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Friday, September 9, 2016

Turn Back

Luke 15:1-10

It is a hazard of trying to do the right thing. We struggle and it is not easy. We are tempted to quit, give up, just go with the flow of our own desires. We know what we should do, and we know what we want to do, and we battle with ourselves, fight against our selves, trying to stay the course. The spiritual attack known as acedia tempts us to give in; we feel a bit worn out, listless, not really caring about all this "spiritual stuff" and unsure the "invisible God" is really there, or really cares.
 [ see for more information-- ] Doing what we are supposed to do, motivated by trust and love, is a battle. It is so easy to give in, and we do give in, regularly. The 'giving in' is called sinning. At times, we question if the list of sins is accurate. After all, there are lots of cool citizens who tell us the morality code we embrace is outdated, even harmful, and our own longings certainly confirm that we would prefer another way...

The choice to believe, to love and to return to the right path is a daily struggle. The spiritual disciplines: active in a community, worship, reading Scripture, praying, fasting, disciplining the body and soul--by God's grace--draw us into obedient faith and loving compliance. We align our lives with our calling, set apart for God (sanctified, made holy) we live godly lives (imitate God and act holy), we "become what we are." The disciple is disciplined, the follower follows. Life is better for others and our own self. Actions become habits, habits become character, character becomes identity. We change.

Well, we change, but also we stay the same. There is still something wonderously amiss with our souls. Our mind, heart, desire and will remain twisted. Internally we are still a mixture of light and dark, even if our behaviors are better and even if we desire to serve our God. One of the ways that things get twisted is actually based on a very straightforward logical argument. It goes something like this:
1. Doing the right thing is hard.
2. Doing the right thing is required.
3. Therefore I should do the right thing even though it is hard.
(But here is where the demon makes its play)
4. If I need to do what is right then so should others.
5. If I must fight the battle then so should others.
6. If I cannot quit when doubts, frustration, hopelessness and other thoughts and feelings (and other people or spiritual entities) are pummeling me; then neither should another quit.
7. Therefore, people who are not doing the right thing are doing the wrong thing.
(and here is where we go off the tracks!)
8. People who do bad things are bad
9. Bad people drag us down and should not be our companions.
10. Judge them, shun them, cast them out!

It is really not a crazy idea that I should avoid being with people who are making my own struggles to be good and faithful even harder. It is not wrong to see sin is sin and see that others are sinners. It is, however, only part of the story.....

Luke 15:1-10 (paraphrased)
Some real lowlifes were attracted to Jesus. These were people who lived on the edge, not nice or trustworthy, some of them were helping the Roman oppressors tax the Jews into poverty. They were sell-outs. Others were morally reprehensible. They were engaged in decadent lives and mocked those who struggled hand-to-mouth, trying to be faithful in the face of all manner of challenges and problems. The guys who took their religious faith most seriously were shocked and offended to see Jesus with such a group. How could a holy man (they wondered if Jesus was really as holy as advertised) be interacting in that group? Don't we say that if you play in mud you get muddy, if you hang with unclean sinners, you pick up uncleanness?

Jesus did not back down. "How does real life work?" He asked. How do you go about your daily tasks? When something is lost, like a sheep or a gold coin, where is your attention? Are you focused on what you have, or what is missing? And once you realize it is missing, don't you hunt for it? And when you find it, aren't you happy? Even happier about the lost one you found than the others you never lost? of course, it is how human beings operate...

Well, when YHWH, Lord of Israel, my dad, created the world, He made it to be in perfect order and peace (shalom!). That was the goal. However, He wanted realtionships. He want to love and be love. So He handed the world over to humans, gave them freedom and told them to get on with it. Unfortunately, since the Eden event, things are not going so well. Sin begets sin. Darkness increases. Even the best of us is not good much of the time. So we are, like a wandering sheep, all lost. Some wander further than others, but none of us can claim we haven't strayed from time to time. And, Jesus said, that is the point. It is one thing to say 'be careful who you are friends with'. It is another thing to disdain and write off others because they wandered off . Remember, no one is totally clean. We all have to answer for something. So, don't think because you are better than others that you are somehow that different than others.

My Father (says Jesus) is God, but He, like you, looks for the lost things, that is why I am here! Be clear, He is always looking, He looked for you, and him, and her, for everyone. All of you were  lost, some of you were found. But being found means letting my Father in. See with His eyes, love with His heart. Don't see others as unworthy of being loved, cared for and do not ever think there is anyone lost not worth seeking... Because my Father is like that, I am like that. You are all precious to Him, more precious than any sheep or coin, but you understand the parable, right?

These sinful people I am with have done really bad things, and some of them are bad people. But the worse they are the more they need me. They are all hurting inside (no matter what they say) and they are dead. Dead and hopeless, except for me. So I am here. I am here for them and with them (just as I am for you). And if they respond, if they turn back to me,and let Me rescue them, then they will be alive. It is hard to do the right thing. It is even harder for people who have embraced doing the wrong thing for many years. But the Father made them for love. The Father made them for relationship. And if one of them turns around, comes back, well, like a shepherd finding a lost sheep, heaven will be filled with joy.

The purpose of the church, among other things, is to seek out people who do not want God. The problem is the church can sometimes be less than welcoming and most Christians are occupied with other things.... Whether we are Christians or not, wandering and getting happens, so Jesus is looking for me and you, all the time. When we repent (turn around) there is more joy in heaven then we realize, because we do not understand how beloved we truly are.... And if we ever experienced and believed in that love, we really would want those the furthest away to turn around and return to the Lord.

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