Saturday, April 23, 2016


As a child I often heard, and as a parent I often said: “Chose your friends carefully.
The wrong friends will only get you into trouble.” Peter found that out after he had preached to, baptized, and shared meals with Cornelius and his household. Cornelius was not only a gentile, he was a centurion, a Roman officer who commanded about 100 soldiers. Peter was in Joppa when he had a vision of unclean food being lowered on what looked like a sheet. A voice said to him, "Peter, get up! Kill these and eat them." But Peter said, "Lord, I can't do that! I've never eaten anything that is unclean and not fit to eat." The voice spoke to him again, "When God says that something can be used for food, don't say it isn't fit to eat." This happened three times before the sheet was suddenly taken back to heaven. (Act 10:13-16) That's when messengers from Caesarea arrived asking Peter to come proclaim the gospel to Cornelius.
When he arrived in Caesarea, Peter learned that Cornelius, a God fearing man who shared generously with the people, had also had a vision. Peter told them of Jesus' death and resurrection and While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit took control of everyone who was listening. Some Jewish followers of the Lord had come with Peter, and they were surprised that the Holy Spirit had been given to Gentiles. Now they were hearing Gentiles speaking unknown languages and praising God. Peter said, "These Gentiles have been given the Holy Spirit, just as we have! I am certain that no one would dare stop us from baptizing them." (Act 10:44-47) After baptizing Cornelius and his household, Peter remained with them for several days.

Good news travels fast, and news that Cornelius and his household had become Christians was a great event for the fledgling movement. Now there could be no doubt that the gospel movement was reaching beyond the boundaries that had kept them small. Now the believers could celebrate the unlimited potential for the faith to grow.

Good news travels fast. Bad news travels faster. Rather than a victory rally, the news was greeted with a protest meeting. Peter had been hanging out with the wrong kind of people, and we all know what that will lead to. Peter, it seems, had broken both tradition and bread; eating with the gentiles. So rather than returning to a victory rally in Jerusalem, he returned to an inquisition. “What have you done?” “Don't you know we Jews (for Christianity had not yet separated from Judaism) don't share food with Gentiles?” “Who do you think you are and what do you think you're doing? Are you trying to destroy the faith just as we're getting started?”

You see, there were many among the believers who saw the faith as being a branch of Judaism, much a John Wesley saw Methodism as being within the Church of England, not as a separate denomination. They sincerely believed that in order to become a Christian, a gentile must first convert to . Peter had omitted this requirement, baptizing Cornelius and his household without requiring him to be circumcised. Peter had broken the rules and he had better have a good reason.

In his defense, Peter simply told his accusers what had happened;everything from his vision of unclean foods with God's command to eat, through his preaching and Cornelius' receiving the Holy Spirit. He concludes his defense with: “I remembered that the Lord had said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with t the Holy Spirit.' God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So how could I have gone against God? (Act 11:16-17) At this the inquisition turned into a victory rally, and the church was changed forever.

In just a few weeks the United Methodist Church will face a similar dilemma as members from around the world wrestle with the question of how much should we include gays in the life of the church. There are those who don't even want them coming into the building; those who say it's OK to come to church, but don't try to join; those who welcome them as members, but not in positions of leadership, and those who think they should be able to participate fully in the life of the church, even as ordained clergy. Like the conservative group in Peter's time who pointed out that scripture forbade eating with gentiles, those opposed to including gays in the church point to the mosaic law which actually requires the stoning of gays. And just as Peter pointed to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Cornelius and his household, those who favor inclusion of gays point out that many of them have the gifts and graces needed to lead our church in the 21st century.

On the other hand, scripture is clear, and I fear another split in the fabric of Christianity if we become more inclusive than the conservative element can tolerate. We have already lost too many members over this issue. Of course, we also lost members in siding for civil rights for all in the 60s and 70s, and experience tells us that was certainly the right stand to take.

To be perfectly hones with you, I'm not really sure where I stand: my mind and soul remain undecided.

In this morning's gospel lesson, Jesus gives us a new command: not a suggestion, not a request, but a command. This command is the one thing that sets us apart from the world: he says: “You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” Each other means all those who believe in Him and claim Him as their Lord and Savior. Not just those who worship the way we do; not just those who speak the same language we do; not just those who make their coffee the way we do; not just those who agree with us on political and social issues; not just those who dress like we do or sing the same hymns we do; but each and every one who follows Christ.
In Peter's day, it was the power of the Holy Spirit that gave the early church the courage to open it's doors to gentile believers. I can only pray that that same Holy Spirit is present in Portland next month, and that all of us can continue to live and worship together no matter what the outcome. The word's of Christ remain clear:
But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” Let us never forget these words. AMEN.

If there is one lesson I've learned in life, it is to always take food when I go fishing. You see I am the reason it's called “fishing,” not “catching.” You can count the fish I've caught in life without using your toes. As much as I enjoy it, fishing is not one of my great talents. Not so for Simon Peter, James, John and the other two; they were fishermen by trade and when Jesus was assassinated, and their dream ended, going fishing again seemed like a normal and reasonable. Maybe they were broke and needed the money a night of fishing would generate, or maybe they yearned for the quiet of a night on the lake, and the feeling of good, hard work. Whatever their reasons, when Simon Peter announced he was going fishing, his friends did not hesitate to join him.

It was not a good night to be fishing. All night long they had toiled, tossing out the nets, pulling them back in, time after time, but to no avail. As the son peeked over the mountain tops, their boat was as empty of fish as my creel. Physically tired and spiritually depleted, they made their way back to the shore.

“Friends, did you catch any fish?” This is an almost universal greeting/question among those who fish. “How you doing? How many have you caught?” And so calls out the stranger on the shore. To their dismay, Simon and his friends confessed their nets were empty. He said to them, "Throw your net out on the right side of the boat, and you will catch some." The instructions from the shore would have sounded familiar: in Luke 5, after using Simon's boat as a pulpit, When Jesus had finished speaking, he told Simon, "Row the boat out into the deep water and let your nets down to catch some fish." "Master," Simon answered, "we have worked hard all night long and have not caught a thing. But if you tell me to, I will let the nets down." They did it and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart. (Luk 5:4-6). So once again they threw the net out and could not pull it back in, because they had caught so many fish; 153 in all.
As D. A. Carson observes,
"Large quantities of ink have gone into explaining why there should be 153 fish. At the purely historical level, it is unsurprising that someone counted them, either as part of dividing them up among the fishermen in preparation for sale, or because one of the men was so dumbfounded by the size of the catch that he said something like this: ‘Can you believe it? I wonder how many there are?'"
I agree: this event made such a lasting impression on John, that he remembered the exact number of fish they picked up. Just as he remembered the name of Malchus, whose ear Peter severed. I read no more into 153 fish, than I do into the 2000 donkeys in 1 Chr 5:21.

By the simple act of preparing breakfast, the risen Christ demonstrates once again, the concept of servant leadership: the first shall be last and the last shall be first. A story a young mother tried to instill in her children. The Mom was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue about who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson.
"If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.'" Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus!"

Just last week two of the leading presidential candidates proved incapable of the simple act of getting on a New York Subway....something they hadn't done in so long one of them thought it still took a token! The famous and powerful are so used to having others take care of the mundane things in life, like cooking breakfast, that they have no idea of what life is like for those who made them famous and powerful.
Against this backdrop Jesus tells Peter, and us “Feed my sheep.” Three times Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?” Three times Peter says: “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” and three times Jesus responds: “Feed my sheep. Care for my lambs. Feed my sheep.” This is how we express our love for Jesus; how every act of caring becomes an act of worship. The call is not to love those who love Jesus, but to love those whom Jesus loves; to love every human being, even those who actively oppose us and would harm us. To feed, house, and clothe those who flee warfare and oppression. To cook breakfast for those who are homeless and unkempt. To treat with dignity those who speak a different language. To respect those who toil in the fields' planting and harvesting our food.

As Christians, the questions we should be asking our politicians is not: “What will you do for me? Or “How high will you build the wall?” But, “how will you lead us in caring for the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless here and around the world?” How can we resurrect programs like the Marshall plan that helped both allies and former enemies rebuild after WWII? How can we provide not just jobs, but jobs that will allow every child to be fed, clothed, loved,cared for and educated; every man and woman the ability to provide for the needs of their families? How can we lead the nations in creating an environment of care and respect for human life?”

Frederick Buechner, in The Magnificent Defeat reminds us:
"The love for equals is a human thing—of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.
"The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing—the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.
"The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing—to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints.
"And then there is the love for the enemy—love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured's love for the torturer. This is God's love. It conquers the world."

Our task is clear: “ Feed my sheep, care for my lambs,” The question before us is how? How do we do this as a congregation? With our own members? With other Christians? With non-believers? How do we do this as individuals, within the context of our own lives? How do we do this as a society? As a nation? In the midst of our politics? I challenge us to seek ways to care for those who Jesus loves. Seek them and put them into practice.
Do you love me? Feed my sheep.
Fay woke me up early this morning so I could get to church on time.
"I'm not going," I replied.
"Yes you are going, so get out of that bed!" she demanded.
"Give me ONE good reason why I should go,"
"I'll give you THREE good reasons ... One, I'm your wife, and I say you're going. Two, you're 69 years old, so you're old enough to know better ... and three, you're the Pastor, so you have to be there."
Welcome to Holy Humor Sunday.

Holy Humor Sunday has its roots in the Bright Monday celebrations of the middle ages. On the day after Easter the faithful would gather at the church for a day of pranks, jokes, singing and dancing in celebration of the trick God pulled on the Devil. Satan thought he'd won when Jesus was laid in the tomb, but then came Easter.

A week ago Friday was Good Friday, and the occasion of what is, perhaps, the funniest line of all scripture: Pilate said to them, "All right, take some of your soldiers and guard the tomb as well as you know how." (Mat 27:65) As Dr. Phil would say: “How's that working out for you?” Easter is a time of surprises, and Pilate, the priests and Pharisees, to say nothing of Jesus' followers, were all surprised. For some, the surprise brought joy and hope, while, for others it brought fear and dread.

For us, today, worship often seems like a tension between unbridled joy, and the sense of propriety and decorum that the event seems to call for. And to often propriety and decorum win out. But it's so refreshing once in a while for the joy to win out. In my first church, I was baptizing a single parent family led by the father, a recovering alcoholic. They were, you might say, a bit rough around the edges. It was my first baptism, and since I arrived at the church an hour or more before Sunday School, and two hours before church, I filled he font and assumed the water would be room temperature by the time we used it. Well, you know what they say about assuming. As I poured the water over the first child's head he hollered out for all to hear: “Damn that's cold!”

Holy Humor Sunday is aptly placed the week after Easter. This second Sunday of Easter continues the celebration of the empty tomb and the risen Lord. It celebrates the great joke God has played on Satan and on death. “In heaven the LORD laughs as he sits on his throne, making fun of the nations.
(Psa 2:4) And so, every year, on the second Sunday of Easter, the lectionary gives us this same story: Jesus' disciples, (at least most of them) cowering in fear behind locked and sealed doors, waiting the knock that will carry them off to the same fate that faced Jesus. Oh, they'd heard the women's story, but that's all they had, a story. And a pretty outlandish story at that. I mean, let's face it, dead people don't just get up and walk out of their grave. Not unless they're zombies. By the way, did you hear about the zombie who walked up to the bartender and said “make me a zombie?”
A: The bartender replied “looks like someone already has!”

Then, suddenly, there's Jesus! Now you might expect that at least one of those in the room would ask: “Wher'd he come from?” But no. Jesus just shows up and says the first century equivalent of 'Hi guys. Watcha doin'?” the disciples don't seem afraid, just joyful. The outlandish story the women told was true! As if he needed to verify his identity, he showed them the injuries to his hands and side. And breathing on them said: “Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, I send you.” I guess, in a way, it was Jesus' retirement speech. “I,m leaving now, so while I'm up in heaven, you guys are in charge down here until I come back.” Hmm. From what I've read, not all of us are anxiously waiting that day.
A recent survey of religious leaders from hundreds of Christian churches across the nation indicates a startling fact…they are not really looking forward to the Rapture. For those who have been hiding under a rock for the past 150 or so years, the Rapture is to occur during the second coming of Christ when true believers are swept up to escape the tribulation, or something like that.
Who knew that some Christian leaders are not so keen on the idea of a rapture of their congregations?
“We were looking forward to donations from these folks for at least a few more years,” said Father James David of the Apostolic Christian Christ’s Holy Christian Temple in Farnsmore, Indiana.
“We’ve been counting on renovating the Church basement since last spring when the sump pump went out and de-lectrified all our appliances and left a gaping hole in the middle of the dining hall.”
Other pastors who completed the survey had similar tales of woe. “You can’t do God’s work if God’s taking the money to heaven,” claimed one particularly distraught minister from Minnesota who admits the time just seemed to get away from him and he hadn’t realized the end times were upon us.
“Not to worry,” says one Biblical scholar who has been studying the Bible for years.

“While we don’t want to jump to any conclusions just yet, it would appear that the ‘rapture’ as it is being taught today is merely a made-up event to keep us Christians on the straight and narrow.” This scholar warns us against false prophesies and assures everyone that the chances of a parishioner getting hit by a bus or dying of a heart attack are far more likely than them being swept up by Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior.
One Baptist minister from Oklahoma, however, claims he has no problems whatsoever with the rapture, as he has already planned ahead one way or the other.
“I ain’t taking no chances. I’ve got all my parishioners’ promises in writing to leave everything they own to the Church before they go to the great beyond.” I guess some stories are just too hard to wrap our heads around.

After commissioning the disciples, breathing the Holy Spirit onto them, and giving them authority to forgive sins, Jesus disappears and Thomas, who for whatever reason missed the show, arrives on the scene. Kind of like the guy shows up late for work. The boss yells, “You should have been here at 8:30!” The guy replies: “Why? What happened at 8:30?”
“We saw the Lord! It's good news, and it's bad news. The good news is that he is risen, he is risen indeed.”
“Yeah. Right.” responds Thomas, “But if it's true, what could the bad news possibly be?”
“He is really steamed about Friday.”
This is the part where Thomas gets a bad wrap. All he wants is the same evidence the other disciples had.
"Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe." The other 11 saw Christ's hands and side, and when, a week later, Jesus shows up again he says to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and look at my hands; then reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe!" (Joh 20:27) Thomas drops to his knees in awe: "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Do you believe because you see me?
Coming out of church, Mrs. Smith asked her husband, “Do you think that Johnson girl is tinting her hair?”
“I didn’t even see her,” admitted Mr. Smith.
“And that dress Mrs. Davis was wearing,” continued Mrs. Smith, “Really, don’t tell me you think that’s the proper outfit for a mother of two.”
“I’m afraid I didn’t notice her either,” said Mr. Smith.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” snapped Mrs. Smith. “A lot of good it does you to go to church.”
Jesus concludes today's lesson with: “How happy are those who believe without seeing me!"
I heard of one lady who was happy like that. She was a good Christian lady who lived next door to an atheist. Every day, when the lady prayed, the atheist guy could hear her. He thought to himself, “She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that. Doesn’t she know there isn’t a God?”
Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her, saying “Lady, why do you pray all the time? Don’t you know there is no God?” But she kept on praying.
One day, she ran out of groceries. As usual, she was praying to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what He was gonna do. As usual, the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself, “Humph! I’ll fix her.”
He went to the grocery store, bought a whole bunch of groceries, took them to her house, dropped them off on the front porch, rang the door bell and then hid in the bushes to see what she would do. When she opened the door and saw the groceries, she began to praise the Lord with all her heart, jumping, singing and shouting everywhere! The atheist then jumped out of the bushes and told her, “You ol’ crazy lady, God didn’t buy you those groceries, I bought those groceries!” At hearing this, she broke out and started running down the street, shouting and praising the Lord.
When he finally caught her, he asked what her problem was. She said, “I knew the Lord would provide me with some groceries, but I didn’t know he was gonna make the devil pay for them!”

The 11 saw Jesus and believed. Thomas saw Jesus and believed. But true faith believes and then sees: sees what others do not and cannot. We can see the good in even the worst of people. We can see joy in the sad times; we can see ways to sing God's song in a strange land; we can see beyond the grave. As you go through the week ahead, I invite you to believe and see. You'll be amazed.

Hello, my name is Alexander bar Simon. I grew up with my family in Cyrene. Cyrene, now known as Al-Bayda was the largest city in Cyrenica, which you now call Libya. It is Northeast of Benghazi, above the coast of the great sea at almost the northernmost point of the country. Cyrene is in the hills at about 4000 feet elevation, which means snow in the winter is not uncommon. Our city is on the Cairo-Dakar trade route, and many visitors come through with interesting goods and strange stories. My family is Jewish, and while we were not, by any means, poor, we were far from rich. It was my Father's dream to, someday, celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. But Jerusalem was far, far away, and traveling there would be dangerous, take a long time, and cost a lot of money.

Finally the time came. My parents had saved up their money, Rome had brought relative safety to the region, and a large caravan from Dakar came through town en route to Cairo. My father made arrangements for the three of us, himself, my mother and me to travel with them From there we would either travel by land to Jerusalem, or board passage on a ship to Joppa, and then go from there by land.

We left with the caravan at dawn on the first day of the week. We walked, and walked, and walked endlessly. I thought we would never get out of the hot son and the arid land until finally we reached Alexandria, and then Port Said. We waited for a week, but no ships bound for Joppa, or Caesarea showed up: so we continued walking; across the Sinai where our people wandered for forty years, up through Gaza and Judea, until, at last, there she stood in front of us, Jerusalem! The most beautiful city in the world. Home of Kings and prophets. Home of the Temple. Capital city of the promised land.

When I first saw the temple, it took my breath away. A thousand feet wide and 1500 feet long, the complex sat atop a hill on the east side of the city. Within it's walls were the courts of the gentiles porticos, and, of course the temple itself.
It was a crowded, noisy, and active place, hawkers sold doves and lambs for the sacrifices and money changers changed Roman coins for Hebrew coins that could be used for the offerings. I actually wondered how anyone could worship in such and atmosphere.

We celebrated the Passover feast with some distant relatives of my father. There was a lot of talk about family and friends; much catching up. Then the conversation turned to politics. My cousin was telling us about the ruckus caused by a wandering rabble-rousing rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth. Neither the temple priests, the scribes, nor the pharisees seemed to know who he was but every time they challenged him, he came out on top. My cousin told us that one day they tried to trick Jesus by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Rome. If he said “yes,” he would be guilty of blasphemy, if “no” he would be guilty of treason. Jesus countered them by saying "Show me a coin." Then he asked, "Whose picture and name are on it?" "The Emperor's," they answered. Then he told them, "Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God." (Luk 20:24-25)

“When they couldn't trick him, they just stood there looking at each other” my cousin said. Then he went on to tell us amazing stories about this Jesus. It was said that he had turned water into wine, fed 5000 people with two fish and 5 small loaves, healed lepers, restored sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, made lame people walk, and it was even claimed he raised a man, Lazarus by name, from the dead. And then, just a few days ago, he entered the city to shouts of acclimation from the throngs who laid their coats and palm branches on the road in front of him. And to make matters worse, he drove the merchants and money changers from the temple saying:"The Scriptures say, 'My house should be a place of worship.' But you have made it a place where robbers hide!”

The next morning my father wanted to go to the temple, but as we walked we came across a large and noisy crowd lining the streets.
“Wait here, while I go see what's happening.” my father told us. As he made his way through the crowd, we saw a Roman soldier grab him and haul him into the street. There were three condemned men, carrying their crosses to be crucified. One of them kept stumbling and falling, so the soldiers took his cross and made my father carry it. We ran along behind the crowd, trying to keep my father is sight. Many of those lining the street were shouting curses and abuses at the stumbling convict, who, it was clear, had been scourged. Others were beating their breasts and wailing. Jesus turned to them and said: “don't cry for me! Cry for yourselves and for your children. Someday people will say, "Women who never had children are really fortunate!" At that time everyone will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" They will say to the hills, "Hide us!" If this can happen when the wood is green, what do you think will happen when it is dry?
(Luk 23:28-31)

I'm not really sure at what point I realized that this was the man named Jesus my
cousin had told us about. “How had this happened? Didn't the people shout praised to him as he entered Jerusalem just a week ago? How had he come to be condemned? What was this world coming to?

When the soldiers and the crowd came to the place called Golgotha, or "The Skull," they took the cross away from my father, nailed, not tied, Jesus to it, lifted it upright and slammed it down into the hole they and prepared for it.. They also nailed the two criminals to crosses, one on each side of Jesus. Then I heard the most amazing thing I've ever heard Jesus said, "Father, forgive these people! They don't know what they're doing." And as we all stood there watching Jesus, the soldiers gambled for his clothes. The leaders insulted him by saying, "He saved others. Now he should save himself, if he really is God's chosen Messiah!"

There was a sign above him that said: “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” and The soldiers made fun of Jesus and brought him some wine. They said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!" Even one of the criminals was insulting and taunting him. Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and save us!" But the other criminal told the first one off, "Don't you fear God? Aren't you getting the same punishment? We deserve what we're getting, but this man is innocent. Jesus told the second criminal: “Today you will be in paradise with me.

Right at noon, everything became dark. Not just there on that hill, but all over the city, it was like night. We heard later that when the darkness came the curtain in the temple, which is tightly woven and the thickness of a man's hand was torn in two From the Top to the Bottom! The top is far higher than a man can reach. That was when Jesus cried out: “It is finished.” and died. I thought I heard the guard at the foot of the cross say that Jesus was certainly innocent.

We left the hill and went back to my cousin's home. We never did get to the temple. Our family returned to Cyrene, and we heard nothing more about the man named Jesus for many years. Then some traders came through in a caravan. They were telling people about this man named Jesus, and said he was the Messiah. They told us more stories about his life, and said that after his crucifixion, he rose from the dead, appeared to his followers and told them to tell his story where ever and when ever they could. They said other teachers had gone as far as Rome, and even Gaul. As hard to believe as the story was, I remembered that Passover so long ago, and I really think that if anyone could come back from the dead, it was Jesus.
What do you think​? AMEN.
Luke 15:11-32
March 6, 2016 Upper Rogue UMC

It started out in the hills above Prospect. A man and his two sons owned a farm. For tax reasons it was incorporated with each son having 33% and the Father 34%. Things went well and they had enough money to live on, and some to save. But the younger son became restless and bored. I mean, let's face it, Prospect isn't exactly the hub of night life. One day he'd had it. He went to his father and said: “Cash me out. Buy back my share of the farm. I can't take it out here in the middle of nowhere any longer. So the next day they went to the bank where his father withdrew enough to buy the son's interest. The son asked for a ride to the BMW dealership where he said his goodbye.
Entering the dealership, he quickly purchased a 228i and left for Portland.

Portland was a great place for the young man. With his fancy car and ready cash he was quickly surrounded by so-called friends. For many months he lived the high life, wining and dining, dancing, sailing, golfing; always surrounded by his companions, and always with an attractive young woman on his arm.

Then came the day when his money ran out. His new-found friends were suddenly nowhere to be found, having moved on to another dupe, leaving him to face his fate alone. With a recession raging, and no locally marketable job skills, (there aren't a lot of farms in the big city) he was forced to sell his beemer and move into a smaller, shabbier apartment. Finally he found a job cleaning up the food court at the local mall. But even this didn't pay enough to put food on the table. He found himself visiting the food pantry far too regularly. Eventually he couldn't even pay the rent, and found himself sleeping wherever he could. Then, one night as he was eating the remains of a hamburger from the garbage he asked himself: “What have I done? I'm eating garbage and sleeping in the mall! And all because of my own stupidity! Even the undocumented immigrants my father hires have a roof over their heads and food to eat. I wonder' if I went home, would my father hire me to work for him?” And with nothing else to loose, he started the long trip back to Prospect.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, Dad and the older brother were working the fields, feeding the stock, and doing all the other things that needed to be done. Every time he heard a car or truck on the lonely dirt road, the father would look up hoping to see his son: but it was only the mail carrier, and never with a letter from his son. Until one day he heard the unmistakable rumble of his neighbors old pick up coming up the hill. As he looked up, the truck stopped, he heard the door slam, and saw his son, head hanging, trudge up the drive toward the house. “Thank you, God!” he cried out as he ran toward his returning son. Grabbing the lad in his arms, he lifted him off the ground, swung him around, and both laughed and cried with joy and arm in arm, he led his son to the house.

As the returnee showered and dressed, the father broke out the steaks, lit up the grill, and called in the help and the neighbors to celebrate. Seeing the ruckus, the elder son came in and asked on of the neighbors what was happening. “Your father's having a party to welcome your brother back home.”

At this the elder brother became irate. Finding his father he yelled at him: “What are you doing! I work my fanny off around her while that idiot squanders your money on booze and hookers and you throw a party for him? It isn't fair! What about me? Where's my party?”

“My son, you know I love you, and all of this is yours someday. But your brother was lost, and now he's found, he was as good as dead, and now he has returned to life. I had to celebrate.” But the older brother huffed off in a rage.

It's probably one of the best known and just plain best stories Jesus told. Everyone of us can relate to someone in the story. You may have been the wayward son
who wandered off in search of the good life, and found only emptiness. As a parent, you may have waited up late at night for your child to come home. Or, you may be the responsible, hard working older brother who sees no reward in his work but work. But
no matter which character you relate to, the party is for you. Like the older brother, there is nothing we can do, or have done, that earns us an invitation to this party. We are here because we, like the younger brother, were lost, and have been found. We are here because Christ, Himself, has invited us.

We have two options. We can, like the older brother, refuse the invitation and wallow in our own self-pity, guilt, and pain. Or, like the neighbors and help, we can join the party. What will it be? Come. The table is set. Come. You are invited. Come. Eat. Drink. Rejoice!
Because It's Right
March 13, 2016, John 12:1-8 Lent 5, Upper Rogue UMC

Anybody here following the elections? Are you watching the debates? If so, you've probably seen more than one example of Argumentum Ad Hominum. As you may recall from classes in Logic, Philosophy, or speech, Argumentum Ad Hominum is the practice of countering an argument, or evidence for which you have no answer by personally attacking your opponent. Sound familiar? If you have no counter to Hillary's tax plan: “She's a crook.” If you have no answer to Rubio's stand on immigration: “He's an unqualified lightweight.” If you have no logical counterpart to Trump's Wall,: :He's a blithering idiot.” And if your afraid to be against free college: “Bernie's a Socialist.”
And so it goes: Attack! Attack! Attack! Or, more importantly: Distract! Distract!d Distract!

We also see this phenomenon in the faith world. “Joel Osteen has a private Jet? 2 He certainly doesn't care about the poor?” “Pastor, if your retirement plan holds stock in GE, a weapons maker, how can you claim to be against war?” “You drove to church? That makes you a part of the climate change problem.” And on and on.

The idea of Argumentum Ad Hominum is not new. It goes clear back to Genesis when Adam, confronted with his guilt, answers God:"It was the woman you put here with me," the man said. "She gave me some of the fruit, and I ate it." (Gen 3:1 CEV ) And in today's reading, Jesus, who is wide open to attack by his enemies for his work among the Poor, Oppressed, and Powerless, is attacked not by his enemies, but by one of his own.
Then Mary, taking a pound of perfumed oil of great value, put it on the feet of Jesus and made them dry with her hair: and the house became full of the smell of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot who was to give him up, said, Why was not this perfume traded for three hundred pence, and the money given to the poor?
(Joh 12:3-5)

Judas argues that Mary, by “Wasting” the perfume and Jesus, by accepting her anointing, are both guilty of not caring for the poor. Clearly an unfounded charge. Jesus had spent his entire ministry working among, healing, feeding, and hobnobbing with the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless.
This is not surprising considering he was Jewish, and the Jewish Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament, are filled with commands to care for the poor. The prophets are largely concerned with the care of the widows, the orphans, and the poor.

go to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped and celebrate the Harvest Festival in honor of the LORD your God. Bring him an offering as large as you can afford, depending on how big a harvest he has given you. Be sure to take along your sons and daughters and all your servants. Also invite the poor, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows.
(Deu 16:10)
Every year you are to give ten percent of your harvest to the LORD. But every third year, this ten percent must be given to the poor who live in your town, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. That way, they will have enough to eat. (Deu 26:12)
Don't mistreat widows or orphans or foreigners or anyone who is poor, and stop making plans to hurt each other." (Zec 7:10)
and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need."
(Isa 1:17)
Stop taking advantage of foreigners, orphans, and widows. Don't kill innocent people. And stop worshiping other gods. (Jer 7:6)

When Jesus began his ministry, preaching in his hometown, he read from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the LORD God has taken control of me! The LORD has chosen and sent me to tell the oppressed the good news, to heal the brokenhearted, and to announce freedom for prisoners and captives.” But his work among the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the marginalized has brought him to the attention of the Jewish religious and political powers; and they do not like what they are hearing. They are plotting his death. Time is growing
short. The Passover is just six short days away: six days until his betrayal. Six days until his trial before Pilate. Six days until his slow, painful death on a cross. You know, sometimes I think the cruelest part of capital punishment is that the condemned know the exact day, hour, minute and means of their death. And that's the situation Jesus is in.

Taking a break from the tension and anxiety, Jesus visits his friends, Lazarus, Mary,and Martha. It is impotant to not that while they were supporters and followers, this family was not a part of Jesus' entourage: they were his friends. Martha, as usual, is preparing and serving the food: but Mary, rather than sit at Jesus feet listening, anoints those same feet with expensive (John tell us it cost a year's wages) perfume, and wipes them with her hair. It is at this point that Judas raises his objection, which Jesus answers with: “Leave her alone,It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Like Jesus, Mary seemed to know Jesus was doomed. And like those who send flowers to a funeral, she wantd to honor him. When we were at the beach, one of our members who was in his final months of life, held a party for his friends and family. “I'd much rather have you come and see me while I am alive, than send flowers I won't see to my funeral” he told us. And so Mary anoints Jesus while he is still alive.

How ironic that the second part of Jesus' response to Judas, that we will always have the poor among us, is, perhaps, one of the most miss-applied statements in all of scripture. It is twisted to say that What the scripture-twisters miss is that, in Jesus' day, to quote a part of what we call a verse of scripture, is to quote the entire verse. Thus, when, on the cross, Jesus cries out: "My God, my God, why did you abandon me?" we know that Psalm 22 ends in a song of praise, promise, and hope. In the same way, here Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 15:11 “There will always be some Israelites who are poor and in need, and so I command you to be generous to them.”

My Daddy taught me that there are some things you do; like voting, giving blood, attending the PTA, not because they are fun, not because they give you a warm fuzzy feeling,not because they give you a t-shirt or a tote bag, but simply because it is the right thing to do. Jesus tells us to feed his sheep and tend his lambs; to care for the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless: not because it is politically expedient, not because we can get a tax deduction, not because it keeps them from demonstrating, but simply because it is the right thing to do.

It is the right thing to treat others, regardless of whether they are in positions of power, or powerlessness, whether they are rich or impoverished, whether they are “our kind of Christian” or not, with love, kindness and respect. Why, because their funeral, just like ours, is just around the corner. Each us will follow Jesus to the grave and to the resurrection. The time to do the right thing is now. The time to help the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless is now. The time to send flowers to your friends and loved ones is now. The time to visit them is now. The time to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God is now.