This week’s passage might be the most well-known parable in the Bible. Since it is so well-known, we also know exactly what it means. We are the terrible son, God is the forgiving father, and the bitter brother is, I don’t know, Robert Jeffress? As we discussed last week, the beauty of a parable is that it opens more questions than it answers. Read properly, we can come back to a parable over and over again and find new avenues of transformation. But, for now, let’s dive into the familiar.
We shouldn’t dismiss the traditional understanding. Certainly, the message of forgiveness is a good one. As Oscar Wilde famously said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” There are many of us who feel as though we’ve made mistakes – and some of us actually have! – and it is good to confess and feel the freedom of absolution. Just having someone tell us we’re okay, that our life is not defined by one or even many poor judgments, is certainly an occasion for joy.
I will let you judge whether this is a confession or a revelation, but it turns out I did not know what “prodigal” means. I have only ever heard it in the context of this parable and, since it is grouped with the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin, I assumed it meant “lost.” It does not; it means “recklessly extravagant” or “lavishly abundant.” This, of course, brings into sharp focus the nature of the son’s sins and the father’s forgiveness.
This is not just a selfish kid who ran away from home with his inheritance. He was impatient and arrogant, viewing his loving father as an obstacle to his prosperity. When that obstacle was removed, he squandered what he had. We Christians often use the word “faith” and it has come to mean “beliefs we have no good reason for holding.” But here we see a perfect example of true faith, if only through negation. The son’s lack of faith is the failure to recognize that he came from somewhere, that he did not birth or raise himself. As a result, he did not respect and care for what he had been given. This makes the father’s forgiveness not only remarkable, but also entirely appropriate as an example of what forgiveness means. Where the son disavowed his family and severed ties, the father welcomed him home. Where the child was recklessly extravagant, spending in a way that destroyed him, the father celebrated with abundance that built him up. The son was careening toward death and the father welcomed him into life, abundant life. I think we could all use that at some point in our lives.
Of course, there are many other ways to read this. If you would like to explore those possibilities, please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center.
Grace & Peace,
At the board meeting last week and the community meeting on Sunday, we discussed the desires of Genny Rowley and I to be ordained by Church in the Cliff. This is something that the church should consider carefully and vote accordingly. We are working with the board to provide whatever information is necessary for that process. With that in mind, Genny and I have each prepared a short bit about our sense of call. (For the record, Genny and I both have issues with this term that we would be happy to discuss, but it is commonly used, so we’ll go with it for now.)
I’ll let Genny lead off:
Ordination is a complicated topic with plenty to think through practically, theologically, and communally. So, when Scott asked if I could introduce the community to the idea by summarizing my hopes for ordination into an elevator speech, I got the feeling this could be a bit of a challenge. Nonetheless, I’m going to briefly share my thoughts on “why ordination” from a practical, theological, and community standpoint, along with my key reasons for “why CITC.”
Why ordination? Practically, as a chaplain, pastoral counselor, and theological educator, ordination offers me credibility as someone engaging in forms of pastoral ministry. Since I’m a Baptist, ordination is also part of the process for endorsement, the denominational “seal of approval” for chaplains and pastoral counselors. Theologically, I view ordination as the community’s affirmation of the vocational path I’m on, a blessing that says my training and gifts for placing our current human experiences and the Christian tradition into dialogue are valued and welcomed (since I’m a theologian, there is a lot more I could say about this part. I am happy to share with those who are interested, but I’ll leave it there for now!). Finally, the piece about community is actually theological, too. In Baptist life and in other kinds of churches with congregational polity, the local faith community ordains people to Christian ministry. In a sense, this means that local community of faith and the values it embodies stay with the ordained person throughout their ministry. So for me, ordination means that I needed to find and become part of a community I wanted to carry with me. Since I’m a theological pot-stirrer who asks lots of pesky questions, this took me quite a while.
So then, why this community? In short, I hope this church will ordain me because I need to remember that this place exists, and how it formed what I know is possible for faith communities. I want to carry this place with me: our genuine embodiment of the belief that “all are welcome” that is symbolized each week through the open table, and the commitment to asking meaningful questions of our faith and of each other. These are the things I most need to believe about the wide embrace of God’s love, and they are things you’ve shown me through these years at CITC.
This was a pretty long elevator speech. Thanks for reading it, and for helping me see what is possible.
Now my turn:
Many of you have probably heard this story, but it’s worth telling again, I think. My “call” came at the ordination of Laura Arp. There are different ways to lay on hands during ordination, but Laura knelt at the front of the church and everyone present individually put their hands on her shoulders and spoke a blessing. It was beautiful. I thought that I might want that. And then I thought that everyone should have that one moment when the people who love you gather around and tell you that you are doing and will do good things. And then I thought that everyone should have the chance to have the moments of transition and transformation in their lives marked. I thought I might be able to do that and I thought CitC, with it’s creative approach to worship and close bonds of friendship, might be the place for it. I thought that ministry could be a grand art project, creating new life and a new world.
I spoke to Pastor Laura Fregin very soon afterward, applied to seminary, and started volunteering with the church in worship planning. I can honestly say that I have never been so certain of anything in my life except for Lisa. It has been a long and beautiful walk since then. Ministry has been all that I thought it would be, but so much more. I am grateful to walk with the people of CitC, wherever our paths may lead.
So, ordination. It is obviously the culmination of the path I’ve been on. If ministry is to be my vocation, it is the next step. It is also still for me that moment that I witnessed what seems so long ago, but my understanding of it has shifted. It’s not just a blessing. It is a confirmation of calling. The spiritual life, to be done well, must be done in community. In requesting ordination, I’m asking CitC to confirm what I think I know about myself and what I think I know about the church and God and love and our future together. CitC embodied for me a way to be church and be Christian that I did not think was possible: intense friendships, creative and intellectual challenge, commitment to social justice, and extravagant hospitality. No matter where life takes me, that is a part of who I am and how I understand my place in the life of God. My hope is that the people of CitC see me in the same way and confer their blessings on the road ahead.
I also want to add that ordination is important for CitC. It has been more than four years since we have ordained anyone and more than three since we have had an ordained person serving the church. Ordination, ultimately, is not about me and Genny. It’s about this community of faith calling people out for special service, to develop, recognize, and bless the gifts of individuals to help shape the world to the dreams of God. CitC has made more of a difference in my life than I could ever express. I hope that we can celebrate that together in front of God and everybody.