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       Sermons | Passionate worship
      ►Our guest pastor for today ... 

      The Rev. Lois Phelps

      The Rev. Lois Barnum Phelps is a retired United Methodist pastor from the Florida Conference. Her ministry included new church development and interventionist ministry for churches in transition.

      Lois and her husband, Bill, now live in Fairhope, having moved to this part of Alabama to help with after-school care for grandsons. She worshiped with Spanish Fort Presbyterian when living closer to that part of the Eastern Shore.

      March 27, 2022 | Fourth Sunday in Lent

      Welcome Home
      Luke 15:1–3,11b–32 2 Corinthians 5:16–17

       T HE INTRODUCTION to this parable makes clear that Jesus was once again, taking on the issue of “who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ ” within God’s community. Jesus was in trouble with the Pharisees again for spending time with the “wrong kind of people” — the sinners.

      Jesus wanted to make clear that spending time with the Publicans and the sinners did not mean a rejection of the Pharisees. The reception of sinners is not a rejection of the saints! God’s love is a both/and sort-of love — with room enough for ALL.

      Story of two sons — upsetting.

           ■ People take sides.
           ■ Defend father’s right to celebrate
           ■ Defend older brother’s right to be angry
           ■ We shout with the older brother: “It’s not fair!”

      † † †

      WHAT DO WE DO as Christians with this crazy, upside-down story?

      Primary issue for younger son — not only hunger. Bigger issues - Younger son so “disconnected and alone” — broke, hungry for relationship, lost without family or friends.

      Henri Nouwen says: “He was disconnected from what gives life — family, friends, community, acquaintance and even food.”

      In an “Aha!” moment, this son “came to himself” [“came to his senses”]. I always recall a phrase in a devotional I read which spoke of our need, at times, to “gather the scattered pieces of our self.” Periodically, Life has found me there — trying to gather the scattered pieces of myself. This son was surely at such a time — a need to gather the scattered pieces of his own life … “he came to himself.” … He saw the truth and began the walk home.

      He came home to take even a “hired hand” role. But his dad said No. You are family. You are my son. Welcome home.

      † † †

      HERE IS HOW Jesus taught his listeners to understand the “NOT FAIRness” of the story. He seemed to say, “This is not a justice story. This is a story of the outrageous generosity of the father.

      Bible editors, through the years, have given this story the wrong title. It should not be called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” It should have the title “The Parable of the Loving Father.”

      This father … loves both sons.

           ■ Welcomes one without shame
           ■ Includes the other
           ■ Both were offered everything father has to give.

      † † †

      THIS STORY IN LUKE of the father and two sons — one of the most powerful stories in the Bible for me. Almost 40 years ago, this story changed my life. I was the “prodigal daughter” — spiritually lost — trying to “come home” — after years of avoiding God.

      I was responsible in my career, and in my family life. But I was so far away spiritually. I was so lost, I thought I would never be found. I thought it might be too late, that God would never welcome me back.

      This is the story that allowed me, after years of distance and distrust, to forgive the church and come home to God.

      † † †

      IN 1984, I had picked up a book: Lion and The Lamb, written by Brennan Manning, a priest whose ministry attempted to help heal our image of God. He shared this:

      God loves you as you are and not as you should be! Do you believe this? That God loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity, that He loves you in the morning sun and the evening rain, that He loves you without caution, regret, boundary, limit, or breaking point?”

      This is another of the stories Jesus told about the outrageous generosity of our heavenly Father.

      While I am not a Justin Bieber fan, I caught one of his songs on the radio and was so moved: One phrase is this:

      “Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.”

      I experienced that grace.

      † † †

      I WAS THE ONE who had left church in my 20s, and began searching again 16 years later.

      Here is the tough news which is part of my story and unfortunately, is true for many others. It took me four years of searching to find that church. One church I went to maybe six Sundays in a row. No one — no one — ever spoke to me, welcomed me, invited me to come back. No one. I was so hungry I kept going back anyway, until I didn’t anymore.

      One church I could not find a place to park. Another I could not figure out what door to enter as the only parking was behind the church and I couldn’t find the main entrance.

      And so months became years before I found a church. The unwelcoming spirit of many congregations astounds me still. It is true for many who are lost and seeking — that when they try to come home, there is not a welcome.

      † † †

      BUT I DID FIND a church—a new church, committed to offering reconciling ministry. There I was:

           ■ Welcomed after running away [ the church had friends enough, but made room for me anyway]
           ■ Welcomed into a church family, though gone so long
           ■ Invited to serve, even lead.
           ■ This story was about me — and I wept — for months as I found myself truly welcomed home.
           ■ About eight years later, I recognized this call to pastoral ministry. I’d have missed this if not for a church able to welcome this prodigal child.

      † † †

      I THINK THIS next part of this message is not for this church. You are committed to “radical hospitality.” I believe you have captured the spirit of what it means to be welcoming in the name of our heavenly Father. But I will share a few stories, to help you recognize what good is happening here and how important it is for the prodigals and those lost in your community. Because I have no doubt, some of the following still happens, unfortunately, in our Christian world.

      What do we do as a church when sinners or strangers, or visitors, or prodigal sons or daughters show up in our midst? Can we find the way, like the father — to be generous to both — the one who returned, as well as the ones who stayed?

      My first church, as a student pastor, would literally not make room for visitors to sit. I left the pulpit on my second Sunday with them, to welcome a family at the door and usher them to a pew. Members, begrudgingly, moved over to make room. Preaching then, focused for a season on Christian hospitality. Amazingly, that family returned anyway and became a vital part of the congregation. They had been a “prodigal family” — away from any church for several years, eager to find a church home.

      At the same church, a new member was added, who came with experience in church leadership. She willingly and competently stepped into some ministry leadership roles. I recall a meeting overhearing an old member say, “she’s not been here long enough to have any voice in our church matters.” We talked about that privately later.

      Another church, a member became angry that after church I spent time after worship at the door, greeting those who were leaving, before I joined others in the fellowship hall. The ones leaving were often visitors going out the door, unwelcomed if I hadn’t been there to speak with them. The “regulars” had headed the opposite direction, to coffee time. I was loudly confronted by one angry member: “Pastor, we are your boss. We don’t pay you to spend time with strangers. Your job is to be in the fellowship hall with members.” That definitely led us to a big discussion about who indeed is “boss,” what my primary task was, and into a season of teaching about being “pew hosts,” welcoming the strangers in our midst.

      † † †

      IF YOU ARE LIKE the older brother, always working hard, loyal, faithful — be ready to celebrate when younger brothers/sisters come home again . The church exists for them! The church exists for you. The church exists to make Christ known, and alive in each life and throughout the community.

      God’s love drew me back home again …

      And then the church made room for me.

      I felt forgiven, included, needed, loved.

      God is always the one we know as the generous father — because of who GOD is.

      † † †

      THAT IS MY STORY. And through all this reconciling journey, I still agreed with the older brother. It was not fair that a prodigal like me should be so welcomed.

      But I was! It was outrageous. Not our standard for justice. How could it be? Throughout history, people like me have been just as welcomed in the church of Jesus Christ as have those who have been faithful their whole lives. It is unsettling.

      † † †

      WE MAY MESS UP our lives — but our God of new beginnings throws a party when we turn toward home,

      For those who have been lost — or are still wandering — know there is a place for you within the shelter of God’s grace.

      † † †

      KNOW THIS: Whoever you are, God’s love is offered to you. This is a both/and kind of gift. Whether you have been faithful or wasteful, loyal or full of questions — God , our heavenly father, like the father in today’s parable, offers you everything that is His. He longs for you to be part of the family, to join the party, to be celebrated and to celebrate.

      Thanks be to God. You are each God’s own child, beloved, and beautiful to behold.

      [For those reading online, feel free to offer feedback to me at simplyaok@live.com.]

      — Lois Phelps   


      «Know this: Whoever you are, God’s love is offered to you. This is a both/and kind of gift. Whether you have been faithful or wasteful, loyal or full of questions — God , our heavenly father, like the father in today’s parable, offers you everything that is His. He longs for you to be part of the family, to join the party, to be celebrated and to celebrate.»

      SCRIPTURE FOR THE DAY

      This is the Word of God for the people of God:


      Luke 15:1–3,11b–32
      Holy Bible, New International Version

      15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

      3 Then Jesus told them this parable:

      11b “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

      13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

      17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

      “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

      21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

      22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

      25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

      28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

      31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”

      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.


       

      This is the Word of God for the people of God:


      2 Corinthians 5:16–17
      Holy Bible, New International Version

      16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!


      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.


      Footnote:
           a.  2 Corinthians 5:17  Or Christ, that person is a new creation.


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      Foley, AL 36535
      Phone: (251) 943-8367
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