’d like you to bring one person to mind and perhaps take time this week to reach out to them.

·      Who can I heal? With my presence or words or gentle touch?
·      Who can I forgive? How can I let go of the grudges and anger that drags me down?
·      How can I break the cycle of violence and anger and actively work for peace?
·      What outsider can I invite into my life to expand my understanding?

Reaching out is never easy.  We often think of healing, forgiving, peacemaking and hospitality as weaknesses. But we are so wrong. We don’t do them because they are actually some of the hardest things humans can do. Offering healing, forgiveness and peace force us to try something we are not comfortable with. Following Jesus is for the courageous of heart. 

It’s easier to ignore people or push them away and stay isolated on top of the hill. I know, I fight against this tendency all the time in inside myself.

And I ask God to help me with this desire to stay by myself on the hilltop because the Bible shows me that Jesus doesn’t want me defend a hill.

Jesus wants me to extend a hand.

To pull someone like you up on the hill with me. God’s calling me not just to cheer Jesus from the pulpit, but to actually follow him into his kingdom and invite you to join me.

And so I’m extending my hand to you. Won’t you come up the hill, too?

Sunday, March 6, 2016


1Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, 
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,"
and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6Therefore let all who are faithful 
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
7You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
8I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.
10Many are the torments of the wicked, 
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
11Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Luke 15: 11B-32
11b"There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe-the best one-and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate. 
25"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 31Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

What is a blessed life?

Is a blessed life one of personal fulfillment? More money? Better food, sensual pleasures or good scotch? Look up #blessed on social media and you might reach this conclusion as you see everything from wedding pictures, to college acceptances, to pictures of new boats and work successes.

Or is a blessed life one in which we follow the right rules and live morally? Is a blessed person one who works hard for things? Does being blessed mean being righteous and volunteering in the church or showing off pictures from a mission trip so that we’re recognized by others for our goodness and dedication?

Or is a blessed life something else entirely?

Our two Bible readings today give us good lenses through which to examine a blessed or happy life. Psalm 32 and Jesus' prodigal son parable feature many of the same things—distance from God, confession and celebration. But there is something important to learn about a blessed life that comes from looking at both of them together. Lets examine Psalm 32 first.

The introduction of the psalm gives us the key to a blessed life right off the bat when it says:

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.
 The psalmist gives us the life lesson first and then tells us how they got there. The psalmist is saying I have learned this life lesson the hard way. Learn from my experience and avoid your own suffering.
Your life will be blessed the psalmist says when you are forgiven AND when there is no deceit within you. That’s two conditions, not just one. There’s something God does and something we do.
I was deceitful, the psalmist says. I did something awful and I felt so guilty I could barely admit it to myself let alone God. I kept it inside and it was killing me. My body felt so heavy I could hardly get out of bed. I had no energy to do anything. Then I hit bottom, I confronted my sin. I admitted that big awful mistake to myself. I decided to name the monster that was holding me down.
Once I was honest with myself, I found the courage to go before God and really, truly confess. I told God my dark truth. I did not hide my iniquity and I decided to change. And God forgave me. God responded with glad cries of deliverance. The psalmists says we should rejoice and shout for joy because through God’s forgiveness we can be upright in heart again.
The psalmist moves from mistake to admission to confession to restoration.  
He or she takes a hard look at their life and realizes how important it is to be honest with themself and God. The psalm says that admitting our mistakes to ourselves is a crucial step on the way to being blessed. We have to confront ourselves before we can be experience true blessing. Because, really, when it comes to sin, we may be able to fool ourselves, but we can’t fool God. God knows our hearts. God already knows our sins. When we confess our sins we are not giving God any new information.
God already knows your heart. The question is, do you?

Our second reading, Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, is about two young men who don’t know their hearts. Both sons are known and loved by their father and they both are blind to the sin within them. In fact, in some parts of the world this parable is called the lost sons, plural. Let’s look at them to see why.
The older brother—the one we might be tempted to call good—is the moralistic rule follower. He never stops working to ask for nice things or show love to his father because he wants to be sure he’s worthy of the inheritance. He sees his father’s love in the same way he sees the money and property—as finite and limited. He doesn’t trust the father will give it to him so he works to earn it. He leaves no room for the generosity of the father because he’s slaving away at being obedient and faithful.
The younger brother is an immoral squanderer of his father’s love and property. His problem is that he doesn’t value the love of his father and takes it for granted. He abandons his family in pursuit of pleasure, devouring his inheritance with prostitutes. He gets low as he could go.  He’s so far down on the moral scale he’s in the mud longing for the food the pigs eat.
At this low point the party son forms a plan to return and waltzes back into the family. Everyone is overjoyed to see him. Everyone except his older brother. The brother who was there the whole time. The brother who has been caring for the father and the property. The brother who has been faithful and obedient becomes angry and pouty.
When we read the story closely we discover that it’s not just the younger son who is lost and distant from the father. Both of the sons are deceiving themselves.
The older brother always does the right thing, but he doesn’t do it with the right spirit. He’s righteous and obedient to the point of feeling like a slave. He’s follows the rules and thinks he deserves to be #blessed for doing so.
But who was the older brother really working so hard for? His father? Or was he doing it for himself to be sure he got the inheritance? He mistakes obedience for love and self-righteousness for real righteousness, and he doesn’t even realize it. He’s using his obedience to manipulate his father into giving him the inheritance. His true motives come out when his younger brother comes home to a party. He’s bitter and angry because he feels he deserved to be blessed with the fatted calf. He distances himself from his father by refusing to go in to the party. So the father goes out to him and promises to give him all that he has.
On the other hand, the young son sins boldly. When things get bad, he longs for what the father offers and so he decides to return home and confess. This looks like a good thing—a righteous act. But why does he do it? Look at verse 17—He says, How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!
The younger brother doesn’t go home out of love for his father. He decides to confess because he’s hungry. He adopts a false righteousness so that his father will feed him.  The younger brother appears to go through the right motions, but is where is his heart, really? The younger son plans an elaborate confession so that he could be #blessed with food.
But here is the beauty of the story. Verse 20 says, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
The father runs to embrace the younger son BEFORE he blurts out his confession. The father is filled with compassion before the returning son even says a word.
Notice that the father goes to both of the sons despite the self-righteousness and false righteousness. They both get forgiveness from the father. But our question for today is: Are they #blessed?
Remember how the psalm describes blessing?
Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.
Deceit still lived in both sons’ spirits. In the end both were only acting for themselves—going through the motions of obedience for reward or confessing for blessing. These young men didn’t know their own hearts. They didn’t acknowledge what was broken within them. Even though they were forgiven, neither of them could feel truly #blessed because they weren’t willing to face what was really motivating them.
The story doesn't finish with a happily ever after. In fact it just kind of stops with the father pretty much saying I love and forgive you both despite your sins. The father is the only one in whom there is no deceit. The father’s actions are motivated by only one thing—his love for his broken and self-centered sons.
The sons may still have deceit in their spirits but there is no deceit in the father’s heart—only the desire for his family to be reconciled in love.  In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus shows us and tells us that the Father, Our God, will stop at nothing to make that reconciliation happen. God seeks to bestow this blessing upon us.
So during the our time of reflection and repentance this Lent, lets try to live into the psalmists idea of blessing as both living without deceit and receiving God's forgiveness. Let’s examine our own spirits to see if there is deceit in them.
Are you a little self-righteous? Or do you tend toward false righteousness? Do you take God’s love for granted? Or are you afraid that your sin is too big God? Do you bury the bad things of your life and hope that if you don’t acknowledge them, nobody else will? Do you worry that if other people know your dark truth you will no longer be loved?
For the next few weeks, lets work on finding our deceit. Let’s trust that God’s steadfast love is big enough to transform whatever it is we are trying to hide. Let’s examine our hearts, trusting that God’s has hiked up his robe and is already running to to us with compassion—just as he did for the younger son when he returned home. Lets look deeply into our spirits knowing that God wants to give us everything he has promised— just as he said to his older son when he was outside the party.
Let's take some time at the end of each day and examine our spirits for deceit. Let's  honestly acknowledge and confess what is in our spirit and in doing so give our whole selves to God. The day that we trust that God's love doesn't have to be earned or manipulated is they day that we realize that we are really, truly #blessed.