Known By Our Love

Meditation on John 13, selected verses

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

April 14, 2022

   On this night, as we remember Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples and celebrate our Communion with him, I will have the rare opportunity to serve the bread and cup to each of you.

     I will call you by name. For God knows all of our names—and every thought we have before we think it. Every word we are going to say before we say it.

     Before we gather at the Lord’s Table for spiritual nourishment, we give God thanks for sending His Son for the healing of the world and that we might learn to follow his life of humility and share in the joy of his glorious resurrection.

    It is my hope that as you leave the table refreshed, renewed, and united by the Spirit, you may be strengthened to keep Christ’s “new” command, given on the night he is betrayed by one of his own. When he is troubled in spirit.

     “Just as I have loved you,” Jesus says, “you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

    At the beginning of John 13, we learn that this meal isn’t like any other meal Jesus has shared with his disciples. Suddenly, as they are eating, Jesus gets up, takes off his outer robe and ties a towel around himself. He pours water into a basin, and begins to wash their feet! This is not something that is done during a meal. This is not something anyone but the lowliest servant would ever do.

   Jesus does this because his hour has come.  He knows that the Father has given all things into his hands, and that he has come from God and is going to God.

    Peter cries out in horror and embarrassment that Jesus would so humble himself to them, “You will never wash my feet!”

    Jesus is still modeling for his 12 disciples—and for us—how to live when he is no longer with them in the flesh.

    “You call me Teacher and Lord,” he says, “And you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

    It is startling to hear how Jesus tells his closest friends, “Not all of you are clean” and, “One of you will betray me.”

    Have you ever wondered why he wouldn’t just name Judas as his betrayer? What was the reason for keeping it a secret? Would his disciples have prevented Judas from doing the deed that led to Christ’s dying on a cross?

     All we know for sure is that the betrayal is all part of a larger plan for salvation—or at least something God can use to accomplish His glorious purposes. But this doesn’t change how Jesus feels about the betrayal. After making the announcement, he is “troubled in spirit.”

     He takes two people into his confidence, then—Peter, the one who protested when Jesus began to wash their feet—and the “disciple whom Jesus loved” reclining next to him. Isn’t that what we do when we are troubled in spirit? And Jesus is fully human, like us, as well as fully God. We seek help from the Heavenly Father who knows us and loves us unconditionally, but we also need the comfort and love of people with us who understand, accept, and encourage us to become what God wants us to be.

     The “disciple whom he loved” in the gospel of John is probably the one who wrote this gospel. Rather than naming himself, this phrase could describe any of the disciples. But it’s not just to protect his identity. The writer of John’s gospel wants everyone who hears this to put themselves in the story with Jesus and his disciples on the night that he is betrayed.

     For all of Christ’s followers are Christ’s own, the ones whom Jesus has loved and will love until the end.

      This passage leads us to believe that Jesus wants to get the evil deed over with, the thing that Judas will do that God will use for good purposes. He says to Judas, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ 

      Judas leaves. And it is night.

      We feel the darkness all around—the grief and pain of that moment, the foreshadowing of the suffering that is to come. But we also remember that always, in the darkness, any darkness, there is Light. For Christ was with his disciples then, and he is always with us. And the power of hate and evil never defeats the Power of Love.

      It occurs to me as I read this that Jesus loves Judas as much as he loves the others. Judas is one of the 12 that he called to take up their crosses and follow him. This is Jesus modeling an even more difficult command than love one another. Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-48,

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

May we who eat from the Bread of Heaven and drink from the Cup of Salvation be empowered to love as Christ loves, and in doing so, bear witness to our faith.

    May we be known by our love.

Let us pray.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for your love, grace and mercy, for accepting us just as we are! Lord, forgive us when we have failed to love our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, and those whom we might see as enemies. We praise you for Jesus, our Savior and Teacher who not only commands us to love, he gives us the perfect example and His Spirit to enable us to love. Fill us now with such love for one another that we bear witness to our faith and your healing, reconciling love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen

The Things That Make for Peace

Meditation on Luke 19:28–42

Palm Sunday 2022

Pastor Karen Crawford

Link to live-streamed recording from this morning’s worship: https://fb.watch/ciYuT2B_nQ/

As I began to write my message yesterday, I couldn’t help but think, “This is my last Palm Sunday with you.”

I wonder if this day will forever remind me of the start of the pandemic in 2020?

 We had closed our sanctuary to in-person worship a week before, but Palm Sunday was the first time I recorded my message and all the liturgy on my cell phone.

It was the first time I led virtual Communion with Jim and Jacob from our dining room table.

Dear friends, we have made so many memories in our ministry together. So much has happened in a short time.

And today, the blessing of baptism! We have witnessed The Lord claiming as his own a woman in her 90s, and a little girl of 4! God is so good!

You know that I am struggling to say goodbye to you. To me, it seems our time has been too short. Most of the time, I am ok, busy with my pastoral responsibilities. There’s so much to be done before we move. But on Friday morning, I felt sad. I reached out to a Christian friend, who reminded me what I tell people who are grieving—that it’s OK to grieve. Give yourself permission and time to feel sad, to rest, and to cry. Tears are healing, aren’t they?

It helps me to know that Jesus cried, too. Do you know that Jesus grieves and suffers with us? Scripture reveals that on at least two occasions, the Lord shed tears. When he was at the tomb of Lazarus, and saw his loved ones grieving, he wept.

And today, in our Palm Sunday reading, Jesus weeps for Jerusalem.

***

Our Lenten study of Adam Hamilton’s The Way, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus presented our Palm Sunday reading in a different light. Hamilton calls the Palm Sunday procession a peaceful protest. A peaceful protest.

The key word for today’s message is PEACE.

Jesus’ words are not needed to proclaim that he is the long-awaited Messiah, the true King of kings. All it takes is riding a borrowed donkey—with the details worked out just before the event.

The people make the radical declaration for him. Waving palm branches, the people celebrate Jesus as if they are celebrating a victory. There’s no mistaking what this really is. This IS a royal procession.

Why a donkey?  Jesus has walked everywhere up to now, unless he is riding with his disciples in a fishing boat. The donkey connects Jesus with King David, who also rode a donkey. It is a practical choice. A donkey is “more surefooted than a horse on the rocky, hilly terrain of Palestine and is able to travel farther on less water.” But this is also a choice to reveal the character of the rider. In the case of David, the donkey is “a humble beast reflecting (his) identity as the shepherd king.” (137)

There’s another reason for the donkey. It fulfills the promise of the prophet Zechariah, given to the Jewish people 500 years before Christ’s birth. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Zion! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9)

When the people shout, Hosanna!, Hebrew for “Save us, now!,” they are quoting Psalm 118, which we read today. The psalm was first written to “welcome kings back to Jerusalem as they returned victorious from war, but it came to refer to “the Messiah who would come and deliver the people.”

There are two more processions that day, Hamilton tells us. These processions would not be peaceful; they are meant to be coercive and intimidating. “Pontius Pilate would have entered the city from the west, coming from Caesarea by the sea and bringing with him at least 1,000 Roman soldiers on chariots, on horseback, and on foot, with all their weapons and regalia. The show of force was designed to suppress any thoughts of rebellion during the Passover…(For) the festival marked the Jews’ release from bondage in Egypt, so the celebration always carried an undertone of hope for liberation—a hope that God was going to free his people again.”  (139)

Pilate would crucify two rebels on that Thursday, the Day of Preparation for the Passover, just to remind the Jewish people of Rome’s power—and who is still in control.

The other procession that day in Jerusalem was of King Herod Antipas, who used violence to suppress the people. He was the one who beheaded John the Baptist. Hamilton says, “Two of the three rulers entering Jerusalem in parades on that Palm Sunday were iron-fisted men known for their cruelty.”

So, if we weren’t sure before, we know now why the Pharisees try to stop the peaceful protest. There’s a good chance that it will provoke violence against those who declare Jesus the Messiah, the One who will deliver the people.

There’s no turning back from this moment. The cross looms ahead.

Jesus boldly declares, “I tell you, if these (people) were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Our Lord weeps, then, but not for what is going to happen to him. He cries because of what he sees in the future for the Holy City—how it will be destroyed because of the rebellion of the Jewish people.

Hamilton says, “(Jesus knew) that as the crowds rejected him, they would be rejecting his way. They would reject his call to love their enemies, to pray for those who persecuted, and to do good to those who did wrong. They would instead choose to follow the way of the sword.”

Two would-be messiahs would lead a revolt against Rome in 66 A.D. The Empire would respond by sending 60,000 troops; a million Jewish people would be killed. The Romans would burn the Temple and the Holy City, just as Jesus foresaw.

But Jesus also cries because of Jerusalem’s turning away from their ancient faith, from the Lord God himself, and their refusal to see that the Son of God had come to save the people from its sins. For Paul says we have peace with God and one another through Jesus Christ and a ministry of reconciliation.

“If you, even you,” Jesus says as he nears Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed donkey. “If you, even you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

***

I have decided that rather than saying goodbye these next two weeks, I would say thank you, instead.

Goodbye brings sadness. Thank you brings peace.

I have some many things to be grateful for. So it will take me at least two Sunday’s to begin to say thank you.

Thank you for sharing your stories, your faith, and your very lives with me. Thank you for sharing your joys and concerns with me. Thank you for opening your homes and hearts to me and allowing me to serve as your pastor. I am so glad that I met you all and made my home with you.

And one more thing I will keep telling you—because this is the path to peace and healing.

I will pray for you—that you will always recognize the loving presence of God with you and that you will be able to see and do the things that make for peace—and that they may never be hidden from your eyes.

Jesus prays for his disciples in John 17 as he prepares to leave them for the cross. He prays for his original disciples, but he also prays for us—for those who will follow him because of the message of his disciples. And do you know that the Spirit continues to pray for us, so even if we don’t know what to pray, God knows and God will handle your problems anyway.

Listen to Jesus as he prays for us so long ago.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone,” he says, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Will you pray with me? Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for Jesus, our Messiah, the one who has come to bring salvation to our world. Thank you, Lord, for our faith and that Christ’s true identity is not hidden from our eyes—that your Spirit has revealed this to us. Help us, Lord, to be One, to walk the right path, to be humble and love our enemies, and to refrain from hurting those who may have hurt us. Give us strength and joy to do good and walk in your loving ways to witness to our faith and lead other generations to come to know the Messiah and Savior who is Christ the Lord. Teach us to recognize and do the things that make for peace. Through your Son, our Prince of Peace we pray. Amen.

What Lies Ahead?

Meditation on Philippians 3:4b-14

Fifth Sunday in Lent

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Pastor Karen Crawford

Link to recording of the live-streamed service: https://fb.watch/c9Lo6AbNTo/

I have been having interesting conversations with some of my Christian friends, since I announced that I have accepted a new call. The one thing that comes up repeatedly is my feeling of things being out of my control. One friend laughs when I say that. That things feel out of control. We are never in control, not really, when we are following Christ. Our lives are not our own! We belong to him.

     We struggle to surrender all of ourselves to the Lord.

     I was inspired by a story of a widow’s faith this week. She lives in Central Europe in the city of Prague, in the Czech Republic. She says, “In my lifetime, I have experienced the rule of two totalitarian regimes. One was the German Nazis.  The second was the Russian communists.  The Word of God says 366 times, “Do not be afraid. Do not fear.”

    “After 40 years of Communism here and the fact that many believers left the country, the Czech Republic has been called the ‘most atheist place in Europe.’ It breaks my heart.

    “My name is Ludmilla.  I am 82 years old. I have 7 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren.  My husband went to heaven in 2002. The Lord Jesus told me that now he is my husband, and he wants to continue to use me. He wants me to be his representative, his ambassador.

     “Next to the door of my house, there is a bronze sign that says, ‘The Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven.’  My home is an extension of Christ’s Kingdom. It’s a place where people can come and look for help if they are in trouble or have a need.  The Bible says the Kingdom of Heaven is joy and peace in the Holy Spirit. That is the atmosphere I want here at the Embassy.

    “The visitors that I get, some of them have called ahead to let me know they’re coming. And some just come. The ones that haven’t called are usually the best ones because I’m not prepared for them. Everything that happens dependent on the Lord. …

     “Whenever people enter this house, I just lay everything else aside and spend time with them. I have learned to recognize the inner voice of the Holy Spirit and give Him room to use me.”

   Ludmilla never worries about tomorrow. She has a purpose for every day. Forgetting what lies behind, and not dwelling too long in the memories—happy and sad—she strains forward to what lies ahead—serving Christ with joy until she is with her Savior, face to face.

     Paul was on his second missionary journey when he had a vision of a man who pleaded with him, saying,  “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Macedonia is the northern region of modern-day Greece.  The apostle obeys the Spirit and begins his European ministry in Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia. His first ministry encounter is not with the man of his vision, but a woman named Lydia.  She is a God-fearer—someone who wasn’t born Jewish but came to believe in the God worshiped by the Jewish people and lived as if she were Jewish. Acts 16 tells us that because of the lack of a synagogue in the city, a group of God-fearing women meet by the river on the Sabbath for prayer.

     Lydia is a merchant of luxury textiles made of purple, a costly dye derived from shellfish. Paul sees this group of women gathered for prayer on the Sabbath, and he, Silas, Timothy, and Luke join them by the riverside. Paul shares about Jesus with them. Acts 16:14-15 says, “The Lord opened (Lydia’s) heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”

   Afterward, she and her household are baptized and she urges Paul, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.”

     Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke are persuaded to stay for some time with Lydia. Since no husband is mentioned, we assume Lydia is widowed or divorced, as divorce was easy and common under Roman law.

     As we study this passage, I hope you will imagine the Philippian Church’s humble beginnings in Lydia’s home. She would be forever remembered as the first documented convert to Christianity in Europe. I would like you also to consider Paul’s situation and frame of mind as he writes this letter, years later, from prison, perhaps in Rome or Ephesus—and how the years would have grown their friendship and his love for the congregation.  

   Being in prison for defending the gospel makes him bolder to preach the gospel. He talks about Jesus with everyone, not only to his fellow prisoners, but to the “whole imperial guard.” In prison, he has plenty of time to pray, write, and think about his own life—mistakes he’s made, wrong paths he has taken, and how God has used him, anyway. Remember his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus? Paul never forgets that he was once an enemy of Christ and his followers.

   Prayer and honest self-examination lead to an incredible conclusion about his life—before and after knowing Jesus. He says,

     Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order  that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ.”

     The apostle is worried about the Philippians, concerned that without him to guide and protect them, they might be led by others to turn back to some of the ways of Judaism they left behind. In particular, he is worried that they will go back to circumcision, which he sees as a kind of works’ righteousness. He wants all people—Jews and Gentiles—to come to know the love and grace of the Lord and the life-changing power of his resurrection that Paul has experienced.

    Nothing else matters, now that everything Paul formerly valued in his life has essentially been taken away— except for his faith and his voice to proclaim it. He chooses bold action and holds onto one thing, he says, and urges the church of every age to do the same:  Forget what lies behind. Strain forward to what lies ahead. Press on toward the goal of the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

      Dear friends, I hope you are inspired by the faith of Lydia and Paul and Ludmilla, who opens her home to anyone in trouble, anyone in need. Some call ahead but others just come, which is better, she says, because then she isn’t ready for them—and whatever happens fully depends on God.

     Brothers and sisters, may we be empowered to press on. Forgetting what lies behind. Straining forward to what lies ahead. And what is it that lies ahead?

    The Lord wants us to see beyond our immediate concerns and circumstances and look to the future. We have an eternity with our Savior, drawing others closer to him, seeking to know him and the power of his resurrection, more and more. Let us make the most of our days.

    May we, each of us, be stirred to surrender ourselves and our lives to the will of God—leaning not on our own understanding, as Proverbs teaches us. But in all our ways acknowledge him, so that he may direct our paths. May we learn to recognize the inner voice of the Holy Spirit and give God room to use us, like he used Paul, Lydia, and Ludmilla in Prague.

     “The Holy Spirit likes to take control,” she says. “Often, I listen to myself, and I say things I wouldn’t even think about. There is no problem to deal with the issues that people bring when they come here because the Holy Spirit is here. It’s an honor for me to be an instrument of God’s love and his wisdom every day. We often don’t realize that all believers are called to be representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven.

    “We are all ambassadors,” she says, quoting Paul in 2 Corinthians. “The Lord Jesus didn’t choose to do it any other way. He simply entrusted us.”

Let us pray.

Holy One, we want to know you more and the power of your Son’s resurrection to change our lives today. Thank you for entrusting us with your good news, calling us to be your ambassadors for Christ, inviting the whole world to be reconciled with you. May we be like Paul and other faithful followers, such as Ludmilla in the Czech Republic, trusting you to complete a good work in and with us. Help us to hear the inner voice of your Holy Spirit so that we may know your wisdom and your will. Strengthen us to fear not for tomorrow or dwell too long in the memories of yesterday. Move us to press on to what lies ahead and see beyond our present circumstances, giving you room to use us for your eternal purposes, more and more. In Christ we pray. Amen.

You Are Found

Meditation on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Pastor Karen Crawford

March 27, 2022

Link to Recording of our Livestreamed service with message: https://fb.watch/c0uARezgZc/

Some of you already know why our household is in chaos. Jim brought home a puppy on Friday. Rory is a poodle. His little round body is covered with soft, golden/reddish curls.

Some of you have asked, “How are the cats getting along with the puppy?”

Well, it’s going to take some time for them to get used to each other.

This is what Liam looked like yesterday when he saw the puppy coming near him. 

He was making low growling sounds in his throat.

What does the puppy think about the cats? He wants to play with them or cuddle up with them, like he does with Jim and me. Kind of reminds me of Garfield and Odie. Odie looks at Garfield and Garfield says, “Go away, Odie, you bother me.”Two panels pass by with nothing happening. And then in the fourth panel, Odie is hugging Garfield. And the cat is saying, “I guess I asked for that.”

Liam seems to be more demanding of my attention, biting my fingers when I am typing, constantly trying to climb in my lap. He’s feeling insecure, wondering why I pay any attention to that other horrible creature Jim brought home.

He’s worried that he might lose his status in the household—if he is still my favorite fur creature. He is!

***

The Prodigal Son in the gospel of Luke is one of Christ’s most powerful parables. We can all identify with the characters and this ancient story because we all live in families and every family has its troubles.

It’s easy to get caught up in the details without staying focused on why Jesus tells this story. This is Christ’s answer to a complaint by the Pharisees and the scribes who say, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They say this right after they see all the tax collectors and sinners coming near to listen to him. He isn’t just eating with the outcasts and scoundrels of their society. He is empowering them with God’s love and forgiveness for them.

The purpose of the story is to teach the Pharisees, scribes, and disciples of Jesus in every time about the lavish and outrageous love of God for sinners—all people, even the ones whom we might find difficult to like, let alone love.

Here are a few key points from the parable.

  1. Don’t miss the part about the younger son demanding his inheritance from his father while living. This is the most insulting and hurtful thing for a son in that culture to do. Essentially, he is saying that he wants his father dead!
  • The prodigal spends the inheritance on what would bring shame to himself and his family. I looked up “dissolute living” and found this definition, “living in a way that other people strongly disapprove of.” So, we can use our imagination.
  • When all the money runs out, AND there’s a famine in the land and the whole country is plunged into an economic and humanitarian crisis, this may be the first time this man has ever had to go without and find a job. Verse 14 says, “he began to be in need.” Living in a foreign country, he wouldn’t be eligible for any of the benefits of citizens. He hires himself out for the only job open to him—feeding pigs. He’s Jewish and he’s feeding pigs! He has left both family and faith behind and is living as a Gentile, which would have been the most sinful thing anyone could do, in the eyes of the Pharisees and scribes.
  • Finally, he has a moment of clarity. His father’s hired hands have bread to spare and are eating better than he is working for Gentiles. In fact, the pigs are eating better than he is.

Whether he actually feels remorse for what he is done is debatable. Does he really have a change of heart? For he even rehearses what he is going to say to his father when he gets home, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”

Verse 17 says, “When he came to himself,” as if he finally remembered who he was—his family and the life he threw away. Maybe he does have a moment of regret for the terrible choices he has made. Or maybe he realizes how lost he really is. How far from home he has gone.

When I say home, I mean it on a spiritual level—more than just a place to live. You follow me?

Theologian Henri Nouwen writes in The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, “leaving home is, then, much more than an historical event bound to a time and place. It is a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being, that God holds me safe in an eternal embrace, that I am indeed carved in the palms of God’s hands and hidden in their shadows. Leaving home means ignoring the truth that God has ‘fashioned me in secret, moulded me in the depths of the earth and knitted me together in my mother’s womb.’ Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one.” (37)

Psalm 90 verse 1 assures us: Lord, through all the generations you have been our home.” And Jesus says in John 14:23, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

***

Whenever we hear this parable, we can’t help but see ourselves. Many of Christ’s followers, who have grown up in the church, can’t remember a time when they didn’t identity as Christians. They may see themselves as the older son who is shocked and bitter when the younger son returns and is not only welcomed but is celebrated by the entire community. The older son of the story seems jealous and resentful—perhaps worried that he has lost his favored status in the household.

Those of us who have had more dramatic conversion experiences understand exactly what the writer of Amazing Grace was talking about when we sing,“I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind and now I see.” We are the prodigals who are grateful every single day that we serve a God who will never stop running out to greet us with open arms and welcome us home.

Nouwen had a surprising vision of the true prodigal son while he was meditating on the Rembrandt painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son. He was Jesus!

Nouwen says. “He left the house of his Heavenly Father, came to a foreign country, gave away all that he had, and returned through his cross to his Father’s home. All of this he did, not as a rebellious son, but as the obedient son, sent out to bring home all the lost children of God. Jesus, who told the story to those who criticized him for associating with sinners, himself lived the long and painful journey that he describes….

Isn’t the broken young man kneeling before his father ‘the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world?’ Isn’t he the innocent one who became sin for us? Isn’t he the one who didn’t ‘cling to his equality with God, but as human beings are? Isn’t he the Son of God who cried out on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus is the prodigal son of the prodigal Father who gave away everything the Father had entrusted to him so that I could become like him and return with him to his Father’s house.” – Henri Nouwen (55-56)

I believe the most important message of the Prodigal Son is that God loves both sons—the elder and the younger. He doesn’t hold any of their sins against them. God loved the Pharisees and the scribes as much as he loved the outcasts and scoundrels with whom Jesus was always eating and drinking.

***

Friends, I find myself struggling for the right words to share with you some important news. I will follow up with a letter so that everyone in the church knows what’s going on.

I have accepted a new call to ministry. I will be here with you through Easter. I will be serving, as of May 1, a Presbyterian congregation in New York where we will be closer to family. Jim and I have made this decision carefully and prayerfully, considering our needs of this season of our lives—and anticipating seasons to come.

I have loved serving as your pastor. I am happy here. You have brought me joy and peace. I will always cherish our friendship. I will remember you. I won’t forget!

We will have time for personal goodbyes. We will take time to grieve together—and encourage one another. I will continue to pray for you, that the Holy Spirit would guide, protect and bless you when I am not with you in person. And that the Lord would provide for all our needs.

We still have time to make memories together, share stories, dream dreams, sing, laugh, hug, eat, pray, and break bread at the Lord’s Table. I will keep on sharing the gospel with you and telling you the stories of God.

The Prodigal Son teaches us that every day, we have choices to make. One choice can lead to another, so make it a good one! Things don’t just happen randomly, and they don’t happen to passive people who just sit back—like Ron Geese taught us. We aren’t called to be spectators or commentators. We are to be sweet taters, showing our love for God and neighbor and revealing the Kingdom of God with kindness!

 And if we wander to a far-off country in thought, word or deed and somehow forget our gratitude for all God has done and the many promises in His Word, let us be reminded that God loves the elder and the younger son. God loves everyone.

Come home, beloved ones!

Every day is a new day, with God’s mercies new every morning. Every day, every moment, we have another chance to come to ourselves—realize that we are new Creations in Jesus Christ—and take another step forward, trusting in him. Clinging to him!

No matter where we go, we will always have a home. For God has come to make his home with us—and we with him.

You are NOT lost. For this fellow named Jesus came to welcome sinners and eat with them and give his life for all.

You are found!

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the hope we find in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, hope for your love and forgiveness, just the way we are, because of what you have done for us in Jesus Christ. We welcome you to come and make your home with us and we with you. Comfort us in our grief. Help us to always see the good in what happens in our lives—and to know your will. Keep us walking the path you want us to take, but if we ever wander off to a far country, please guide our hearts and minds back home again. Be with us always, Lord, as you promise. In the name of Your Son, our Savior, we pray. Amen.

As a Hen Gathers Her Brood

Meditation on Luke 13: 31-35

Second Sunday in Lent

Pastor Karen Crawford

March 13, 2022

Link to a recording of our live-streamed service: https://www.facebook.com/100000229089156/videos/514925946927120/

   I almost didn’t have a message to share with you this morning. Almost. You see, I met a little boy named Graham at the reception following the celebration of life for Louise Mickelson here yesterday. Graham shared his Legos with me, told me how much he loves THIS church, and how he goes to school in a CHURCH (it’s preschool).

     And he shared his Ritz Bits peanut butter crackers with me.

     I told him how there’s a lady in our church who dips Ritz Bits peanut butter crackers in chocolate—making delicious candy out of them. His eyes grew wide as he popped another cracker in his mouth and asked me if I wanted some more.

    “Thank you,” I said, and helped myself.

    “Maybe you want to come back later,” Graham said, taking in the room with a wave of his hand, “and have another one.”

     I promised I would—after I visited with other family members at the reception. And I did. But eventually, the time came to say goodbye.

    I kneeled down, looked into his eyes, and said, “It’s been wonderful meeting you and your family, Graham. I gotta go now.”

    “Why?” he said. I had to think for a minute how to answer. Not just because a 4-year-old didn’t need to know that I was going to write a sermon, but because what he was really saying was that he didn’t want me to go.

     I didn’t want to go, either.

     Finally, I said, “I have to work. But stay and play as long as you want. Come back and visit, any time. And if you need anything at all, just ask for Karen.”

      As I said my goodbyes to the family, they thanked me for being generous with my time with them.  It was my pleasure, I assured them. As I packed up my things, I thought about what Jesus would do. Remember that saying from years back? People used to have bracelets with WWJD? I know that he would hang out with the family and eat and drink. They always accused him of eating and drinking with sinners too much! He would visit with the children—remember how angry he got with his disciples when they tried to keep the children away from him? And that he would be present with those grieving the loss of their loved one, just as Jesus is and has always been present with us and wants to comfort us when we are hurting in mind, body or spirit.

    The Son of Man, who held children in his lap and touched sick people to heal them, wouldn’t be worrying if he had left himself enough time to compose his Sermon on the Mount.

***

     In today’s gospel lesson in the 13th chapter of Luke, we have the familiar, homey images from his world that Jesus often uses to communicate his messages. We have Herod the fox, Jesus as the hen with her brood of chicks—the children of God—and the Holy City of Jerusalem, which he calls a house.

     This Herod is Antipas, whose father was Herod the Great. I promise there won’t be a quiz on this at the end of the service. Did you know there are 6 different Herods in the Bible? And all of them, according to a Bible scholar named James Howell, are “pretty much the same guy: a petty tyrant with a touch of megalomania, paranoid, callous, in cahoots with the Romans, religious but in a conniving way, rich and often cruel.”

    As I am reading about Antipas, I can’t help but think of a ruler in this world right now who could be described in similar terms. We watch with horror and helplessness the daily scenes of war on cable news.

      I do a doubletake when I read how the Pharisees tell Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”  Why would the Pharisees, who are often cast as enemies of Jesus, be concerned about his well-being and warn him to get away? And then I think, “Oh.” For the mere presence of Jesus, a grave threat to Herod’s rule because of his popularity with the people and his power to heal, would put the Pharisees in danger, if they appear to be associating with him.

      The Pharisees are really saying, “Get out of here before you get us all killed!”

       I marvel at how Jesus responds to a real threat of danger from this puppet king of the empire. He is saying, essentially, “Don’t bother me. Don’t WASTE my time! I’m busy doing what God has sent me to do.” Beginning at verse 32, Jesus says, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’”

   What is he talking about with the third day? Yes, he is foreshadowing his resurrection from the dead—when the work of our salvation is complete.

    He goes on, “Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’”

     It isn’t impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem—but he is referring to himself and his own fate. He knows what is to come, and where it will and won’t take place.

    He isn’t angry. He isn’t afraid. And he isn’t playing it safe, looking out for number one—like the Pharisees are. He is focused on what he came to do—heal the sick and cast out demons—put evil in its place.

     He is filled with sorrow for Jerusalem—for the corruption and greed of its religious leaders, who are also wealthy puppets of the empire. The Holy City has become, in the words of Jesus, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”

    He speaks the name of the city three times in a row, showing increasing emotion for the city that will reject him. Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem.  “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

    With Jesus comparing himself to a bird longing to protect her young, he echoes the psalmist’s description of the Lord God’s love for His children in 91:4: “Like a bird protecting its young, God will cover you with His feathers, will protect you under His great wings; His faithfulness will form a shield around you, a rock-solid wall to protect you.”

    “See, your house is left to you,” Jesus continues in his lament for the beloved city. He speaks of his final entry into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, a passage that we read on Palm Sunday, and will read in a few weeks, when he says, “And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

***

    Friends, as we continue our Lenten journey to the cross, I am reminded of my Ash Wednesday message on the importance of our taking time to grow in friendship with God and one another. Taking time to grow in friendship. The two funerals this week—one in New York for Jim’s sister, Mary, and the other here for Louise Mickelson—also remind me of one of the most valuable things we have in our life to use for God’s glory—and that’s our time!

     And I have to say this one thing about you. I am so proud of my church! I am so proud of you! Yesterday, a number of you came to the calling hours and service for Louise. The family was moved to tears that the church remembered Bob and Louise—and came to show their love.

    Today, on this Second Sunday in Lent, I am stirred to encourage you to be intentional about how you spend your time for the remainder of this holy season. Make plans, but be open to the Spirit to change your plans to fulfill God’s will for your life.

   Remember to make the most of these days—seeking to grow in faith, hope, and love.

   The time I spent with Louise’s family yesterday, including little Graham and his Ritz Bits at the reception, were as important and healing for the family and me as anything else I could have been doing.

      I invite you to follow the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who did what God sent him to do, without fear of the tyrant, Herod Antipas. He came to heal the sick, cast out demons. And on the third day, his work for our salvation was done.

    Let us imitate Christ in his lament for the things that break God’s heart—for the cruel tyrants in the ancient world and in our world today. Dear friends, lean into the sadness, outrage, and compassion that God has placed in your heart. Pray for peace, protection, and rescue for the ones whom God so loves, especially the women and children in harm’s way.

    Our gathering prayer from yesterday’s celebration of life is my new prayer for us in this Holy Season. May we live courageously as we seek to serve God with all of ourselves and more of our time. May we live as the people of eternity, not just concerned with the things of this world. May we be the people of resurrection, who know that death doesn’t have the final word.     

   This is the God who longs to draw us to himself in a loving embrace, protecting us from harm.

    As a hen gathers her brood under her wings.

Let us pray.

   O God, who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Show us now your grace, that as we face the mystery of death we may see the light of eternity. Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are ended, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.

F.O.R. Jesus

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