Monday, April 29, 2019

CEC News Alert and Father Riley's homily from April 28, 2019

CEC News Alerts:
…   Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist May 5, 19 and 26.

…   Capital Campaign fund raising is going well and work is progressing well also.  Sandblasting is finished and now Jeff McMurray (painter) is continuing surface preparation with scraping and sanding.  Thank you all for supporting this critical work.
Latest update of Capital Campaign donations:

 $                40,685.00 1st Mailing
 $                        20.20 Donation Box
 $                   5,000.00 Grant From Diocese
 $                23,000.00 Early Donations
 $                68,705.20 Balance To Date (4/28/19)

EASTER II - C - 19                                JOHN 20. 19-31

Today being the second Sunday after Easter, is traditionally called “low Sunday” in reference to the recorded attendance throughout the church on this day. However, it is also called “Thomas” Sunday in regards to the gospel story read on this day.

We all know the story too well. Jesus makes his first resurrection appearance on the evening of Easter day to his disciples who are hiding behind locked doors in the upper room. They are afraid that the Jews will come and arrest them and that they will suffer the same fate as their Lord.

In the midst of their fear and self-imposed isolation, Jesus appears to them and shows them the marks of the crucifixion. When they realize that it is Jesus, risen from the dead, their fear subsides and they rejoice at his appearing.

He brings his peace and breathes on them the gift of the Holy Spirit with the authority to represent Christ’s own ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation. They were all present save Thomas.

As suddenly as the risen Christ makes his presence known, and breathes new life into his disciples who were present, he disappears. Despondency may have kept Thomas away, but he eventually returns. The joyful disciples make Thomas aware that they have seen the risen Lord.

Thomas, however, does not believe them. He was not the only follower of Jesus that doubted. Only his was harder to remove. It is hard to take other’s word for something one has not experienced. Thus, he did not believe them.

Then, he utters a brash statement. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Eight days went by. And during that time, I can only imagine that Thomas was questioning the validity of the other disciple’s witness.

If what they said was true, where was he? Why had he not come back? Was that all there was to this idea of resurrection? One sudden appearance and nothing else?

However, Jesus does come back, and this time Thomas is present. No longer are the disciples afraid. The doors are not locked. Jesus, once again brings his peace, and then as if his intention in making his second appearance was strictly for the sake of Thomas, he confronts Thomas with a challenge.

OK, Thomas, here I am. See the marks of the nails in the palms of my hands. Look here is the wound in my side. Step up, come forward, and touch me. “Do not doubt but believe.“ Nowhere in the gospel does it say that Thomas did just touch Jesus. I have always felt he did not. Jesus’ appearance and his invitation to do so was enough proof for Thomas.

Thomas’ “doubt” was not one of ‘resistance to truth,” but one that desperately desired a truthful answer - a doubt that gave birth to faith, when the answer was revealed. The conversion of Thomas’ doubt into faith led him to the clearest confession of Christ’ divinity addressing him as “my lord and my God.”

His proclamation is the climax of the gospel. Easter had come to Thomas and his life and the life of the other disciples, as well as the life of the world, would never be the same.

Today’s gospel is a story of faith tested and of doubt transformed into certainty. In the midst of fear, Jesus appears. He identifies himself by the marks of the crucifixion. He bestows on his followers the fullness of his risen and glorified life - Peace, the true peace that restores the disciples to inner security and fearlessness.

The boldness of the disciples in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is shown in today’s first reading from Acts. No longer were they afraid of the Jews or what might befall them as followers of Jesus. Instead emboldened by the gift of the Holy Spirit they openly witnessed  to their belief in Him who died and rose again by teaching in his name and proclaiming his resurrection.

Faith untested is no real faith at all. Thomas’ faith was based on what he could see and believe with his own eyes. However, Jesus told him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Who are they, if not we?

As Easter Christians, our faith is not based on “signs and wonders” but on the apostolic witness contained in the Gospels and in the writings of the apostles. More importantly, our faith and belief is based on our personal encounters with the risen Lord.

How do we recognize the risen Christ today? How does He make himself known?

On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion had their hearts warmed by Jesus’ teaching as they walked with him. It was in the “breaking of the bread” that their eyes were opened to recognize the risen Lord. So it is for us. We can touch him in the Eucharist. We can see him in the face of friend and stranger.

Through the gift of the Holy Spirit we are able to recognize Him and in recognizing him, to live and witness to the Easter faith. Through Christ’s gift of true peace, we have that inner security and fearlessness that empowers us to do so. Faith overcomes fear every time.

The resurrection thus brings into being the church, its unity, its commission, and its endowments. All that Jesus has won through His life, death, and resurrection is given to his disciples and through them to the church. Lest we forget, we are church.

The church inherits the mission of reconciliation from Christ. That is, of bringing God to man and man to God. However, it is a mission that cannot be carried out unaided. Only by and through the gift of the Holy Spirit and our learning to cooperate with it can we do the work we have been given to do. AMEN+

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

CEC Capital Campaign update and Breaking News--April 23, 2019

CEC Breaking News!

…   Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist services Sunday, April 28 and May 5, 10am. 

  The high lift showed up today (April 23, 2019) at church to continue painting preparation.  Also, the handrails for our ramp are ready to be installed; however, we prefer to wait until painting is out of the way.

  The Capital Campaign donations continue to grow.  Here is the summary from Brenda Funderburg (our Treasurer) up thru April 22, 2019:

 $                33,185.00
1st Mailing
 $                       20.20
Donation Box
 $                  5,000.00
Grant From Diocese
 $                23,000.00
Early Donations
 $                61,205.20
Balance To Date (4/22/19)

Yes, you see $0.20 because we had 20 cents in the donation box this week; so, as we said, no amount is too small and no amount is too large! Thanks be to all who are supporting our Capital Campaign.

Here is one picture from our beautiful Easter service:

Monday, April 22, 2019

Father Riley's sermon for Easter Sunday, 2019

EASTER SUNDAY - C - 19                         LUKE 24. 1-10

The Easter story is the oldest story the Church has told for these past 2000 years. Surprisingly it was not the story of the virgin birth of Christ, as some might think, that initially drew converts to the church.

It was the story of one who had been crucified, dead and buried, then rose again, whose resurrection was witnessed by the women who went to the tomb, later by the Apostles and still later by more than 500 at once.

That is what captured people’s attention and captivated their imagination, which moved them to want to hear and know more about Jesus. All four gospels record what the women discovered on that first Easter morning, albeit with varying details. However, the bottom line is the same.

When the women went to the tomb on the first day of the week carrying spices in their hands to anoint the dead body of Jesus, they were not expecting resurrection. Instead, they found the tomb opened and the body absent.

Today we heard St. Luke’s account of that first Easter. Luke names the women who went to the tomb in order to authenticate their witness. He tells us it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and a group of other women who accompanied them. These were the ones who arrived at the tomb and made the discovery that it was empty.

The women did not hesitate to enter the tomb nor were they frightened that the body of Jesus was not there. They were perplexed, yes, frightened no. Not, that is, until two angels in “dazzling apparel” appeared. Then, the women did become frightened, Luke tells us, and were afraid to look at the two men instead; they bowed their heads to the ground.

What surprised the women was not that the stone had been rolled away, as one might think, or even more so that the tomb was empty, but the angel’s question:” Why do you seek the living among the dead? Do you not remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee,” the angels asked them, “that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise?”

The angel’s question jarred the women’s memory once they overcame their fear and allowed the words of Jesus’ promise of his resurrection to resonate in their hearts and minds. Then, with a sense of renewed hope, and astonishment, they returned to deliver the Easter message the angels had surprised them with to the eleven disciples and all those who were with them.

What did it mean to the women on that first Easter morning to enter the empty tomb and to be confronted with the angel’s question? Did they believe Jesus was risen from the dead? What did it mean to the disciples to hear from the women who had gone to the tomb that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead? Did they believe it?

What does it mean to us who are here today and are hearing it proclaimed again? Does our hearing it again mean any more or less to us than when we heard it proclaimed last Easter Sunday? Or the year before? Have we heard it so many times that we are no longer surprised?  Do we believe it?

The women obviously were not expecting to find an empty tomb - they carried spices in their hands to anoint the dead boy of Jesus. They obviously did not expect to encounter angelic beings whose presence frightened them.

And they obviously did not expect nor were they prepared to be confronted by the angel’s question as they stood in the darkness and dampness of the empty tomb with spices in their hands:  “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Don’t you remember what he said?”

The opening mood, then, of Easter morning is one of surprise, astonishment, fear and confusion. Easter is always a surprise, whether we meet it in celebrating the feast itself, or of the sudden surges of God’s grace overturning tragedy in our own lives or in the world around us.

The Easter message is one of resurrection. Each time we hear it our Hope in the resurrection to eternal life and reunion with those we love is raised anew, or should be. We are Easter Christians and like Lazarus whom Jesus called forth from the darkness of his tomb, we have been called from darkness of our lives into the light of new life. It is the risen Christ’s gift to those who believe in Him.

Sometimes I think we have celebrated so many Easters that we forget the true meaning of Easter. It is all too easy for us to fall back to the edge of the tomb of tragedy and defeat as we make our way through this earthly life, setting aside our faith, and trust in God.

However, we can no more pull ourselves from the edge of the tomb than Lazarus did. It is the risen Christ that reaches into the darkness and takes our hand pulling us into the light of life. That is resurrection.

That is the Easter message, a message that comes to us again and again not just on this day of annual celebration. But each and every time we find ourselves at the edge of the tomb of darkness and despair, pain and sorrow. Jesus Christ risen from the dead brings new life to all who believe in Him who had the power to lay down his life and take it again. By whose death he has destroyed death and made the whole creation new.

This new life, which is ours in Him, is not confined to some future event we call eternal life, which we Hope to one day enjoy in the fullness of the presence of God, but this new life can be ours in the here and now. “I am resurrection and I am life, “Jesus said to Martha at the tomb of her brother Lazarus. “Do you believe this?”

The Easter celebration bids us not only to remember Jesus‘ words spoken to Martha at the tomb of her brother, but also to believe them as Martha did and let them resonate in our hearts and minds. Then, live ours lives accordingly as Easter Christians.

From the beginning the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news not because it chooses to tell us things we did not expect, were not inclined to believe, and could not understand. But because it did.

Think about it. Did we expect the gospel would be something obvious, something we could have dreamed up for ourselves? Are we not yet surprised that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? Or are we still surprised by the angels’ question? “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! AMEN+

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Father Riley's Good Friday homily (April 19, 2019)

GOOD FRIDAY - C - 19                                  JOHN 18. 1- 19.37

Few Christians observe Good Friday, that is, liturgically speaking Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans do. For others Holy Week, as we know it and keep it, is not so observed. Perhaps in some instances a drama of sorts, called a Passion play is conducted with more emphasis on the empty tomb than the cross.

However, today is the day to refocus our vision on Christ crucified. We do this by focusing clearly on the readings of the day - the Servant Song from Isaiah, the passage from the letter to the Hebrews, and the Passion according to Saint John in order to enter into the true meaning of the day.

The readings do not seek to invoke a sense of guilt in us because our sins have caused the sinless Jesus to suffer and die. Nor do the readings strive to create feelings of compassion to make us wish we had been historically present at the crucifixion so that we could have consoled Jesus in his suffering.

The readings proclaim what God has done for us in Christ and bid us a new to receive the gift of God’s redemptive love in our lives. That is why we call is Good Friday.

The opening words from the first reading from the prophet Isaiah proclaims the good news of God’s Paschal victory in Christ: “Behold, my servant shall prosper, shall be exalted and lifted up.” Joined to that theme is St. John’s theme that permeates his passion narrative: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw the whole world to myself.”

Isaiah does not deny the terrible sufferings that the servant must undergo; but the emphasis is not upon the horror of those sufferings. Rather it seeks to proclaim their significance within God’s plan of salvation: “He was wounded for our transgressions, and was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement that made us whole was upon him, by whose stripes we are healed.”

The liturgy of Good Friday causes us to focus on the crucified one, lifted up, as drawing all humankind to himself, so that his wounds can be a source of healing unto new life.

As I said a moment ago, many Christians choose not to observe the events of Holy Week but prefer instead to skip to Easter. This makes it easy not to focus on the crucified Jesus, but rather the empty cross and the empty tomb.

True, we are Easter Christians who are on this side of the cross, but we would not be Easter Christians had it not been for the crucifixion. Today is the day to put ourselves on the other side of cross.

On Good Friday we gather as a Christian community around the proclamation of the Paschal mystery in Isaiah, Hebrews, and the Passion of St. John to receive God’s gift of new life in Jesus Christ crucified. To focus on him who died for us is to proclaim the good news of God’s redemptive love in Christ.

From his pierced side issued forth water and blood, which cleansed the world of her sins, including yours and mine. By his wounds, we are healed anew by the woundedness of our lives being drawn into him so that we may receive the gift of new life and healing promised to us in the Word of God.

Easter, with its focus on the empty cross and the empty tomb brings with it the hope of resurrection to everlasting life because of Jesus’ victory over death. Good Friday, with our focus on Him who died on the cross, brings the gifts of life and healing that can become for us a lived reality to the forefront once again, so that we may witness in truth what we petition in the bidding prayers.

Let us, then, lift high the life-giving cross as a sign of our faith in what God is doing for us in Christ Jesus crucified and risen. For in our focusing on the one who was lifted up on the cross, we are reminded once more that through God’s grace and mercy we have been reconciled to God.

And not by any merits of our own, but by the merits of Him who died and rose again as a sign of God’s redemptive Love to a broken and sinful world that God’s Love wins. AMEN+

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Father Riley's homily from Palm Sunday 2019 and news for you

…   Father Riley will lead us in the following services:
 ---  April 19, Good Friday and Stations of the Cross.  "Stations" will begin about 11:30am with Good Friday service following at noon.  Following the guidance of The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate , The Episcopal Church, the Good Friday Offering of our church will support the ministry of our Anglican sisters and brothers in the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

---   April 21, Easter Service, 10am.  Sunday, April 28 and May 5, 10am Holy Eucharist. 

Latest updates from Brenda Funderburg (our Treasurer) regarding our Capital Campaign:
 $                22,085.00
1st Mailing
 $                         20.00
Donation Box
 $                   5,000.00
Grant from Diocese
 $                23,000.00
Early Donations
 $                50,105.00
Balance To Date (4/15/19)

Thank you all for supporting our Capital Campaign.  The work is underway.

PALM SUNDAY - C - 19                LUKE 22. 39 - 23.56

Palm Sunday is the only celebration of the Church wherein we read two gospel passages, which stand in mark contrast to each other. The liturgy of the Palms presents us with a picture of the joyful entry of Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem.

The disciples, as Luke describes the scene, are ecstatic as they follow along behind him. The crowd that greets Jesus is equally celebratory as they shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” On that day, it was a festal atmosphere that surrounded Christ’ arrival.

There were others in the crowd, however, who were not impressed with his dramatic entry nor with the people’s reaction. Their presence and attitude is but a foreshadowing of things to come. St. Luke’s account of the arrest, trial, and death of Jesus detail the chain of events that ended Christ’s earthly life and stand in stark contrast to his joyful entry into the holy city.

I have often wondered what Jesus was thinking as he rode through the streets of the Jerusalem to the cheers of the people. He knew that only a few days later he would be forced to try to carry his cross to the place of the skull through these very same streets. However, he would be unable to, due to his weakened physical state. Instead a rank stranger would be chosen from the crowd and forced to carry it for him.

This time there would be no cheers, instead a group of weeping and wailing women would follow behind him. On that day, his disciples would be nowhere to be found. He knew his destiny was to die on that cross. Yet he prayed in the garden the night before his crucifixion that the cup might be removed from him.

That night in the garden, where he prayed and the disciples slept, was the longest in the earthly life of Christ. In it, he was betrayed by one of his chosen band, arrested and led away as a common criminal. When day came, having had no sleep, he was paraded before the assembly of the elders.

He was questioned after having been mocked beaten and reviled by those who had arrested him. It didn’t end there.

The religious accusations against Jesus would not be enough to justify his death under Roman occupation. Thus, they drag him before the Roman governor with trumped up charges of a political nature.

“We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that himself is Christ the king.”

Pilate does not take them seriously. He sends Jesus away to be questioned by Herod once he discovers Jesus is a Galilean. Herod sees Jesus as a novelty and questions him at length. Jesus, however, refuses to answer any of Herod’s questions. Again, he is mocked and treated with contempt by Herod’s soldiers before being sent back to Pilate.

Three times Pilate tries to release Jesus. Three times the Jews stir up the crowd to ask for Barabbas, a thief and a murderer. When Pilate asks what they wish him to do with Jesus, they all cried, “Crucify him.” And their voices prevailed. We all know what happens next.

Jesus is crucified between two thieves representing fallen humanity, one on his right and one on his left. As he hangs on the cross, he asks God to forgive those who have contributed to his death; the people who stood there in silence and watched him die, the rulers who scoffed at him as he hung on the cross, the soldiers who crucified him and cast lots for his clothing.

One of the thieves wanted to use Jesus to avoid responsibility for his actions. The other accepts his sentence and asks simply to be remembered.  Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you. Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

And then, the lights went out “there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then, Jesus cried with a loud voice, and said “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit. And having said this, he breathed his last.”

Jesus does not have his life taken from him, but voluntarily commits it to the Father. His death reconciles man to God. To be reconciled to Christ is the path to paradise.

Christ accepted human nature in order to sanctify it. He accepted our weakness in order to make us strong. He takes on our sin in order to free us from sin. He suffers in order to transfigure suffering. He endures death in order to destroy it.

With each Lent, the image of the dying Christ is impressed on the eyes of the world. What are the reactions? What are our reactions?

Some, like the crowd who stood there watching, are silent, as if what they see does not move them one way or the other. The unbelieving, like the rulers of the people who cried out for his death, and the one thief hanging next to him, challenge the dying Jesus, “if your are the Christ of God, save yourself… and us.”

There are others who looking at the dying Jesus on the cross acknowledge their failures and accept responsibility for their actions and cry out for help - Jesus remember me.

Sadly, there are still others who simply look the other way. They are completely oblivious to what it all means. Shrugging their shoulders and remarking what difference does it make? What difference has it made?

I dare say that we have all been one or more of these at some time in our life. But through the grace and mercy of God, have come to the knowledge, as did the Centurion, that Jesus was innocent. Even more so, that through Christ’ death and resurrection, we have been reconciled to God.

To know Christ and the power of his resurrection makes all the difference in the world for those of us who believe in Jesus as the Son of God. For we now live with the Promise that we too will be remembered by Him and one day shall be with Him in the paradise of God. AMEN+

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Forward Day by Day reading and CEC News Alerts

CEC News Alerts:

…   Father Riley will lead us in the following services in April:

 ---   April 14, Palm Sunday.  Church at 10am.  Please show up early to process into church  with palms from Parish house (weather permitting).  Also, so up early for our final Lenten Sunday School at 9am.

 ---  April 19, Good Friday and Stations of the Cross.  "Stations" will begin about 11:30am with Good Friday service following at noon.  Following the guidance of The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate , The Episcopal Church, the Good Friday Offering of our church will support the ministry of our Anglican sisters and brothers in the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

---   April 21, Easter Service, 10am.  Sunday, April 28, 10am Holy Eucharist.

…     Capital Campaign funding update:
     ...Early donations :           $23,000
     ...Diocesan grant:             $  5,000
     ...Donation box:               $       20
     ...1st week giving:            $  5,000
     TOTAL as of 7Apr19       $33,020

From the Forward Day by Day for April 11, 2019

Psalms 133:1 Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity!

In a musical production, actors and musicians offer up many songs and spoken lines. Despite the diversity of instruments and vocal ranges, it is imperative that the acting company and orchestra all come together in harmony, melody, and action. In the same way, we too must learn to live in community as complementary partners and producers.

We are tethered to God and each other throughout our Christian journey. When we allow the unholy powers of the world to separate us, we are commanded to mend what is broken, seek reconciliation, and live in peace.

The children of Israel sing Psalm 133 as they make their way to Jerusalem for festival worship. They are not on solo journeys—they are a community traveling together, sharing a common purpose and path, striving toward a common goal. May we do and be the same.

You can view the Forward Day by Day meditations and other guidance at the website:

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Repair and painting of church exterior has begun!

CEC News alerts !

!!!! Slightly ahead of time; but, that's ok:  The work on the church exterior has begun.  The Sandblaster tested different techniques to get Jeff McMurray's (painter) approval.  Please be aware there will be some sand around the church.  The 2019 Capital Campaign donation letters will go out Friday, April 5th.  If you receive a donation letter, please respond by May 1, or as soon as you can.
     Here's an image of the early work today (April 3, 2019):


… We will have Morning Prayer this Sunday, April 7 (no Sunday School)
…   Father Riley will lead us in the following services in April:

 ---   April 14, Palm Sunday.  Church at 10am.  Please show up early to process into church  with palms from Parish house.  Also, so up early for our final Lenten Sunday School at 9am.

 ---  April 19, Good Friday and Stations of the Cross.  "Stations" will begin about 11:30am with Good Friday service following at noon.

---   April 21, Easter Service.  10am.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Father Riley's homily from March 31, 2019

CEC News alerts !

… We will have Morning Prayer this Sunday, April 7 (no Sunday School)

…   Father Riley will lead us in the following services in April:

 ---   April 14, Palm Sunday.  Church at 10am.  Please show up early to process into church  with palms from Parish house.  Also, so up early for our final Lenten Sunday School at 9am.

 ---  April 19, Good Friday and Stations of the Cross.  "Stations" will begin about 11:30am with Good Friday service following at noon.

---   April 21, Easter Service.  10am.

---   April 28 , Holy Eucharist at 10am

LENT IV - C- 19                                       LUKE 15. 1-3, 11B - 32

Today’s gospel story is a most familiar one. Yet it only occurs in Luke. We have all heard it and read it many times. It follows the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. It is the story of the lost son. Moreover, it lends itself to a couple of catchwords that even the un-churched toss about at will, the “fatted calf” and “the prodigal.”

Jesus’ aim in telling it was to portray the difference between God’s loving forgiveness and the self-centered complacency that not only denies love, but cannot understand it or worse yet, in some cases even resents it.

Jesus was teaching and a crowd had gathered around him. He had already told the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin prior to the Pharisees and scribes drawing near. As they did so they did not hesitate to make public their distain of the company he was keeping.

In response to their grumbling, Jesus tells the story of the lost son. Notice there is two sons in the story. I will come back to the other one in a moment. For now, the emphasis is on the younger one who cannot wait until his father dies to receive his portion of the inheritance. Like many young people today, he wants it right now!

Though disappointed, the father gives in to his young son’s request much to the chagrin of the elder brother. So off the younger goes to the big city where he quickly squanders all that he has in riotous living. Times are tough. A famine strikes the country where he is. He has no job. No income. He is on the verge of starving. He is homeless and without family or friend.

He hires himself out to one of the landowners who raise hogs. His job is to feed the hogs. He is so hungry that he eats what the hogs eat. There was no lower estate for a Jew than to do what he was doing. He had hit rock bottom.

Then one day as he was going out to feed the hogs it dawned on him that if only he were back home where even his father’s servants had plenty to eat, he would not be starving. Therefore, he walked off his menial job and started home.

On the way, he practiced what he would say once he came face to face with his father. “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.”

Like many of us as parents, his father prayed and hoped that one day he would come to his senses and see the mistake he had made and would be willing to return and admit it. He kept an eye out everyday for his lost son’s return.

Then, one day, there he was. The father recognized his gate at a distance. He did not wait for him to turn into the lane that led to the house. He leaped off the porch, ran to meet him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. At first, the lost son was stunned at the reception he was receiving.

Then, he remembered his lines, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son…” However, before he could finish his request to be treated like one of the hired hands, his father called one of the servants to bring his best robe, a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet.

The father’s motive was compassion. When the son repeats his confession, the father makes him not a servant, but an honored son, not work clothes, but the best robe is put upon him; not the yoke of slavery, but the ring of son ship; not the barefoot service of slaves, but the sandals of a son. If all that were not enough, a great feast is held with the young man as the honored guest.

His place as a son is freely restored. From the moment the father gives the younger son what he wanted, through to the wonderful homecoming welcome, we have a vivid picture as anywhere in Jesus’ teaching of what God’s love is like, and of what Jesus himself took as the model of his own ministry of welcome to the outcasts and sinners that flocked to him.

The older son, however, provides the real punch line of the parable. He is out working in the field when a servant runs up to him and gives him the good news that his brother has returned.

He hears the music and as he approached the house, he sees people dancing and laughing. There is a party going on but he has decided not to participate.

He remains outside. He is angry that his father would receive his younger brother back as if nothing had happened. The father pleads with him to come in and welcome his brother who was lost and is now found, was dead and is now alive. He will not. It is not that easy for him to forgive what his brother has done.

He has been the dutiful one. He has been the go to guy his father could always depend on. However, not once has a party been thrown for him. He is resentful of his brother’s welcome and cannot find it in his heart to forgive him. The story ends with the father assuring the elder son that his place has always been with him and always will.

Forgiveness is both one of the more consoling and one of the more challenging themes in the gospel. The consoling aspect consists in God’s mercy and compassion. The challenge lies in our capacity to forgive others.

The two brothers in the story represent us in the way we sometimes think of ourselves in the eyes of God and man. The younger brother confessed his sins. He admitted he was a sinner and because he had sinned, he considered himself unworthy to be called a son.

Being a sinner alone does not make one unworthy. We have all sinned and fallen short in the eyes of God. God loves the sinner and forgives him on the basis of repentance. That is at the heart of the gospel. Acknowledging our sinfulness opens our eyes to see how undeserving we are of God’s infinite, compassionate, generous, faithful love.

To know we are undeserving of God’s love and yet we continually receive it deepens our appreciation of God’s greatest gifts: His forgiveness and love. However, it is not something to be taken for granted. The proper response to God’s love and forgiveness is gratitude and our accepting the challenge to forgive as we have been forgiven.

As St. Paul says, “all this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. God even entrusted us with the message of reconciliation and in that makes his appeal through us.” The elder brother, the resentful one, the angry one, who refused to go into the party and welcome his brother home, also represents us in the challenge of forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean liking someone who has hurt us, or agreeing with them when in our heart we do not, or acting as if nothing happened when it did happen. The elder son was right in remaining outside and refusing to go into the party if his heart was not open to welcoming his brother back with open arms, as did his father.

There can be no reconciliation if it is offered with resentment. Forgiveness means being open to reconciliation and the healing of relationships. It means a willingness to let go of offenses as God does, not storing them up, not letting them harden like cement, not letting them become resentments and bitterness.

Jesus tells this story to a group of Pharisees and scribes who see themselves as more deserving of God’s love than those Jesus is keeping company with. They see themselves as the dutiful son and the tax collectors and sinners that surround Jesus as not worthy of God’s forgiveness.

When we see ourselves as better than someone else, we alienate our selves from God. It leads us to imagine there is nothing so very wrong with us. This in turn leads to a false sense of self-righteousness and the taking for granted God’s love and mercy.

I have often wondered what the Pharisees and scribes who listened to Jesus tell this story must have thought afterwards. Did they change their opinion of those Jesus was with? Did they change their opinion of themselves? What about us?

Today’s parable raises two questions for us. How can we accept God as the one who forgives? Moreover, how can we begin to be as forgiving and as compassionate as God knowing that God’s love, mercy, and saving grace goes out to all, even those we do not expect to receive it. AMEN+