(I don’t usually preach from a manuscript, but last Sunday, I did.)
LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, AND FORGIVENESS
Outside of Jerusalem rests the tomb of a young man. For centuries now Jews, Christians and Muslims have come to the tomb to throw stones and offer prayers of bitterness. Who could generate such universal reaction?
His name was Absalom. He was the favored son of David who created upheaval in his father’s household, tried to subvert his father’s rule, and finally led a rebellion and civil war that almost cost David his life.
The people who gather for such prayers demonstrate the universal pain of families that come apart. The bible is full of such stories and most of the families portrayed in Scripture qualify for the term dysfunctional!
Perhaps this is one reason that the story of the prodigal son remains so universally loved. The prodigal returns and receives the love of the father. Meanwhile, however, his older brother fumes in resentment.
This morning’s gospel reading gives us another view of family behavior. Jesus used it to show how people who once were outcasts could find their way back to the Father’s love. At the same time he showed that some who say the right things have the wrong motives in their hearts.
I had a friend who used to like to twist the familiar phrase “home is where the heart is” into home is where the HURT is. Each time he would say it, the rest of us would both smile in recognition and grimace in the plan truth.
I once say a cartoon that showed a large auditorium. Over the stage hung a large banner with “The National Organization of People from Functional Families.” The auditorium had about five people scattered around in it.
Families, of course, can be places of love and sources of strength to their members, but we all know from these examples that families are often the source of our greatest pain. Knowing this, I’ve often asked myself as a pastor, what the church can do about this.
Why do families and family members need the church?
The Church is called in Scripture the “Family of God.” At the core of this description are three cardinal values to comprise our family. Simply said they are
Most human families start out with the value of love. But love itself can become twisted. Love can become conditional – I love you only if you live up to my expectations. Love can become manipulative – If you love me, you will do what I want. Love can go sour when a family member goes in a different way. The message is clear, we love you but not if you choose to act that way.
This is where the church as the family of God has something significant to add to all of us. We are after all a community not only of love, but also of acceptance. When we are truly the church, we accept people as they are; who they are, unique. It doesn’t matter if this uniqueness is the result of different talents or strange quirks. If folks are baptized they are part of our family.
And further, we are a community of forgiveness. We start with the assumption that everyone is a sinner in need of forgiveness. And as Alina reminded us two weeks ago, we are to forgive others as we have been forgiven.
Jerry Cook was the pastor of a very large Four Gospel Church in Portland, Oregon. He had a large church with lots of programs, bible studies, and a terrific youth ministry. Then one day he began to think about the behavior of his members. He became uncomfortable with the typical church chatter. He became convicted that as good as his church was, it wasn’t really the family of God, but a group of people with similar values.
Finally, he decided to do something about it. For one full year, he preached sermons with only three themes: Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. He said strait out that biblical knowledge and theological true are important, but it was more important to God that his family lived out love, acceptance and forgiveness. It took a while, but a church that had been largely suburban and white began to change.
Some members where surprised when street kids started attending.
Others were shocked when the church became integrated.
Some even left when lots of single people started attending including Gay and Lesbians.
What was once a nice church became a dynamic community that transformed its neighborhood and became a remarkable witness to forgiveness and reconciliation.
Love, acceptance and Forgiveness are the core values of the family of God.