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reach the promised land of Canaan and dine on the produce of the land. They no longer need manna to fall from heaven. Psalm 32 The Lord provides forgiveness and safety and wisdom. Listen for what the psalmist writes about the “stubbornness of a mule.” 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 We are new creations through Christ and are ambassadors of the Good News. The Holy Gospel according to the Community of St. Luke in the 15th Chapter Glory to you, O Lord Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So Jesus told them this parable: "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 the divided his property between the two sons.
2 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. 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.
3 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. The slave replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then the elder son 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.'" The Gospel of the Lord
4 Praise to you, O Christ Compassion The story of the prodigal son is so familiar to us. We know it is a happily ever after. It is a story with a surprise ending that we have heard so many times, we are no longer surprised. The father is filled with compassion and greets his lost son with joy. The son squandered fully half of his father’s resources. He has nothing left except the rags on his back. He comes back completely empty handed without a penny to his name. His inheritance is gone, every last cent. The father would be well within his rights to be furious, to refuse to even speak to his son. He would do the young man a favor if he let him work as a slave on his farm. The father is filled with compassion and greets his lost son, not just kindly or gently or with welcome, he greets his son with joy. I love this story! I love what it teaches us about spirituality. Spirituality is a popular word in our society these days. There is a new-found interest in things spiritual. There are people who seek spirituality in many interesting ways— through meditation, crystals, nature, candles, incense, prayer. When people I meet find out that I am a pastor, they often feel the need to explain their spirituality to me. In fact, what they usually want to explain is why they are not active in a community of faith. They say: “Well, I am not religious. I am spiritual.” Usually, my response is: “How interesting! I have found that it is possible to be both, spiritual and religious.
5 I do not find it necessary to distinguish these two things so carefully.” People often look puzzled, suddenly a little unsure of themselves and of me. They seem to doubt that it is possible to participate in organized religion and be spiritual at the same time. I am happy to say that I do not find religion and spirituality to be mutually exclusive. Since I am here to be a spiritual leader, I suspect you are happy about that too! What does it mean to be spiritual? It certainly means different things to different people. I think and believe that spirituality is a way of life. My Christian journey has led me to seek a spirituality, a way of life, that is best expressed in the word “compassion.” It seems to me that a spirituality focused on the redemptive act of Jesus the Christ must be about compassion. I do not know everything there is to know about compassion. I think, though, that I have learned some things that are worth sharing. Several of my thoughts about a spirituality, a way of life, that centers on compassion are reflected in our Gospel story today. I think and believe that compassion is more verb than noun; compassion is an action word. The father in our story is not only filled with compassion, he acts on his feelings. He runs to meet his son, kills the fatted calf, throws a party, welcomes his son with love and forgiveness. The father’s spirituality of compassion calls him to action. A Story
6 About ten years ago, my husband John and I visited a medical clinic located in the community of people who live at the site of the former city dump in Juarez, Mexico. We found a little girl. Her name is Aurora. She came to the clinic that day carrying her tattered x-rays in a grocery bag. Aurora was born with a hole in her heart, a condition that is always corrected in our country by the age of two. Aurora’s heart was not repaired and during her eight years of life, she became increasingly weaker. Without treatment, Aurora would soon die. Aurora’s mother, Teresa, was diligent in her efforts to get treatment. She took Aurora to three different government hospitals during her short life. The doctors did not have the resources to repair Aurora’s heart. The doctors told her mother to “take her home and wait for the angels to come for her.” When Aurora became too weak to go to school, to play, to walk more than a few steps, Teresa tried one more time. She brought her child to the clinic at the dump. Dra. San Juana Mendoza is the doctor who serves the clinic. She introduced John and I to Aurora. When we returned to Denver, John got on the phone and I started writing letters and sending e-mails. The rest of the story is that Aurora came to Denver; her heart was repaired at Children’s Hospital. She returned to Juarez healthy and whole and went back to school. She takes no medication and will need no additional treatment. Aurora is a good student. She graduated from high school last year—the very first person in her family to ever graduate— a rare accomplishment for children of poverty in Mexico.
7 She is in college now. Aurora tutors a neighbor girl with Downs Syndrome. She wants to be a teacher of special education. Compassion is an action word. Compassion is also contagious. A spirituality, a way of life, of compassion calls us to action. When we act, compassion grows and flourishes in our lives and in the lives of others. As we seek to learn to imitate Christ during these Sundays of Lent, today we share a story that teaches us the compassion of Christ. Compassion that calls us to action, calls us to take risks, calls us to uncomfortable places, as we imitate the compassion of Christ. There is something else I know about compassion— compassion needs to be an every day, all the time spirituality, an every day, all the time way of life for each one of us, and for our congregation. As Jesus comes, this morning, to our church, His question to us, his first question is, “How do you, the people of God in this place, share my compassion with others?” He doesn’t care very much, it seems, about our building, for example. His only question about the building is, “How do you use this resource to share my compassion with others?” Jesus doesn’t care very much about our balanced budget
8 or our financial reserves. His only question about money is, “How do you use this resource to share my compassion with others?” Jesus doesn’t care very much about our numbers—about our average Sunday attendance. His only question about us is, “How do you use your gifts and energies to share my compassion with others?” Jesus doesn’t even care very much about coffee hour! His only question to us is, “How do you use the strength you gain from loving relationships in your congregation to serve the world with compassion? How will we answer Jesus’ questions? [Well, we use our building to provide compassionate day care for children whose parents work and need a safe and affordable place to leave their children. We use our chapel to provide a hot and nourishing lunch to senior citizens even if they are unable to make a contribution. We also use our chapel for classes for people who want to learn English. We use our sanctuary as a place where EVERYONE can come and hear the Good News and pray and study and worship. And, Jesus, we give a generous offering every month to our Rocky Mountain Synod. Those funds go around the world to help people in need.
9 We care for one another in our congregation and, sometimes, we volunteer or give gifts and time to others in our community.] These, Jesus, are the ways we use our resources to bring your compassion to others. Then, Jesus will ask: “How will you use your resources in the future to bring my compassion to more and more people? How will you make the very best use of your building and your finances and your gifts and energies to share my compassion in the very most generous ways? The compassion of a Father brings a surprise ending for his younger son who returned home broken and penniless. The compassion of many people from Denver brings a surprise ending for a little girl whose parents waited for the angels to come for her. What is the surprise ending for our congregation? Jesus’ question for us— How will we use our resources in the future in the very best ways possible to bring the most compassion to the greatest number of people in our community and in our world? How will we imitate the compassion of Christ— Compassion that comes to us, freely given, without cost, every minute of our lives? Amen
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