March 11, 2018: No, Then Yes > Yes, Then No

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 21:28-32 New Revised Standard Version
What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

There is a mom. She is a single mom, and like so many parents who are raising children by themselves, she is extremely busy and is often stressed out. She works two jobs, raises two daughters, is involved in her kids’ school, and is active in a local church.

Because life is so hectic, she relies on her daughters, (both teenagers) to help out around the house whenever they can.

Both daughters are great kids. They love their mom. They are good students, one runs track, the other plays volleyball, they both sing in the show choir. When it comes to chores however, they are both pretty lousy at it.

So, the house can get pretty messy with dishes stacked in the sink, clothes left unwashed, yard left uncut, chores left undone. Its not like a episode of Hoarders, but it does drive mom a little crazy.

She walks into the TV room one Saturday morning and finds her daughters lounging on couches. One has her face glued to her phone screen, typing and staring, smiling, typing and staring. The other daughter is reading a book.

Around the room are scattered blankets, pillows, cups, paper plates, and a pizza box. The mom tries to recall the last time they ordered pizza and can’t remember when. That box has been there awhile.

She says to her daughters, not grouchily, but matter of factly, “Hey guys, I have picked up a extra shift at today so I will be at work.” She picked up the extra shift to help pay for prom dresses. She continues, “I really need your help today.” To the older daughter she says, “I need you to clean up the kitchen.”

The older daughter looks up from her phone and says, “Sure mom, I’ll get on it in a sec.”

“Great, honey, thank you,” says mom.

Turning to the younger daughter, mom says, “I really need you to mow the lawn. The neighbors are beginning to complain.”

“Sorry Mom,” says the youngest daughter, “I have to get this book read by Monday for Lit Class. I have 500 pages to go, so I just don’t have time to do it today.”

“Seriously,” Mom responds, “I need you today.” She shakes her head, sighs a mom sigh, and turns to walk out of the room. The older daughter looks up at her mom and smiles. Mom smiles back.

Mom leaves for work.

An hour passes, a second hour passes. The youngest daughter, having read 110 pages, looks over at her older sister. She has spent the past two hours reading and sending texts, playing games, putting dog noses and floppy ears on selfies to post on Snap Chat.

“I thought you were going to clean the kitchen.”

“Yeah, that’s not happening.” replies the older sister.

“But you told mom you would.”

“She is always happy that I say “yes”. She doesn’t really notice if I carry through on things or not. If you would follow my example, little sis, you could keep yourself out of hot water with Mom. Always say yes, even when you mean, “no.” That way, mom feels in charge, she smiles, and you can avoid the mom sighs.”

The older sister looks back at her phone and continues doing whatever she is doing.

The younger sister reads another 20 pages or so, and decides that reading can wait- until evening and tomorrow. She gets off the couch, changes into old clothes and walks out back to the shed.

She pulls out the mower, checks the gas, and begins mowing the lawn. Forty-five minutes later, she puts the lawn mower back in the shed.

She walks back into the house and plans to get a soda out of the fridge, but she looks around and realizes that the kitchen really does need cleaning- it’s a disaster.

So, as her sister chills in the TV room, the younger sister cleans the kitchen, washes the dishes, wipes down the counters, puts things away, sweeps and mops the floor.

Before she starts cleaning the kitchen, however, she takes a load of laundry down to the wash room and loads it into the washing machine.

After she finishes the kitchen, she straightens up around the house, changes a couple burned out light bulbs, replaces the battery in the smoke detector, does some dusting, runs the sweeper, and picks up trash, including that pizza box.

She takes trash bags out to the cans in the garage and puts the recycling in the recycling container.

She comes back into the house, looks around with with a sense of satisfaction, gets a soda from the refrigerator and goes back to the TV room, sits on the couch, picks up her book and begins to read again.

The older sister continues to lounge, gazing at her phone.

The mother comes home within the next hour. She notices the mowed lawn as she pulls in the drive-way. She is pleased the younger daughter has done her chores, even if she had said “no” at first.

As she walks through the house, she is thrilled to see laundry is picked up, dishes washed, and stuff put away.

She walks into the TV room, noticing that the pizza box is gone.

“Thank you so much, my daughters, for all you have done today.”

The younger daughter smiles.

The oldest daughter says “No problem Mom. Glad to help out.”

The younger daughter shakes her head a little, chuckles an almost inaudible chuckle, and continues to read.


Now, which of these two children is the one who was obedient to her mother?

Among the people who made up the crowds who came to listen to Jesus were religious stalwarts. Folks who defined themselves by their religious acumen.

They have spent their lives practicing religion. They know all the right words to say, the right songs to sing, the right clothes to wear, the right scriptures to quote. They are respected and respectable.

And they are really struggling with Jesus. His words seem to run contrary to their long held traditions.

And, they are struggling with Jesus’ followers. They are sinners, low-lifes, folks who could never feel at home in their highbrow, morality-infused religious settings. But for some reason, they felt at home with Jesus.

Jesus, hearing the ongoing complaints from the religious people about his brand of follower told several parables and uttered many aphorisms to counter the complaining.

These new followers, not bound by traditions that no longer had meaning, were like wayward children coming home again, they were like workers coming at the last hour, they were like children who after saying no, decided to say yes, eventually.

Unfortunately, the religious stalwarts were more like an older son who was angry with his brother's homecoming, they were like workers who begrudged latecomers acceptance and equal pay, they were like children who after saying yes, decided to say no.

And yes, eventually, is preferable to no, eventually!

Yes eventually is enough!


March 4, 2018: Grace Ain't Fair

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 20:8-16 New Revised Standard Version
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

A little set-up. You all are the Workers Complaint Committee - a citizens' group that comes together to resolve conflict between employers and employees. Please listen carefully to the following testimony.

[Put on Jacket]

I am so angry. You can probably see smoke coming from my ears. It is so unfair and I deserve better.

That’s why I am here today- to tell you my story and urge you to side with me so that I get what I deserve.

I am farm hand. I work over at the Big Farm. I have been a farm hand a long time and I am good at want I do.

I arrive on time, I do my work, and I don’t quit until quitting time.

If my foreperson asks me to dig ditches,
I dig ditches.

If my foreperson asks me to dig up weeds,
I dig up weeds.

If my foreperson asks me to haul water,
I haul water.

If my foreperson needs me to work through a break,
I will work through a break.

12 hours days are long. As the closing bell tolls,
My back aches,
My body hurts.

But if I am supposed to work 12 hours I work every bit of it. And am proud of my day’s wage- I have earned it.

Imagine what I felt like on the day in question. I arrived at 6:00 in the morning and set to work. It was an especially hot day and I worked all day, with a couple of water breaks and a lunch break.

Throughout the day, new workers were arriving at the farm and were put to work. I saw them, and realizing the amount of work that needed to be done, didn’t think much about it.

I was a bit surprised, when a new worker arrived at 5p.m., an hour before quitting time. I will give him credit, he worked hard for that hour, but by 5:00 p.m.,
the sun was low in the sky,
the afternoon heat had broken,
the evening breeze was refreshing.

Yeah, he probably accomplished more in that one hour than I did, but I had been working hard for 11 hours, giving my all.

The bell at the farm house rang signaling the end of the day and we all moved toward the sound to get our daily pay.

As we arrived, the pay steward of the farm told us all to line up in the order we were hired, the people who had worked the shortest were first in line and those of us who had worked the longest were at the back of the line.

That ticked me off, having to wait after working all day. But I assumed that they were giving those late hirelings so little pay that they wanted to dispose of them before they got to us big money earners.

I watched from the back of the line and was shocked to see that the person who starting working an hour before quitting time was handed six $20 bills - $120.

Wait. I work for $10 an hour and worked 12 hours today. Therefore, I was expecting $120 for the day. But if this latecomer, very latecomer, gets $120, then I should expect an incredible pay day. Doing the math in my head, I thought I might get as much as $1,440.

I continued to watch as people were getting paid.
Each one was getting $120. People who came to work at 3:00 were getting the same as the guy who came at 5:00 and the people who came at noon and the people who came at 9:00 a.m.

I heard some grumbling from some of them about the latecomers who didn’t work as long or as hard getting paid the same amount.

It was puzzling to say the least. But I held on to the thought that as a person who showed up at 6:00 a.m. and worked throughout the entire day, my pay would have to be higher than that guy- the guy who arrived at 5:00 p.m. and was now counting his money with a big o smile on his ugly o face, (uh, excuse me).

I came to stand at the table of the pay steward. She handed me my pay envelope. It listed that I was to be paid $10 for 12 hours- $120.

I opened the envelope assuming that I would be counting much more than 6 $20 bills. But to my utter chagrin, there was only $120 in the envelope.

I could feel the anger building up through my body. My face felt flushed. I shook with fury. I looked up at pay steward who said to me, “thank you for your hard work today. Have a great day.”

I could only walk away. I wanted to hit something. I needed to scream. I fell in with the group of people who were there at 6:00 a.m. and everybody was fuming.

That is why I am here today filing this complaint before you, the workers complaint committee.

I did exactly what I was supposed to do. I went above and beyond. I deserve what I deserve and that is a “whole heck of a lot more” than that guy.

I will leave it in your hands.

(show of hands, who is with me?)

[Put on vest]

Hello, I am the owner of the big farm. Thank you for allowing me to speak to you this evening.

I am here to defend myself for paying everybody the same amount at the end of the day.

First, you should know, that we often add workers during the day to ensure everything that needs to get done gets done.

Secondly, we believe that those men and women who are hired later in the day play just as significant role getting it all done as those hired earlier.

Third, I am not cheating anybody here. I have paid people exactly what I said I would pay them. I never told them that they would make more than anybody else. I am not hurting anybody by my actions. I am simply including everybody in the daily wage.

Fourth, I am the owner of the farm and I can run my farm any way I choose. The accusation is made that we are unfair. We don't pretend to be fair by other people’s standards. We strive to be more than fair, we strive to include everybody in the daily wage.

(ok, who is buying the farmer’s response)

Hi, I am that guy.

I need work. I have not been able to find lasting employment in months. Every day, I get to the day laborers recruiting center and every day I wait for someone to hire me.

I always accept the wage I am given.

I must express overwhelming gratitude to the owner of the big farm who, through his graciousness and kindness, has seen fit to include me in his generosity.

On the day in question, I had to take my daughter to the emergency room and was therefore too late to the laborer’s recruiting center to be hired early in the day. My daughter is doing okay, thank you for asking, but losing a day’s wage on top of the emergency room bill threatened to break me.

When the owner of the farm saw me late in the day at the Laborers recruiting center and offered me a short day of work, I was so thankful.

And then, when I got paid a full day’s wage for one hour of work, I was completely flabbergasted. I felt truly blessed and accepted in that moment. I will never be able to thank the farmer enough and will willingly work for the farm every day of my life.

For those who are angry that I am accepted as a full wage earner, I am sorry that you are angry at me or the farmer. But I have been given a break, I have been blessed by grace, I will forever be thankful for being included.


The story’s spiritual point, if not abundantly clear-
Grace ain’t fair, but it is incredible.

To long time religious folks- quit with the judgement, and the hate, and embrace the reality that God loves and accepts people who are not like you and who don’t do religion as well as you do or as long as you have. It is your privilege to participate in God’s love and grace, to step back as others are being embraced. Grace ain’t fair, deal with it.

To those who are that guy- rejoice in the presence of the One who has loved you and cared about you and accepted you into the fold. Grace ain’t fair, embrace it.

To all of us- today is another day to work, to serve, to embrace others, to join God in the process of Kingdom building. Grace ain’t fair, thank God.


March 2018 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for January is now available here.

February 25, 2018: 7 or 77 or 490 or 4,900?

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 18:21-22 New Revised Standard Version
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Forgiveness is at the core of the Christian experience - receiving forgiveness and offering forgiveness.

In fact, forgiveness seems to be so important to faith, that Jesus is quoted as saying, “If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.”

But truth be told, forgiveness is much easier said than done.

Which bring us to today’s passage.

Peter is puzzled.

He has heard Jesus drone on about forgiveness and is struggling with the implications of Jesus' words. Sure, he gets the concept of forgiveness, but Jesus seems to be talking in practical, existential, real life terms rather than the usual pious claptrap.

And, in Peter's thinking, while forgiveness as a solitary act might be a positive thing, Jesus talks about it like its an ongoing activity of life. Its one thing to forgive somebody for an offense, but what happens the second time they offend, or the third. What then?

So Peter approaches Jesus with a very practical question about forgiving.

“Suppose,” Peter asks, “somebody offends me, sins against me, and I forgive them. Then they offend me again and again. How long must I keep forgiving- how about 7 times?”

To me, it seems like Peter is going above and beyond. Seriously, I have to suffer this knucklehead's nonsense time and time again? Actually, seven times seems like six too many.

I imagine Jesus’ face as he responds to Peter. I see a big o’ ear to ear smile come across the Savior’s face. Maybe, with the lilt of laughter in his voice, he responds, “No, no, no, seven will never do. Let’s imagine 77 times!!” It should be noted that the Greek wording is a bit confusing here leading some bibles to translate it 70 X 7, or 490 times. Well that’s just ridiculous. It might as well be 4,900 times.

Whatever it is, it is well beyond my abilities. But then as I read more of Jesus, it seems that there is a cycle of forgiveness and that for God’s forgiveness of us to be actualized, we too must be take on the role of forgiver.

Maybe it helps a little to understand what is meant by forgiveness.

But first, what forgiveness is not.

Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiveness is an act of will, whereas, forgetting is a function of your brain. You can’t snap your fingers and forget an offense; you can as an act of the will commit yourself to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not giving up on the need for justice. Forgiveness may remove from you your need for retribution, but it does not remove the call for fairness and equity. So, forgiveness doesn’t mean letting somebody get away with bad behavior or lead you to refuse to report bad stuff when it needs to be reported.

Forgiving does not mean trusting. Several years ago I used an illustration that is perhaps the most remembered illustration I have used since I have been here.

Suppose I am walking down the hallway and I pass Linda. Linda has a big o fry pan in her hand. I say, “Hi Linda, how are you?” She swings the fry pan, knocks me upside my head, and I fall to the floor in a heap.

Immediately Linda apologizes and asks forgiveness. Following Jesus' command, I forgive her.

The next day, the same thing happens. Again She asks for forgiveness and I forgive her.

The next day, I am walking down the hallway and I see Linda again with a fry pan in her hand. So, I turn down a different hallway, because Linda, with a frypan cannot be trusted.

Forgiveness does not mean trusting.

Forgiveness does not dismiss bad behavior. Rudeness is rudeness, Jerks are jerks, mean people are mean people and forgiveness does not change them. And it does not mean you have to endure their behavior.

Forgiveness does not mean that you need to be friends. As Anne LaMott reminds us, forgiveness does not mean you do lunch together. Paul Meier, in his great little book, Don’t Let Jerks Get the Best of You, writes, “Forgiving a jerk does not mean that you have to cozy up to that Jerk and become fast friends. In fact, in most cases, you will need to keep away from jerks who mistreat you. Avoid them, if at all possible. If necessary, change jobs, golf partners, or the route you drive to work.”

Forgiveness does not mean that you don't need to walk away. Sadly, people have remained in abusive relationships because they have confused forgiveness with enduring abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, you can forgive and you must walk away.

So, What does forgiveness mean?

Forgiveness, the word used by Jesus in the greek New Testament is αφιημι, and it means to
let go,
to release,
to give up,
to leave behind.

Forgiveness means you give up the need for satisfaction, for retribution, for revenge, for punishment. Papa, in the novel The Shack, declares, Forgiveness is about “letting go of another person’s throat.”

Forgiveness is an indicator of inner strength. Sadly, some equate forgiveness with weakness or cowardice. Truth be told, it is the opposite of that. It takes tremendous intestinal fortitude to forgive- to let go, to release. Gandhi goes so far as to say that only the strong can forgive.

Forgiveness is liberating. Nelson Mandela tells us that if we don’t leave the bitterness and hatred behind, we’ll always be in a prison of our own making. A bumper sticker I once saw read “when you forgive, you are refusing to let someone else live rent free in your head.”

Forgiveness is a lifestyle. Dr. King reminds us that forgiveness is not a singular act, but a constant attitude.

Forgiveness means letting go of the dream that the past can be better. What has been has been and no amount of dwelling there will change it. So, forgiveness becomes an avenue to fresh starts.

Forgiveness is necessary if we are to move forward. The journey we walk is wrought with obstacles and forgiveness is an essential tool for navigating through those obstacles. As long as we are bitter, we can’t get better. Forgiveness is refusing bitterness its hold.

So, how do we do it? How do we learn to practice forgiveness as a integral part of our lives.

Jesus demands it, but it is so hard.

After all, there is a kind of comfort we experience in nursing a grudge and hoping for pay back.

And there is, by all accounts, a societal mandate for revenge and retribution.

Yet, Jesus is consistent in his teaching about forgiveness- do it. There aren’t caveats or exceptions, there is just the command- do it.


I am thinking that when Jesus answers Peter’s question about forgiveness, he notices in Peter’s reaction - a kind of disbelief, a lack of understanding. Because let’s face it, the ability to continue forgiving offense after offense, time after time, 7 or 77 or 490 times, appears to be more supernatural than human.

And so, Jesus tells a parable about a person who has a huge debt forgiven only to turn on a friend who owes him very little. When the one who forgave the massive debt becomes aware of the debt free person’s inability to forgive another, a righteous rage is expressed and the massive debt is restored.

I wonder if one of the primary purposes of the story is to instruct Peter, and all those who are listening, that the only way to learn to forgive is to come to the realization that you have been forgiven.

Once you come to understand that you are loved, forgiven, accepted, the idea of forgiving the schmuck who has offended you becomes more palatable. The failure of the man in the story was that he didn’t learn that forgiveness must beget forgiveness.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

The way we learn a life of forgiveness is to recognize that we are forgiven by a gracious and merciful God. Forgiveness, as understood in the gospel, is the simple act of reciprocation. God forgives us. Therefore, we gotta forgive others- 7 times or 77 times or 490 times or 4900 times- it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have been forgiven.

And as a forgiven one, you are both free and obligated to forgive others.


February 18, 2018: The Rest of the Story

Pastor Steve Mechem

Luke 15:21-32 New Revised Standard Version
Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But 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. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when
this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Audio only.

February 11, 2018: Carry on, My Wayward Son!

Pastor Steve Mechem

Luke 15:11-20 New Revised Standard Version
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The 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. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But 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! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So 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.

Audio only.

February 4, 2018: Losers and Lost

Pastor Steve Mechem

Luke 15:8-10 New Revised Standard Version
Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

I am a loser.

I don’t mean I am a Charlie Brown, 1908 - 2016 Chicago Cubs, Wylie Cyote, Washington Generals kind of loser.

I don’t mean loser in an existential, “no exit” kind of way.

I am not talking about self esteem, or self worth.

I am a loser … of things.

Always have been.

I am always losing or misplacing things.

The list is exhausting:
keys several times a week,
wallet continually,
how many pairs of gloves,
how many pairs of reading glasses,

my favorite Harvard baseball cap on the metro,
a beautiful watch Judi gave me for our 25th anniversary gone for good,
the car, (so far just misplaced in parking lots, not lost completely),
stocking caps,
bank cards,
shoes, (I have been missing a pair of black vans for about six months. If they are at your house, let me know),
a bicycle,
in Jerusalem, I misplaced (lost) my money belt complete with all of our money, our ids, passports for my entire family for 12 hour nightmare. It was, perhaps, the most panicked I have every been.
This past week, I lost my mom’s walker (for a bit). You ask, how could you do that. I respond, “its a gift.”

I am a loser. Any other losers in the room?

Jesus tells a story about a woman who is a loser- a loser of a cherished coin.

We know very little about the woman. We know she has nine coins, a house, a lamp, a broom, and friends.

Well, she had ten coins… but lost one.

Now, she might be a wealthy woman who has lost a coin out of its setting in a piece of jewelry, specifically a diadem. It was common in the ancient mideast to use coins as set pieces for Jewelry. Perhaps she is one day admiring her tiara and notices a missing coin. Oh no, her late husband gave her the headpiece as a wedding gift and now it is ruined because it is missing a coin, imagine losing a diamond setting out of a ring- same connotation.

She frantically tears her house apart. As a wealthy woman with a spacious home, she lights multiple lamps and sweeps in every corner of every room looking for her lost coin.

Or, perhaps she is a young woman and the 10 coins in her possession are an agree-upon dowry for her upcoming wedding and without the tenth coin, she will be rejected by her husband’s family.

She may be close to her wedding day, and the idea that the loss of a coin might mean the end of her hopes and dreams.

She frantically tears her house apart. She lights a lamp and sweeps in every corner looking for her lost coin.

Or, she might be a poor woman who has only 10 coins to her name, perhaps it is all that is left to her after her husband’s passing. She is managing her small inheritance very carefully, but now, all of a sudden, that missing tenth coin threatens her ability to survive.

Between upcoming taxes and family responsibilities,
she cannot make it without that tenth coin.

She frantically tears her house apart. She lights her single lamp and sweeps in every corner looking for her lost coin. As a poor woman, she lives in a home with dirt floors. And she sweeps them, hoping that in the cloud of dust the coin will shimmer.

I am reminded of hiking through the jungles in El Salvador and seeing one woman after another, sweeping the dirt in front of their tiny mud or tin homes. They were sweeping the loose dirt off the hard packed dirt on the narrow trail that leads to their front door.

Who ever the woman is, whatever her age, whatever her social status, she has lost a coin and the coin is of great importance to her. And so she looks for it. And looks for it. And looks for it.

When it is found, she is happy, joyful, celebrative, ecstatic. So excited is she that she runs from home to home in her village inviting neighbors and friends to her home to party with her- a little wine, a little bread, some cakes, lots of dancing, lots of laughter. That which was lost is found- its value restored.

Jesus tells this story as a group of religious elites, folks who thought they were better than others because of their religious views and deeds, were listening in. They were critical of the people who were following Jesus- misfits and underdogs and poor folks and collaborators and women who rented out their bodies and men who had sold their souls.

These religious folks were likewise critical of Jesus because he invited these people to join him, accepted them unconditionally, ate falafels and tilapia with them.

So, in order to make a point to these religious types, Jesus told a series of stories, one about a shepherd, one about a father and his boys, and this one, about a woman who lost a coin.

To his listeners that day, Jesus was declaring:

We are all equal in the sight of God. There are ten coins, all of which have great value to the woman and any of which would cause her grief if missing.

So it is with us and God. Each of us is valued, loved, esteemed as child of God. Equally deserving of God’s love and grace.

In his amazing little book, Animal Farm, George Orwell has the animals taking over Mr. Jones farm with a promise of equality among the animals. Over time, some animals came to see themselves as better, more important than others.

The sign that was originally posted reading, “All animals are Equal” soon evolved (or devolved) into a sign that reads, “All animals are Equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

While I am sure it can be debated, I would contend that almost every movement, political, social, religious that has begun with the promise “all people are created equal” has at some point devolved into a structure that allows access to some and denies access to those who are deemed less than.

Even the church,
with its leader Jesus
calling for radical mercy
and unconditional love
and unceasing servanthood.

Has often veered off course,
and declared some of us unworthy of grace and love.

If I am gay
or speak another language
or am poor
or am depressed
or come from another place
or am struggling
or am considered a loser
or have made big mistakes
or have failed miserably
or believe differently
or dress differently
or travel a different path
there are churches and church leaders who will write me off as lost, much like the religious folks confronting Jesus over his choice of followers declared both Jesus and his followers as unfit and unworthy.

Let’s learn from the woman in the story.
Each of us, each of them, is of value.

We, us and them, have been searched for and found in the love and grace of God.

Let us celebrate that love and grace and extend that love and grace to all those we encounter on our journey.

Amen and Amen.

February 2018 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for February is now available here.

January 2018 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for January is now available here.

December 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for December is now available here.