The sermon begins around 28 minutes in.
I’m nervous today. I tried to re-write this sermon like five times but couldn’t. So I guess this is the sermon God wants me to deliver!
It’s not politically or socially controversial. Theologically? Maybe. I say some things about who God is and who we are that might make you feel uncomfortable. (I am glad we are not living in the 17th century!)
We’re dealing with two texts this morning: Paul telling us to be ambassadors for Christ and the well-known parable of the “The Prodigal Son.” Paul is a genius and Jesus is subversive.
I am going to focus on the dysfunctional and even disturbing love of God who throws a party for the undeserving riff raff, like you and me! And our job as Ambassadors is to welcome the riff raff, even the unrepentant ones, because that is who God is!
As Mae West said in the movie “All About Eve,” “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Let us pray: OK God, here we go, we are fastened in. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
My brother Andy is a foreign service officer of the U.S State Department. While he does not have the title of “Ambassador,” he is the face and voice of our country in the countries that he serves. He has represented you and me in Syria, Oman, Egypt and Uganda. I am very proud of him.
It is not always easy being an ambassador.
He was inside the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt the day it was attacked. He accompanied representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood to DC for meetings. He liked these men. He took them to 5 Guys hamburgers in Dulles airport. Several weeks later Andy informed these men that the US was no longer backing them. Today, his “5 Guys buddies” are all dead or in prison.
Andy made relationships with the LGBTQ community in Uganda – Uganda is not a safe place if you are not acting “straight.” Some in the State Dept. whose fundamentalist Christianity makes them more holy than Jesus, didn’t feel comfortable with Andy’s outreach.
I’ve asked him, “How do you do this work?” He says that he holds fast to the best of the American aspirations: democracy, human rights and dignity – all those things that we hold as essential.
Saint Paul wrote: “We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.” Let’s start there.
What and who are you and I representing to the world?
Paul said, “We regard no one from a human point of view.”
So outward appearance, orientation, wealth, status – any measure of success – Paul says these are unimportant. What you have done or haven’t done? Your past doesn’t matter.
Your political party, where you stand on abortion, who can decorate cakes for whom. It’s of no consequence.
We represent a reconciling God. So we reconcile – bringing together those who are separated. We don’t seek to divide by fear or drive wedges or seek revenge on our enemies. We make room at the table, share our bread, forgive.
Our aspiration is not so much to make people fit for heaven but to invite everyone to a party; a kingdom of God party where the weak are strong and the poor are rich and last are first, and sinners are especially welcome.
I believe this is what Jesus taught and how he lived and what he wants from his church.
(Are you with me so far? If so, you can say “amen” or you can say “well…”)
It isn’t easy being an ambassador for Christ.
We’re supposed to say “Yes” to the Golden Rule, ten commandments, sermon on the mount – but we are not rule followers.
In God’s kingdom, faithfulness is more important than success, passion is more important than purity, and questioning, wondering, even doubting, is much more interesting than behaving. (I know we have children sitting with their parents so you’d better cover their ears!)
God, you see, writes straight with crooked lines. And I think God enjoys seeing you drawing outside the lines sometimes – pushing boundaries, breaking down walls, being creative, stirring things up, yes, even misbehaving. (I’ll probably get some emails about that!);
Well-behaved women seldom make history. And this goes for everyone else too.
It is not about heaven and hell. It is about heaven on earth! That is what Jesus prayed! “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Or a “commonwealth of peace and freedom,” as the New Zealand Prayer book interprets these words.
As Ambassadors of Christ we have one message: Love wins. We don’t earn this love or even deserve it – it’s just the way God is!
God loves everybody. When Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross, it was the ultimate expression of a love that is wide enough for everybody – he was bringing everybody in.
Even folks who don’t believe. Especially folks who, in our eyes, are not deemed worthy: criminals, terrorists, the impure and even those (like many of us) who live uptight and worried lives. (God wants you to loosen up!)
This is the scandal of the cross!
Now let me be really clear. I have a healthy respect for the power of sin and evil in our world – it is real, it is tempting. Jesus himself prayed, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” If you break the law you need to be held accountable. That is the way it is done on earth.
But here’s another scandalous thing – which may get me in trouble – it may not be the way it is done in heaven. (We humans project a lot of stuff on our Creator.)
Being an ambassador for God drives demons crazy; drives earthly powers crazy too. It got Jesus killed.
Love makes you do crazy things… like call Co-Pastors or become a Sanctuary church.
There was once a threatening message on our Facebook page about Leonor: “We are going to come get her and turn her over to ICE.”
I almost wrote back: “You are a beloved child of God too, you idiot!”
Ambassadors of Christ love, forgive, welcome, reconcile. It’s just that easy….and just that hard.
We serve a God and a Christ that don’t play by human rules. That can’t be boxed in. Whose love is so wide and high and inclusive that it doesn’t reflect the way the world works! It isn’t fair.
And consider the parable of the prodigal son. (Maybe the “enabling father” would be better description. By the way how come all biblical families are so dysfunctional? God really loves messed up families. Take that to heart!)
I wouldn’t be surprised if the father in this parable has been “played” before. There are a lot of fathers like this dad. Always ready to take children back, again and again and again.
But remember. A parable is not some folksy tale. A parable is meant to cause tension – not confirm what you think you know. A parable is revealing something about the Kingdom of God, and of God’s own self.
A mustard seed, a weed, takes over the field and drives the farmer crazy. The Kingdom of God is like that! I hate weeds, I love my Round Up!
God is like this. The kingdom is like this. Everybody gets the same pay no matter how many hours they work. Scandalous! Its un-American!
The only thing that God is really ticked off about is one who doesn’t forgive, or share or come to the party. Don’t get God started about harming the immigrant and the widow and the orphan. Christ will take a sinner over a holy person any day! And woe to those who try to point out the wrong doers!
Most other things God doesn’t care about, ultimately.
So why should we act good? That’s a good question. (Talk about that one over supper. We can’t do everything in one sermon!)
The setting of one parable is a dinner table with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus becomes impure because he dined with …. with… “THOSE PEOPLE.”
God is like, and the kingdom of God is like, a father who waits and waits and waits while his son wastes and wastes and wastes and wakes up eating with the pigs (not very kosher).
He thinks, “Heck, my father’s hired hands are eating better.”
I’m not sure he’s really repentant, he’s just hungry. He is practicing, “Oh daddy, I am no longer fit to be called your son. Treat me like your hired hands and I’ll never do it again!”
Yeah, right. Maybe.
Notice that the father doesn’t even listen to his son. Besotted, he calls for the Gucci robe, and the Kate Spade sandals, saying, “Here are some rings, go kill the fatted calf, invite your riff-raff friends and let’s party… and, oh, here’s 20 bucks.”
You think the dad is really going to let the son work with the hired hands? Come on!
I bet the unnamed and unseen wife and mother isn’t happy! The older brother is not so happy, either – and I get it. Because he is right. What ever happened to consequences?
God is a prodigal-enabling parent. God is crazy – she doesn’t recognize hard work, and loyalty.
The Kingdom of God is a gathering of sinners, a party of evil doers, bad children, and dysfunctional families; those who have wasted the gifts.
Yes, some who have had a change of heart and mind, who are free of guilt, but also those who find it hard to trust, and hard to change, and are still burdened.
The dead and the lost suddenly have life and are found because they stumbled into a party that they didn’t deserve.
I know, I know. There are other bible verses about “wailing and gnashing.” But read carefully and you’ll find that those who are wailing and gnashing are the older brother types.
You want to be an ambassador of that? Radical acceptance, forgiveness, wastefulness…doesn’t matter what you did. It is almost, maybe even, un-Christian!
But I believe that God recognizes God’s likeness and image in all persons – good or bad – and does not turn away from them or you.
Stay away as long as you want, waste it all, practice your speech, stay mad – but this Bud’s for you and there’s no cover charge – Jesus took care of it!
As Isaiah (55:8-9) wrote so many years ago: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I know that’s right!
I’m telling you, parables will blow your mind! Stay away from them because they’ll mess you up!
But if you are going to be an Ambassador for Christ you should at least know what his policies are and who and what you are representing!