Index

Sundays
Third Quarter
2018

 

J Nichols Adams et al

August 12, 2018, 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 19, Proper 14

 

 

LectionAid 3rd Quarter 2018

August 12, 2018, 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Ord Time 19, Proper 14

The Story of Absalom and Dr Phil

Psalm 130 or Psalm 34:1-8, 2Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 or 1Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51

Theme: Loving Forgiveness Endures Mistakes and Wrongdoings

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

My wife loves to watch Dr. Phil, the show that often centers of dysfunctional families. The Dr Phil show is often about family conflict. The Dr Phil show is all about family dysfunctions and deals on many occasions with spouse cheating on spouse or grandparents meddling in raising children. But a constantly sad subject is about how the parent’s destructive behavior leads to unhappy and damaged children. The real fruit of the parent’s harmful relationship are self-medicating, criminal and self-destructive children. This mornings story about David’s destructive son Absalom would have been perfect for the Dr. Phil show.
There are perhaps no more piercing words of grief in all of human history than David's cry: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Samuel: 18:33, NRSV)
David's love for Absalom is much like God's love for us. This is a story of a father whose love for his son endures and apparently forgives the rebellion, wrongdoing and mistakes of the son. Absalom was not a nice person. He killed his brother Amnon because of Amnon's incestuous act with their sister, Tamar. Through ambition, political manipulation and good looks, Absalom built enough strength to endanger David's kingdom. Absalom set himself up as the king of Hebron and gathered the support of many. As Absalom marched upon Jerusalem, intent upon killing David, David himself was fearful enough to flee Jerusalem and to gather his troops in the forest. One would think that David would be rightfully angry and ready to insist that his rebellious son be brought to justice. Rather, David's words to his commanders—when they insist that he return to the city where he will be safe—are words of fatherly concern and forgiveness. David beseeches his commanders to be gentle with the young man.
The story is an example of a parent whose heart is broken for his child, and who would rather die himself than see the offending child suffer. In between the lines of this love story, there are some other themes. David's own life was not exemplary. The accounts of David's popularity with the people and ascension to the throne sound very much like Absalom's plotting and political maneuvers. David plundered and killed and took what he wanted, even to the point of taking Uriah's wife and having Uriah killed. One might ask if Absalom learned to do battle and injustice at his father's knee. When Amnon raped his sister, Tamar, David buried his head in the sand and did nothing to bring justice. Did David's inaction spur Absalom to murder? Later, while in hiding, Absalom manipulated Joab to go to David, requesting that Absalom be permitted to return to Jerusalem, David granted the request, although he would not see Absalom. One wonders if David had extended himself and welcomed the son fully back, whether Absalom would have maintained his rebellious stance. When Absalom burned Joab's field in retaliation for David's refusal to see him, David gave in and welcomed the son fully making a decision that turned out to be unwise for himself and his kingdom.

Exegetical Comments

What can we learn from the story? Where is the hope in this unhappy ending?
This story teaches us that David, the man after God's own heart, is human. David made mistakes himself. David sinned. Now, as a parent who loved his son more than his kingdom, David made mistakes and wrong choices.
We learn from David that a parent's love is remarkable. That love like this is sometimes very Godlike, the love that says there is nothing you can do that will cause me to stop loving you. It is love that endures, love that stretches to a breaking point, yet does not break. There is beauty and nobility in such love.
We also learn from David that love can cause us to make poor decisions, and to defend a child when we might better do something else. We see our own mistakes and failures mirrored in David's shortcomings, and often, this can cause us to feel guilty. "If only." …we say, and then we begin to blame ourselves for the wrongdoings of a child.
Writers such as William Faulkner have used the story to say that the parent's wrongdoing is visited upon the children. His novel, Absalom, Absalom! in which the Sutpen family is brought to destruction, takes its plot from this account.
To understand David and Absalom's story from the standpoint of the parent's failures, however, is not helpful or hopeful. David lived the way that kings of his day lived. He lived within the social and cultural expectations of his day. David also was able to recognize his wrongdoing and turn to God, asking for forgiveness. Psalm 51 is but one example of David's recognition of his weakness and his willingness to turn from his mistakes.
It is Absalom, a grown man, who is the guilty party in this story. It is probably true that children have blamed their parents for their own wrongdoing since the beginning of time. So perhaps Absalom blamed David. There is a point, however, when each person is responsible for his/her own path in life. We each must consider what we have inherited and experienced in our growing up years and decide how to conduct our own lives. Absalom, as an adult man, fully responsible for his own actions, set his face to rebel and did so until it brought him to death.
Hope emerges from this story when we in the church community are able to help people find redemptive ways to deal with a child's wrongdoing.
Sometimes this means helping people deal with their own guilt, because parents do tend to blame themselves when the child runs amok. People need to find the forgiveness that David experienced. Teaching grace and forgiveness offers hope, but sometimes it takes more than words for a person to receive God's forgiveness. It requires the experience of being a part of a loving and compassionate community, being surrounded by people who have been there and done that and who know how to offer the gift of forgiveness.
Sometimes it means that we in the community need to stand beside the parent of a child who has gone wrong. We can offer support and encouragement to the parent who seeks to empower a child to grow up and take responsibility for his/her actions, through the tough love tactics of today's epistle lesson. We can also stand beside those who weep when a child has brought himself/herself to destruction.
There is a larger issue that emerges from David and Absalom's story. David's cry of grief sounds down human history. It is the cry of all humanity, for all children everywhere. David's cry calls us to grieve not simply for our own children gone wrong, but for those in our community—to grieve in an active way. Hope happens when we in the church offer preventive programs to bring help to parents and children in the surrounding community. Hope happens when the Absalom’s of our day form gangs of young hoodlums that terrorize a neighborhood, and we in the church join hands with other community organizations and institutions to offer creative solutions, however small.

Preaching Possibilities

There are many ways to preach using this powerful story about David. We can emphasis the grief we have in the modern world about children. We can emphasis the constant presence of family dysfunction in human history. But the most important thing to emphasis is the power of forgiveness in human history. We need to emphasis the Good News of God’s forgiveness as Jesus taught us.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

If you are a watcher of Dr Phil and you see a parent in conflict with their child, you almost instinctively know who Dr Phil is going to criticize. Just a hint it is not the parent, even if the child is an adult. Parents often enable the self-destructive behavior of their children.
Dr Phil believes that parenting by example the most powerful role model in any child's life is the same-sex parent. It's a fact that children learn vicariously by observing the behavior of others and noting the consequences of their actions. They watch what happens to family members when they succeed or fail, and those experiences become a reference for how they live. This is known as modeling. Through your actions, words, behavior and love, you can direct your children to where you want them to go. Show them how to be happy, well-balanced and fulfilled adults. Shed any negative attitudes. Dump self-destructive behavior patterns. Turn up the positive attitude. (https://www.drphil.com/advice/seven-tools-for-purposeful-parenting/)
Absalom’s father David was not a good example. Look at all the ways that David refused to see his son’s many problems that were linked to David’s on misdeeds. However, we should not just focus on parenting mistakes of David. The focus of the story is broader. It is about the power of forgiveness over dysfunctional behavior.

There are many stories on Dr Phil about self-destructive children. On January 10, 2017 there was the story of Annalisa. She says she’s the black sheep of her family. She admits to using drugs, skipping school and has said that she has prostituted herself. She also says she fights with her mother every day and hates her stepdad.
In the video above from Tuesday’s episode of Dr. Phil, the 16-year-old, who says her rebellious behavior started four years ago, shares why she began to act out.
“I feel like as I got older, I realized that my sisters had a dad and I didn’t have a dad,” she says of her biological father who is no longer alive. She adds that she wants a better relationship with her mother.
“What do you expect her to do when you are doing rebellious and self-destructive behavior?” Dr. Phil asks.
“Pay attention to me, because I’ve noticed that when I’m doing stupid things, it’s because I’m hurting inside, or I’m sad,” Annalisa reveals.

Dr Phil’s Life Law #9: states that there is power in forgiveness. Dr Phil calls on his listeners to open your eyes to what anger and resentment are doing to you. Take your power back from those who have hurt you.
Hate, anger and resentment are destructive, eating away at the heart and soul of the person who carries them. They are incompatible with your own peace, joy and relaxation. Ugly emotions change who you are and contaminate every relationship you have. They can also take a physical toll on your body, including sleep disturbance, headaches, back spasms, and even heart attacks.
Forgiveness sets you free from the bonds of hatred, anger and resentment. The only way to rise above the negatives of a relationship in which you were hurt is to take the moral high ground and forgive the person who hurt you.
Forgiveness is not about another person who has transgressed against you; it is about you. Forgiveness is about doing whatever it takes to preserve the power to create your own emotional state. It is a gift to yourself and it frees you. You don’t have to have the other person’s cooperation, and they do not have to be sorry or admit the error of their ways. Do it for yourself. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/29/dr-phil-life-laws_n_5734666.html)

Recently in San Diego, an armored car driver disappeared. Three million dollars disappeared with him. People in a Baja, Mexico, town witnessed a man with $100 bills in the bar, and some thought that the man was the armored car driver. Believing that he must have been a victim of foul play, the family of the young man hired a private detective to locate him. The private detective located the man in a $200-a-night hotel, in Mexico. On local television, the young man's father was pictured, saying something like this: "In my heart, I maintain that my son had nothing to do with this, that he was coerced. I think he is a victim." (The San Diego, Channel 10, Frank Blankenship, interviewer, January 30, 2003.)

Young people today have difficulty making good decisions. Suzy Shimasaki, 17, a high school student, said: "Teachers and parents and other adults tell us not to drink…. But we are bombarded with beer commercials every time we turn on the TV." (Jane Clifford, "Tapping Into Young Minds." (The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 25, 2003) p.E-5.)

A high school girl told her mother that there were just two choices. You could be a "soshie." (a member of the popular group) or you could be a stoner (someone who does drugs) If you weren't one or the other, you were a nobody.
A recent study done at Kansas State University showed that students' "emotional difficulties are far more complex and more severe than those seen in the past."

Students were not only experiencing more stress, anxiety and other problems, but there were more taking medications. Other counseling centers said that the study confirmed their observations concerning the problems that students now have. Although the causes are not clear, Dr. Robert Portnoy, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Nebraska, said, "People just don't seem to have the resources to draw upon emotionally…." (Erica Goode, "Study shows students' stress more severe." (The San Diego Union-Tribune, February 3, 2003) p.A-5. The report of the Kansas State study was published in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.)

A young woman grew up in a violent, abusive home. One result of her painful childhood was that she vowed to give her children a happy childhood. She suffered severe guilt over even the smallest mistakes she made with her children. Understanding her childhood in a new way helped this young woman resolve her guilt over her own failures. The day that she could understand that her parents did the best they could, given the circumstances of their childhood, and forgive them, was the day that she herself could say that she was doing the best she could. It was also the day she learned to accept God's forgiveness for her mistakes.

A couple came to the pastor's office. Their adult daughter was in financial trouble again. She had been in this position twice before. Each time the parents helped her out, giving her thousands of dollars to put her life back together. The daughter even lost a home that her parents gave her, free of any charge. Now, the parents were desperate, and on the brink of mortgaging their own home to help her again. The pastor agreed to meet with the daughter and instructed the parents not to mortgage their home.

The pastor then worked with the daughter over a period of time, insisting that she take responsibility for her own financial situation. She went into bankruptcy and joined an over-spenders anonymous group. She wasn't happy that she had to become responsible, but over time she was in charge, for the first time, of her own finances.

Father Jim Hurley had doubts about his nephew, the handsome, spoiled and pampered only son of Jim's sister, Laura. Father Jim was concerned about the boy's casual indifference about important things, and the friends with whom Gregory hung out. But he silenced his doubts, not wanting to ruin sister Laura's good and happy life. Then one night, Gregory came to his uncle at 3 a.m. Driving drunk, he had hit a bicyclist and left the scene. The bicyclist died. Out of love for the boy, and also for fear of hurting Gregory's mother who adored the child, Father Jim agreed to keep silence. Having done so, he is plagued by guilt and the knowledge that he made a poor decision.
Sometime later, Gregory, angered that his parents refused him a sum of money, went off in anger, and didn't return. Father Jim, who happened to be visiting, offered to go and look for Gregory. He knew where Gregory would be at the pub. Father Hurley tried to drive, Gregory pushed him aside. Sure enough, there was another accident. Gregory hit a donkey cart. No one was killed this time, but only because Father Hurley leapt from the car and saved two children from the cart and grabbed the reins of the donkey just before it went into the lake.
This time Father Gregory made the right decision. He refused to cover for Gregory. (Maeve Binchy, Silver Wedding. (New York: Dell Publishing, 1989}, pp.183-204.)

On the television news, a mother said that her son was so emotionally removed from her that she couldn't even talk to him. After joining the CCC (California Conservation Core) a California state program that puts youth into uniforms and work, the son was a new person. The mother was delighted. The CCC had helped her son find a direction for the future.
Because her son found meaning for his life, this mother is crusading to keep the CCC in the California state budget as the state faces a 25% general fund cut. (San Diego CChannel 10, (date unknown) 2003.)

King David was not alone. Powerful people, including a number of American presidents, have had rebellious children to contend with. Teddy Roosevelt, in dealing with his daughter Alice, said he could either run the country or her, but not both. President Bush had to deal with the public attention that was focused on his twin daughters when they were cited in June 2001 for violating Texas' underage-drinking laws, daughter Jenna being cited for the second time. When George H. W. Bush was in office, he had to deal with the trouble that his son Neil got into when he was sanctioned for conflict of interest in a savings and loan collapse. Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald Reagan, posed nude in Playboy after her father left office. Ronald Reagan, Jr. danced in his underwear on Saturday Night Live and often spoke out against his father's conservative policies.

Absalom yearned to be king. In Israel, however, few kings had the lasting popularity that the King—Elvis Presley—has enjoyed. Twenty-five years after Presley's death, he still reached the top of the music charts when Elvis: 30 #1 Hits was released. In fact, it was the first time ever that an Elvis album debuted at the top spot in the United States. Initial sales surpassed 500,000 units.

From a modern medical perspective, sons tend to pose more behavior problems than daughters. In cases where children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, boys are ten times more likely than girls to be treated for that affliction.
It is difficult to say where David went wrong in raising Absalom. Even today, at times parents wonder why they have such rebellious children. Part of the answer may be due to the negative influences that bombard kids today, which tend to overwhelm the positive influences the parents try to convey. A survey conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that children ages eight to twelve know far more about beer than they do about American presidents.

According to that study, they found that many kids can name more brands of beer than they can name presidents. The finding should not be all that surprising, however, since the beer industry spends over a billion dollars annually to encourage name recognition. But the influences that children are exposed to sometimes have lasting effects on them. The National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey determined that nearly half of those who start drinking before they are age 13 suffer from alcohol abuse or some other form of dependency at some point in their lives.

Even though Absalom might have had something less than a perfect childhood, young people growing up today have perhaps even greater challenges in their lives. Today children are the poorest segment of American society. Approximately 17% of all children in the United States—12.1 million—live below the poverty rate. Around ten million children have no health insurance. Well over half of all children in the United States spend all or some of their childhood living apart from one or both of their parents. Abuse is also rampant among today's youth. Reports indicate that somewhere around 2.5 million children in American are sexually abused each year, and it is estimated that about one out of every four girls will be physically or sexually abused before they reach the age of eighteen.

Struggling to achieve the top position seems to be something that we have in common with other primates. Frans de Waal, a leading primatologist, has written at length about the struggles for status that occur within a captive chimpanzee colony in the Netherlands. In Chimpanzee Politics, he describes how chimps tend to form coalitions, and how they scheme and betray one another in order to enhance their position in the community. Apparently, the chimps even exhibit emotions like pride and anger when their position of status in the colony is or is not recognized by their fellow chimps.

Francis Fukuyama, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, comments on the problems that can occur when one generation is not prepared to hand over the reins of power to the next generation on a timely basis. He observes that age-based hierarchies tend to make sense if age is correlated to physical strength, learning, experience, judgment, achievement, and other such factors. But, he says, past a certain age, the correlation between age and ability begins to disappear. Since life expectancies for most of human history have been in the 40s or 50s, a natural succession of power from one generation to the next has been the rule. But in the past century, as life expectancies have begun a marked increase, that natural transfer of power from the parents' generation to the children has been less frequent. Fukuyama states, "As long as dictators like Francisco Franco, Kim Il Sung, and Fidel Castro physically survive, their societies have no way of replacing them....In the future, with technologically enhanced life spans, such societies may find themselves locked in a ludicrous deathwatch not for years but for decades." (Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002) p. 65.)

The people of Absalom's day must have been discouraged by all the tensions and upheaval they saw among those who wielded power. Unfortunately, such fears have tended to be present in almost every age, with many left to wonder if the end is near. In the twentieth century, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the now famous image of the Doomsday Clock. In 1947, the clock was set at seven minutes before midnight to symbolize that the apparent nuclear threat of that day indicated a limited future for the planet. Over the years, the hands of the clock have been moved forward or backward depending on world conditions. In 1953, the clock was moved all the way up to two minutes before midnight when the United States and the Soviet Union both tested thermonuclear devices within nine months of each other. In 1991, the clock was reset to seventeen minutes before midnight when the United States and Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and announced further unilateral reductions in tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. At the close of 2002 the Doomsday Clock stood at seven minutes before midnight, representing not only the increased tensions between certain nations, but also the potential threat of nuclear weapons that may be possessed by rogue terrorists.

Perhaps David was able to forgive his son's sin because David was keenly aware of his own past record of transgressions. Walter Wink comments, "As we begin to acknowledge our own inner shadow, we become more tolerant of the shadow in others." (Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium (New York: Doubleday, 1998) p. 165)

of American presidents, have had rebellious children to contend with. Teddy Roosevelt, in dealing with his daughter Alice, said he could either run the country or her, but not both. President Bush had to deal with the public attention that was focused on his twin daughters when they were cited in June 2001 for violating Texas' underage-drinking laws, daughter Jenna being cited for the second time. When George H. W. Bush was in office, he had to deal with the trouble that his son Neil got into when he was sanctioned for conflict of interest in a savings and loan collapse. Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald Reagan, posed nude in Playboy after her father left office. Ronald Reagan, Jr. danced in his underwear on Saturday Night Live and often spoke out against his father's conservative policies.

Absalom yearned to be king. In Israel, however, few kings had the lasting popularity that the King—Elvis Presley—has enjoyed. Twenty-five years after Presley's death, he still reached the top of the music charts when Elvis: 30 #1 Hits was released. In fact, it was the first time ever that an Elvis album debuted at the top spot in the United States. Initial sales surpassed 500,000 units.

From a modern medical perspective, sons tend to pose more behavior problems than daughters. In cases where children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, boys are ten times more likely than girls to be treated for that affliction.

It is difficult to say where David went wrong in raising Absalom. Even today, at times parents wonder why they have such rebellious children. Part of the answer may be due to the negative influences that bombard kids today, which tend to overwhelm the positive influences the parents try to convey. A survey conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that children ages eight to twelve know far more about beer than they do about American presidents.

According to that study, they found that many kids can name more brands of beer than they can name presidents. The finding should not be all that surprising, however, since the beer industry spends over a billion dollars annually to encourage name recognition. But the influences that children are exposed to sometimes have lasting effects on them. The National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey determined that nearly half of those who start drinking before they are age 13 suffer from alcohol abuse or some other form of dependency at some point in their lives.

Even though Absalom might have had something less than a perfect childhood, young people growing up today have perhaps even greater challenges in their lives. Today children are the poorest segment of American society. Approximately 17% of all children in the United States—12.1 million—live below the poverty rate. Around ten million children have no health insurance. Well over half of all children in the United States spend all or some of their childhood living apart from one or both of their parents. Abuse is also rampant among today's youth. Reports indicate that somewhere around 2.5 million children in American are sexually abused each year, and it is estimated that about one out of every four girls will be physically or sexually abused before they reach the age of eighteen.

Struggling to achieve the top position seems to be something that we have in common with other primates. Frans de Waal, a leading

Neil Postman comments on how difficult it is for parents to raise faithful children today amid a culture that is saturated with negative influences. He comments, "To insist that one's children learn the discipline of delayed gratification, or modesty in their sexuality, or self-restraint in manners, language, and style is to place oneself in opposition to almost every social trend." (Neil Postman, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past can Improve our Future (New York: Vintage, 1999) p. 129)

"Forgiving and being reconciled are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the degradation, the truth." (Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999) p. 270)

"It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father." (Pope John XXIII)

"A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

A rural Colorado woman whose children are grown has become a sort of mother to the community. She has worked with her church committee to develop programs that really meet the needs of local children. The church is located next to the school. Church volunteers serve hot chocolate, breakfast goodies, and lend a listening ear to the children on their morning walk to school.
The woman also led the church to begin a low cost before and after school program. Children are served breakfast, provided with child care, snacks after school, homework help and tutoring. In addition, there is an educational program for preschool parents, a food basket where families can receive nonperishable food, a closet that provides clothing and coats (some children in this community go to school midwinter without coats!) and an English as a second language course.
All this was begun and developed and is now happening because one woman knows how to really love the children of the community.

A social trend is that of the "boomerang kid." _young adults in their 20's and 30's who come back home to live with mom and dad. Studies and census reports indicate that about 10% of adult children have returned to home, due to lost jobs, failed careers and the difficulty affording housing. A recent article suggests making some guidelines before trouble erupts. These include discussing expectations and limits, recognizing the "kid." is an adult, requiring rent, asking the child to make a financial plan and a planned date to move out, as well as insisting on treatment for drug or other problems. (Laurence Roy Stains, "Look Who's Back!" (AARP Magazine, March and April, 2003) pp.34, 36.)

In San Diego, 16 people were killed and 30 injured in 2002 due to street drag racing. Most of those killed and injured were youth. Making it illegal to even be present at street races didn't deter the racers. Now, the city has opened lanes in Qualcomm Stadium where young people can go from 11 p.m. until 1 a.m. on certain dates to race their cars in a safer environment. (San Diego Channel 10, February 14, 2003.)

David's terrible cry for the loss of his son is echoed somewhat in Alan Paton's great novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. (See the illustration for the July 20 text for more on this book.) Indeed, Alan Paton probably had this story from 2 Samuel in mind when he wrote his novel because he chose "Absalom." as the name of the son gone wrong. The outcome for both fathers is sad, but for the South African father not quite as tragic. The biblical Absalom dies unreconciled to his father, but in the novel, and film versions, the modern father is reconciled to his son before the young man's death. The Rev. Stephen Kumalo is a village priest who travels to far off Johannesburg in search of his son, when they have not heard from him in a long time. After considerable searching, he learns that the young man has fallen in with the wrong crowd, been arrested, and spent some time in prison. The continued search leads finally to the son, who has now been arrested and charged with the murder of a white man. It is a white man from near his own village, the son of the local landowner. That father had been a supporter of apartheid, but the murdered son, ironically had been working against racism. Absalom is both grief and terror-struck when Steven Kumalo first visits him. But then in court the boy, vowing to return to the ways of his father, admits his part in the crime—it was a bungled burglary, he and his cohorts expecting the white man to be away from his home when they broke in—thus refusing to lie as his friends had done. The father promises to care for Absalom's common-law wife, pregnant with Absalom's child, as he parts from his son. He returns to his village, and the night before the execution goes up into the hills to hold in prayer his doomed son. Yet the grief-stricken father is at least assured that his son has not lost his soul in the affair.

Jesus' story of "The Father and Two Sons." is the story of two sons who have gone wrong. The first, usually referred to as "the prodigal son, "is best known, as well as most obviously lost. But the older son also is "lost." to his father, even though he does not demand his part of the inheritance and run off to a faraway country to squander it. He apparently thinks only of himself and his inheritance, not of family relationships. He must have seen his father pining away for the absent son and looking longingly out the door and down the road. Indeed, maybe this merely added to his jealousy. Whatever, the "elder son." is outraged when he returns from working in the field and discovers from the servants that all the noise and music he hears is from the welcome home party. He sulks alone outside—alone that is until his father, missing him, leaves the festivities and goes to him. Refusing to see how happy his father is over the return of his brother, the “sulker” upbraids the old man. The father pleads with his son, and we are left to wonder what the outcome will be. Will there still be a lost son the day or week after, this time lost not to a faraway country but to a rigid, unforgiving heart that can separate a father and a son (and a brother) just as surely as miles and boundaries of countries.

One of my childhood memories is that of being a flower girl in my aunt's wedding. It was a grand occasion in the first years after World War II. I wore what I believed to be a kind of princess gown. I looked wonderful, I knew! Even at the tender age of six, I was thrilled by the romance of walking down the aisle on the arm of the ring bearer, also age six.
The reception was held in a large hall of some sort. There was a wonderful, shiny, slippery floor, which I suppose was the dance floor that perhaps doubled for a basketball court. It took only minutes for us children to discover how delightful it was to slide across that floor, and to develop the "rules." for the best slide and how to determine the winners. In the midst of our game, my mother intervened to threaten me not to ruin my beautiful dress. And, like children everywhere, as soon as my mother left the room, we returned to our game.
To my distress, the worst of my mother's dreams came true. My best slide resulted not in a win, but in a horrible hole on the skirt of my princess gown. For all my childhood years and on into adulthood, I remembered that terrible tear as a huge hole, and was perplexed that my mother never noticed or mentioned the damage to my beautiful gown. Worse yet, I felt guilty because of my misbehavior, every time I thought of it.
When Mother moved to a small apartment, she gave me the princess gown, which I saw through my adult eyes for what it was a very crudely made single layer of pink netting, with a few pleats and buttons down the bodice, and a slightly gathered skirt. I assume I wore this princess gown over some sort of slip. By this time, I was unafraid to tell Mother what really happened on that slippy, slidey floor so many years before that I had ripped a gigantic hole in the dress. Together, with quite a lot of searching, we located the tea. It was, perhaps, an inch in diameter, a very small circle where the threads had been separated and torn.
Now, I get that little dress out of its hiding place every time my granddaughters come to visit, and I tell them the story of how I imagined the little tear to be a horrible hole in my princess dress. And, how long it took me to see the reality, and how I learned to forgive myself for a childhood mistake.

Most parents spend quite a lot of time teaching children the important things in life, such as values and table manners. In the Sunday comics, three frogs sit at the dinner table Mother Frog, Daddy Frog, and Junior. Among the serving dishes is a platter with several dead flies, feet pointing up. Mother Frog says, "What have I told you about reaching across the table?" She has hold of Junior's long tongue as Junior tries to grab a fly from the platter on the other side of the table! (Dan Piraro, Bizarro. (King Features, Sunday February 23, 2003) The San Diego Union-Tribune, Comics Page.)

Many times, as a parent I have heard myself say the words, "if you know what the right thing to do was, why didn't you do it?" Every time I hear myself say that, I stop before I mete out too severe a punishment. I realize God says that to me and other "grown-ups" over and over again in the scriptures.

Certainly, David sought to forgive and try to win Absalom back into the family partly because David remembered times in his life when he had gone far from God in rebellion (the taking of Bathsheba and killing of Uriah as only one example) and been forgiven and welcomed back as God's child. Some of the most powerful words for any of us in considering our response to the actions of others are "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

Leader: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits.
People: And in God's word, I hope.
Leader: My soul waits for the Lord
People: More than those who watch for the morning.
Leader: For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
People: And with God is great power to redeem.

Prayer of Confession (Based on 2 Samuel 18)

O God, we give thanks for the children among us, but at the same time, we confess that too often we ignore their welfare and their hopes. We pay lip service to our commitments to them and fail to provide for them. We say we care; yet we neglect children even in our own neighborhoods. Help us to care for them, for they are the leaders and citizens of our future.

Prayer of Dedication (Based on John 6)

O God, who has provided us the Bread of Life in Jesus Christ, we dedicate these gifts to you, confident that you will use them for your glory. Help us never to take your gifts for granted, and to be eager to share generously with others, that they may know your boundless love.

Pastoral Prayer (Based on Ephesians 4:25-5:2)

Almighty God, you invite us into lives of truth, and care for our neighbors. You invite us to authenticity and integrity, based on the example of our Savior. You tell us anger is appropriate, but not when it leads us to sin, or seethes within us toward vengefulness or spite. You invite us to speak, but to speak truth and honesty, to keep covenant with you to build up one another in the Body of Christ.
While you call us to candor, you also ask of us kindness and forgiveness, since Christ has forgiven us. We want to imitate you, to model our lives on your love and kindness. May we have a transforming influence in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities. Starting with this community of faith, we invite your Spirit to empower us to be instruments of your peace, through Christ our Lord, Amen.