My son came home from
school the other day all jazzed because one of the choirs that Nancy
directs at Sheldon High School has a possible invitation to sing
at the inauguration. That started all kinds of conversation about
who was going to be inaugurated
But let's hope that comes to fruition.
The text this morning
for our reflection is a very familiar story from the 15th chapter of
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.’
It is good to be home. And let me
first of all express some "thank you's" to so many who filled in while I
was gone. Our preachers, Dick and John, LeRoy, Joyce, and Cathy.
And the staff of the church, who I know all had to do extra duty, and
especially Patty, as so much fell onto her shoulders.
I stopped in at one point during the
summer and discovered my office was completely torn up, everything moved
out, a complete mess -- folks were hard at work re-decorating.
What a surprise that was. Karl, and Bill, and Nancy, and I'm not
sure who all participated in that project, but what a surprise. We
should have an open house so you could come in and see, except that I've
moved back in and messed it all back up again
Three and a half months. As far
as I can tell, you all did just fine without me. So next week, I'm
taking off for three and a half months!
We'll see if I still know how to
preach, after so long gone.
Fortunately, not much has happened in
the world while I was gone J.
There was the Olympics -- the World vs Michael Phelps, quite a show.
I was most impressed by that 41 year-old mother who got the silver,
missed the gold my 1-hundredth of a second, the same fraction by which
Phelps got one of his 8 gold medals. That was incredible.
Brett Favre, Lance Armstrong, making a
comeback, coming out of retirement. Who knows, there might be a
headline in the Register Guard: "Preacher returns! Makes
Comeback! Sets a World Record for Scaring the Hell Out of
People!". That'd be a good thing, right?
Then there are the Ducks -- 3-0.
There's preaching material right there.
Meanwhile in the rest of the world, the
war in Iraq seems to be slowing down, while the war in Afghanistan is
picking up. Russia invades Georgia (I don't know why they didn't
invade Florida J),
Israel expands yet even more settlements, Libya welcomes in the United
States, Venezuela kicks us out. The polar ice-caps are melting
faster than anyone imagined, hurricanes getting bigger and more
frequent, mortgage crisis placing 6 million Americans at risk of losing
Democrats nominate an African-American
for President, Republicans nominate a hockey mom. Who'da thunk it?
It's a shame there's nothing happening that would be worth mentioning in
Speaking of political positions and
hurricanes, did you catch on the news that James Dobson suggested that
his radio listeners pray for a storm on the last night of the Democratic
convention, to rain on Obama's parade. Didn't happen, of course,
although there was a storm to open the Republican convention.
Prompted film-maker and former seminarian Michael Moore to quip that
that only shows that not only does God answer prayer, but God has a
sense of humor.
Fortunately for Republicans and
Democrats alike, Jesus pretty much set that record straight when he
said, on the Sermon on the Mount that God sends the rain on the
righteous and the unrighteous alike. And those who equate storms
with acts of God make fools of themselves and reduce God into the role
of a petty ruler with an anger management problem. We need to be
clear in the message we give, that's why we talk about 'Transforming
Christianity' -- to be clear that God orchestrates neither storms nor
elections. And we should not associate the name of God with
With much of Galveston and Houston
under water this morning, the only response that we as Christians should
have is not blaming the victims, as more than a few religious nuts tried
to do after Katrina, our response should be nothing but to show the love
of God through acts of generosity with gifts of compassion.
Through Week of Compassion and other like organizations, we've already
responded to that crisis.
So, other than the weather, climate
change, economics, politics, war, and sports (did I mention the Ducks?),
what's left to preach on?
It's good to be home.
After Dorothy completes her quest and
returns to the Wizard of Oz only to discover the man behind the curtain
-- not a bad man, just a very bad wizard. She finds herself
stranded in Oz, far away from the home back in Kansas. Until
Glenda, the good witch, reveals those magic words with the aid of those
magic slippers that will take her back to the farm -- "There's no place
like home, there's no place like home, there's no place
And when she opens her eyes, there's
Auntie Em. The Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, all the people
that care about her, love her. All those that make home what it is
-- that place where you are most loved and accepted no matter what.
Two big moments came for me this
summer. One was leaving home, and emotional moment. After
all those months of preparation and anticipation and excitement, and now
the moment had finally come, locking up the house, getting in the car,
going back and locking up the house again, making sure everything is
ready, getting in the car, driving away. . . . . . I never dreamed I
would have such an opportunity. It wasn't about going overseas --
I'd been overseas many times. But to take my family on a vacation
to the Mediterranean. I mean, it was literally a dream come true.
Thank you, church. Thank you Lily Endowment, for the money to make
it possible. I thought I was going to cry, I was so happy.
I did cry two weeks later. After
those incredible sunsets on the islands of Santorini, Lacatos, learning
to windsurf with my kids on the Mediterranean, climbing the Acropolis,
seeing the Parthenon up close, exploring ancient Delphi and modern
Athens, having the adventure of our lives. And then saying goodbye
to my wife and kids there in the Athens airport, as they left me behind
there in that strange land with a bunch of foreigners, all by myself for
the next 3 weeks. I'd like to tell you that it was MISERABLE!
Exploring alone the islands of Patmos and Mykconos and Delos, it was
miserable! The Pelopponese,
Naples, Rome, visiting the site of the first Olympics, Pompei, the
Vatican, all my myself. Just miserable!
I'd be lying, of course. I had a
great time! Once I got over saying goodbye to my family
Then there was the week in the
beach-house in Yachats, camping right above the surf, Tillicum Beach,
Elkhorn Lake in the Cascades, in the Hayner's RV they graciously lended
to me. The last 3 days of which in complete solitude, not a human
soul or a cell phone signal for miles. Miserable, miserable,
It was so bad, I know you'll feel for
me when I repeat parts of those experiences.
And there came a moment toward the end,
especially in the middle of the night up there by that lake when there
was no human being or cell phone signal, when I said "It's time".
I'm ready to go home.
And that was, I suppose, the experience
of the prodigal son. Only not quite like that. Leaving,
apparently with no intention of coming back, he returned home not
because he had finished his task, because he'd accomplished his quest,
but because he ran out of money. Well, that happened to me too
He was desperate, starving. So he returned home with no
expectation of being welcomed back as you have so graciously done for
me. Indeed, he expected nothing but a cold shoulder, as his older
brother intended to give him.
But instead, his father opened his arms
and his heart, and welcomed him back home. True again, there's no
place like home.
We tell the story from Jesus to show
the incredible love and mercy of God, but we can also tell it to show
the incredible love and joy and goodness and warmth of home. Or at
least what home should be. And if that's not the home we have, it
is certainly the home we desire.
I concluded my sabbatical with a
pastor's conference in Chicago, the first ever for Disciples nationally,
called by our General Minister and President, Dr. Sharon Watkins.
About 350 pastors responded to the call, and Wilt Willimon was one of
the speakers, the Dean of the Chapel at Duke -- he's now accepted a new
position as a Bishop in the United Methodist church.
And Willimon told the story of being
invited to speak at one of the fraternities there at Duke. Nothing
surprising about that, Will is a greatly sought-out speaker all around
the country. He received the call asking him to come and speak,
and Will said 'sure', and asked 'What would you like for the subject?'.
And they said 'Whatever you'd like to speak on'. He thought that
was a little odd, so he pressed for more information and discovered more
than he wanted to know. He said "Well, what's the occasion?".
And the students said: "Well, our fraternity has gotten into a
little trouble with the University, and we have to do 12 hours of
remedial education. And someone said that you would be good for 1
So his ego sufficiently deflated, Will
arrived at the appointed time and place at the fraternity, late on a
Thursday evening, and he was met at the door of the fraternity by a
young boy -- 10 or 11 years old. He thought that was kind of odd,
9:00 p.m. on a weeknight. The young boy said "You the preacher?".
He said "Yes". "Well, come on in, they're all waiting for you".
He took him into a back room, the group was there gathered. And
the young by immediately climbed up on the lap of one of the students
and went to sleep.
Will proceeded with his lecture on
civic duty, responsibility, Christian ethics, all the things he thought
a troublesome fraternity needed to hear. At the end, he asked if
there are any questions . . .there were none. They had put in
their hour, they were finished, and off the students went. And the
student with that young boy sleeping on his lap, gently woke the child,
told him to go to his room and he would come in in just a bit to read
him his bedtime story.
Will walked outside with the student,
the student thanked him for graciously coming to speak to them, for his
fine words. Took out his cigarette pack, took out a cigarette,
offered Will one, Will declined. Lit up. Will, curious,
said: "Tell me, what's with the kid?". The student, taking a
deep draw on the cigarette, blew out some smoke, and said: "Well,
you know how we all have to do community service. And I signed up
for big brothers. Billy there, he has a Mom, but just ain't doing
too good. So me and the guys at the house arranged for it where he
could come anytime he needed a safe place. Some weeks it's one
night, most weeks, it's three or four".
Took another draw on his cigarette and
said: "You know, preacher, God would have to be crazy to let a guy
like me do something this good".
Will said that the lecture he gave that
night was not half as good as the lesson he learned.
Disciple preacher Fred Craddock says he
thinks he knows a place where all the Billy's of this world can find a
place to call home, because of his own experience as a child growing up
during the Depression in a family literally dirt poor. One summer,
they lost the family farm and had to move into town. Fred had to
go to a new school. The teacher invited the students to share stories of
their summer vacations as a way of getting acquainted. Fred
remembers to this day the kid who went to Florida. Another kid
said they went to Washington D.C. and saw the national monuments.
Another one had gone up to Niagara Falls. And all the while, Fred
is sinking lower and lower into his seat. What am I going to
share? I spent my summer digging potatoes and shucking beets.
Fortunately the bell rang, they didn't get to him, he went home, and his
parents wanted to know how was his day. "Terrible", said Fred.
"What's the matter?", asked his parents. "We had to share stories
of summer vacations -- what am I going to say?". His father said
"Well, Fred, just make something up". Fred said: "But Dad,
that'd be lying". "Well, Fred, you have to do what the teacher
tells you to do. Obviously, she wants you to make up a story".
"But Dad, how would I do that?". His Dad said: "Well, you
just take a little bit from here, a little bit from there, and create a
Fred has been doing that ever since --
he's a preacher, he learned his lesson well
Well, his horrifying moment came, and
by the time his turn ended, his family had been to Florida, Niagara
Falls, Washington D.C., and to top it all off, they stopped at the
Statue of Liberty in New York City. The teacher took him out in
the hall, and said: "You didn't really do all those things, did
you?". Fred said: "No, teacher, I didn't". "Why did
you make that up?". "I was embarrassed". "Embarrassed,
why?", asked the teacher. "Because I did nothing but work on a
farm". The good teacher stopped the proceedings right then and
There was a Lady Aid society at the
Christian Church there at Humboldt Tennessee that collected clothing for
children in need. And the box that came to the Craddock household
had a pair of shiny Buster Brown shoes, just his size. His Mom
said "Good, now you can go to Sunday School". Fred wasn't so sure
he wanted to go to Sunday School, he figured it'd be just like school.
He'd have to share that embarrassing experience all over again.
But they went. Fred says: "From the first day of wearing those
charity shoes, I later discovered were really girls shoes, I never,
ever, was embarrassed in church. I don't remember ever being any
different, any less, or any more, from anyone else in church. And
from the age of 9 until now, I had this little jubilee going on in my
mind: there's no place in the world like church. There's no
place like church".
After three and a half months gone, 2
countries, thousands of air miles, I come back, there's Dick -- he came
out at 1:00 a.m. on a warm September night 10 years ago to stand beside
me as we waited by the Sheriff's car as we waited confirmation of my
mother's death. There's Chuck and Mary Burrows, and Stephanie and
Chris participating in that drum circle during my cancer surgery,
drumming & praying for healing. There's Eliza and Nancy and all
those in the shawl ministry made so many of us prayer shawls for healing
or blessing. There's Ruth Ann and Cheryl and all of our quilters,
quilting for the Helping Hand Ministry and for young mothers with their
newborn babies. There's Frank and Carol and Phyllis and Marie and
Joyce, Lois, and so many other volunteers in the Helping Hand ministry
to provide quality clothing to families with dignity. There's
Evelyn and Marie and Jerry and Bonita who counsel hundreds of people off
the street, affirming their dignity and worth as they seek solutions to
their hard lives in our Good Samaritan ministry. There's John and
Robin, Laura and Scott, Jamie, Eric, Elaine, putting in all of those
hours for our youth. I was in Chicago, and I heard about this
incredible event held at First Christian Church in Eugene on Labor Day
weekend called "River Rally". The Menegets and Brandenfels',
Marilyn, Patty, and Michelle, all those members of the children's
ministry team who provide that Worship & Wonder program, and Christian
Education, filled with such love for our children. There's a
painting in memory of Aida Lee's husband, Bill, and Francis Hyland's
husband out in the foyer, Ansel. There's Mildred working out on
the landscaping. There's our office volunteers, our choir members,
our musicians, the vision builders, and so many more -- forgive me if I
do not name them all.
All I can say is: There's no
place like church.
There's no place like church.
There is no place like church.
It's good to be home.