After spending a few weeks exploring the younger son and his time away from home, this week our attention turns to the father and his response to his runaway son. If it is true that "Every baby is born into the world looking for someone looking for them," then our understanding of the father's posture toward wayward sinners is critical for how we make sense of ourselves and the world. In spite of being hurt, disrespected and insulted, the father in the parable of the prodigal son demonstrates the pursuit of our Heavenly Father toward us. In all respects, Luke 15 urges us to behold the Father! Behold the Father's eyes, the Father's heart, the Father's feet, the Father's arms, the Father's lips, the Father's gifts, and the Father's joy. For those who are tempted to believe that their sin has made God the Father turn away in contempt and disgust, this parable tells a different story. The Father is delighted to bring "home" to us in unparalleled grace.
This week's sermon focuses on the journey of the younger brother who ends up in the far away country, miles away from his father and his home. Everyone who travels down this road eventually follows the same familiar markers and landmarks: the separation of shame, the isolation of shame, and the narration of shame. As we unpack this shame story, we discover a way out and a new story enacted by our Heavenly Father. To know our way back home, we have to understand how we left. We have to answer the question of God, "Where are you?"
The Parable of the Prodigal Son does not happen in a vacuum. In fact, it's the third of a three parable set that Jesus tells focusing on the motif of "lost things." As Jesus teaches about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and finally a lost son, He is not just riffing on a random theme. Rather, he is directly responding to a real life conversation with the Pharisees who grumble and scoff at Jesus' eating habits with sinners. In a sense, they are asking Jesus "why bother with lost things?" This week, as we step into the first week of this new series, we will explore the background of Luke 15, the other parables of Luke 15 and begin to examine the movement of the younger brother away from home. This parable has both a personal and a missional lens of application as we examine the journey home- both for us and for others. God wants you and others home to be safe, loved and known. And frankly, we struggle with that more than we know.
For the vast majority of this book, the primary metaphor for God's relationship with Israel has been that of a husband and a wife. Marriage is the overwhelming backdrop of this book- between Hosea/Gomer and God/Israel. However, in this last sermon of the series, God changes the metaphor and swaps out the comparison from marriage to parenting. Hosea 11 is a complete poem about the Father heart of God. Same prophet. Same people. Same limitations. Different angle. God replays the tapes of Israel's childhood and "teenage" rebellion. And then, in deep emotion, God declares His heartfelt compassion for Israel that will not give up. This book closes with one more reminder that God is not what we think or what our collective experience tells us. God has emotion for His people, emotion that He needs us to experience if we ever want to live out the fullness of our life story.
There is probably no single attribute of God with greater baggage or that causes more visceral triggers than the wrath of God. The very mention of that word causes many to cringe, recoil or shudder. Unlike God's wisdom, mercy, holiness or love, the wrath of God causes people to avoid it, ignore it or artfully dance around it. However, because love and wrath do not stand in contradiction to one another, the unlikely prophetic love story that is the book of Hosea would be incomplete without at least one conversation about it. This week, in exploring Hosea 8, we will take a biblical view of wrath, see how it is provoked and explain what is at stake for a 21st century disciple of Jesus. Rather than being a grumpy, irritable, out-of-control overreaction, the wrath of God challenges our flippancy, hypocrisy and complacency while also giving us hope in final justice and the supremacy of Christ.
Moving into Hosea 4, this passage marks a new section of the book and a noticeable shift in our eccentric, heart-wrenching, unlikely prophetic love story. Rather than focusing on the details of Hosea and Gomer, chapter 4 and following involve the details of God summoning Israel to court with the specifics of His legal complaint. God has the chance to openly and passionately explain His "indictment" of the people of God. God speaks and the people of Israel are called to listen. As God dives into the specifics of their sin, we are given a better understanding of how sin works- all of which reveals how often we ask the wrong sin question. Most of us spend a lot of time on the "what" of sin rather than the "why." Hosea 4 helps us unpack both the what and the why; the sin and the sin underneath the sin. Or, using other terms, Hosea 4 exposes both the fruit and the root of our sin. God calls us not just to end the various sinful behaviors. But even more deeply, God's calls us to a place of loving knowledge of Him in real relationship.
Hosea chapter 3 brings the storyline back to the specifics of the Hosea/Gomer love affair. Being a chapter with only five verses, it is a concise, quick, punchy real-life redemption parable. As Hosea is called to "go back and love" his unfaithful wife who is in the arms of another man, his action brings further understanding to the elements of redemption that we often have a hard time holding on to. God-style redemption reveals (1) Limitless love, (2) Costly love, and (3) Intimate love in ways that blow our minds and stir our hearts. Hosea 3 reminds us what God's redeeming love actually feels like as it speaks to our shame.
The deeper one moves into the story of Hosea, more questions emerge. How does a holy and jealous God respond to the fickle ways of an unfaithful people? When we scorn God, how will He respond? The end of Hosea 2 reveals that God does not give up, run away in exasperation or respond in passive aggression. God, in His faithful love, pursues His unfaithful bride when she least deserves it. And He does so in two unconventional ways that need some explanation. In pursuit, God frustrates our misguided loves. And in pursuit, God flirts with our souls. He frustrates our misguided loves by exposing and upending the idols we are quick to chase. Then, in His kindness, He allures us by speaking tenderly to our identity. Come discover the One who frustrates and flirts, drawing us closer to an exclusive love relationship with Himself.
Moving deeper into the Hosea storyline, the focus shifts from Hosea's children to his unfaithful wife, Gomer. Through her storyline of promiscuity and running into the arms of other gods, God reveals His Husband heart toward Israel as a fickle bride. Rightly stated, God is jealous for the exclusive love and affection of His people. But contrary to human jealousy which is often based on fear, paranoia and petty insecurity, God's jealousy is rooted in His holy zeal for what is rightfully His in relationship. The more we learn about fickle Gomer and unfaithful Israel, the more we see our patterns of wandering that break the heart of God. Our sin is not just about breaking the law. It's even more fundamentally about breaking His heart.
The first chapter of Hosea introduces us to this bizarre, unorthodox and compelling story about a man named Hosea and the calling God has for his family. In the opening lines, we learn that God calls an ordinary man living in opulent times to enact in his family the gospel of grace... even when everything in his gut screams no. This week, we will explore the Hosea storyline and these introductory components (an ordinary man, opulent times, family and grace). In doing so, we are hoping to discover in visceral ways the way that God feels about us. Our lives will only be able to shift from observation to participation in the Kingdom of God when we are consumed by the eternal, infinite fire of the passion of God for us.
As Mary and Joseph bring baby Jesus to the Jerusalem temple for dedication, this young couple finds themselves face to face with an elderly man named Simeon. As he takes the Christ child in his arms, he too breaks out in blessing and praise. Simeon's song reminds us that there are two ways to hold the Savior in our arms: for ourselves and for others. Even though his song of praise is marked by personal celebration for the fulfillment of God's plan through years of waiting, he also celebrates God's saving inclusion of the Gentiles. This song provides the powerful reminder that Advent makes missionaries because true love always extends itself toward the other. In the spirit of Christmas, may we too be a missionary people.
So far in this series, we have heard about Advent through the songs of Mary and Zechariah- both human characters on the ground in the midst of the story. This week, as we move into the 3rd week of Advent, we are given the perspective of the angels in Luke 2. Instead of getting the perspective of a mother or priestly extended family member, we get the cosmic perspective of Christmas. The angels declare good news of great joy to the shepherds and then an entire collection of heavenly hosts break out into the song of "The Gloria." This song, while being short and familiar, actually provides details on the meaning of life and the way it best works. These angels make a declaration of joy by connecting peace and proper glory. It's a message that touches our deepest longings and our everyday glory story. May the Spirit use it to rekindle our songs of joy.
The Advent season is all about the coming of God’s Son. In light of His first coming, the present and His return, we are called to approach Advent with a posture of preparation. But it is so easy, especially this time of year, to miss out on God. We are not as ready for Advent as we might think. This week, as we dig into the story and song of Zechariah, we are reminded that it's possible to be at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing and still miss what God is doing? Some of our lack of preparation comes from missing the point of the story. Some of our lack of preparation comes from being mastered by the darkness of the story. Either way, we need a voice to come and help us become a people prepared for the Lord- to level the way for us to receive God's saving work among us. Zechariah's "Benedictus" helps us get our eyes off us ourselves and back on God, while also pointing to the hope of sunrise in the darkness.
When people typically focus on Mary and her story, the phrase is often used, "Mary, meek and mild." Yet much of that has more to do with our carols and our art than the Bible. When you come to Mary's "Magnificat" in Luke 1, her words are anything but tame. This is not "Mary, meek and mild." This is Mary, "subversive and wild." Her song is not a lullaby, but a battle cry. Advent is subversive and so is Mary's song. Through her words in Luke 1:46-55, Mary reminds us that Advents subverts our timing and our treasure because it challenges our waiting and our wanting. Come enter the Advent season through the words of Mary's song.
As we near the end of this series, we are going to circle back to the place where we started: in the room, behind locked doors with the disciples on the first Easter evening. When we opened this series many weeks ago, we did so by listening to Jesus words of sending for his disciples. "As the Father sent Me, even so I am sending you." Which launched us into a conversation about the extraordinary/ordinary ways of Jesus- hospitality, table meals, celebration, reconciliation, work and the like. However, the first time we went through John 20, I intentionally stopped the story at verse 21. The rest of the story is essential, because within it, we discover our only hope to ever live this kind of life: the Holy Spirit. After speaking his words of sending, Jesus breathes on the disciples and calls them to "Receive the Holy Spirit." This week, as cycle back to John 20, we will explore how we are to engage the Holy Spirit as the power, source and non-negotiable Helper to our everyday. Unfortunately, so many in the church have walked away confused or discouraged about the One who is meant to be our primary spiritual assurance. The Holy Spirit has been given to catalyze our Extraordinary/Ordinary.
In 1 John 3:8, we learn that "the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." Such language often triggers images of exorcism, possession and demonology. However, in addition to extraordinary spiritual warfare (which has its place), there is another facet to spiritual warfare that looks and sounds very ordinary. In the life and ministry of Jesus, we find numerous battles that take place in simple, understated and everyday ways. This week, by examining Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, we are able to discover the battle lines surrounding our daily, ordinary battles: the undermining of identity, temptation, truth distortions, and shortcuts. As followers of Jesus, this is the extraordinary ordinary battle of spiritual warfare that we never grow past.