Tag Archives: The Prodigal

Helping People Over the Fence

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Note: For technical reasons, this week’s sermon video could not be posted online, so Pastor Paul has summarized it sermon in written form below.

Reading:

1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.

11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

28-30 “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

(Luke 15:1-3, 11-31)

Sermon

This, the Story of the Lost Son, is one of the all-time favorite stories in scripture because is always taught about God’s unconditional love.  While that is true, some things are not looked at with enough attention.  Let us understand the players:

The Farmer = God
The Two Sons = Humanity

First, The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” This is important as to why Jesus tells the story.  Religious leaders of the day just like the Evangelical “conservative” religious leaders of today did not like the all-inclusive message of Jesus.

Second, When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.” Let us take note that as soon as the son decided he wanted a relationship with his Father (God), the Father (God) came to him…found him. He had not got home or back to church, if you will.  It is the decision to be in relationship that changes everything.

Third, “…the son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening.” Traditional church folks never pay attention to the fact that the formal confession is neutralized.  Do we need to know our shortcoming?, Yes!  Do we need to take responsibility for them? Yes! However, the Church leaders do not get to use confession as a power and control mechanism to deny a person their rightful place with God. One cannot be denied Holy Communion because they have not confessed to a minister or Priest.  Jesus is very clear here… it is the desire for relationship that trumps everything else.

Fourth, the (second) son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’ This is clearly pointed at all those folks who think because they are “born again”, go to church regularly, read their bible every day, think women can’t preach, that LGBTQI folks don’t belong because they are bad people.  The Church over the centuries has been divided into the good and bad with the good thinking they are something special. Again, this is all about power and control of religious leaders to keep people in line by judging them to not be worthy.

Fifth, His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yoursThose who are in relationship with God and have no stumbles and breaks in relationship have been and will always be with God.  So to the religious conservatives, hear this VERY clearly: “Get over your bad selves!”

Finally, “This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s  found!’”   St. Peter and St. Paul are at the Pearly Gates.  Paul is looking through the “Book of Names”, and says to Peter, “There are far more people in here then there is supposed to be!  Go find out what has happened!”

Peter runs off, and sometime later returns to Paul.  Paul asks Peter what he has found out.  Peter replies matter factly, “It is pretty simple, Jesus is at the back of heaven and helping people over the fence.”

God Bless!
Rev. Paul M. Turner
Senior Pastor

Taking Stock

First Sunday after Christmas
Sermon: Rev. Paul M. Turner, Senior Pastor
Reading: Luke 15:11-24

But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, “Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here — given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!” And they began to have a wonderful time. (Verses 22-24)

“I Just Don’t Understand Why I’m This Way”

I’m a gay woman tormented by hell fears since I was 16. When I’m not practicing I’m OK but lonely, and when I’m in a relationship with a woman I love… I fear hell. Surely God looks worse on gay people. I just don’t understand why I’m this way. I love it but hate it only for fear of hell. If you can help me at all with any of that I’d be eternally grateful. God bless. My name is Lynda and I love God dearly and try hard to be a good Christian.

Dear Lynda,

I am so sorry you are living with this fear of not being OK with God and of being sent somewhere that prevents any kind of relationship with God.

There are certainly a lot of people today who fear “hell” as if it were a particular place. But when one does the research and study surrounding the word “hell” and its true meaning, one is more likely to find that it actually means “the total absence of God”. In other words, hell is not a place but rather a state of being. In which case it really is about your attitude to God versus being about a physical place.

The next thing I suggest you consider is: Who supposedly ends up in this place where there is a total absence of God? Well, by definition that would be people who have no relationship with God at all. In fact, Jesus said that the only unforgivable sin is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit – and in order to do that you would have to totally reject your relationship with God.

I realize that at this point you may not feel as though I’m addressing your concerns – but please bear with me, take a deep breath and answer these two questions:

    Do you love God?
    Do you want a relationship with God?

If your answer to those two questions is yes, then “hell” is not now, nor has it ever been, a possibility for you. Read the story of the “Prodigal Son” found in Luke 15:11-32. You will see in this story that as soon as the son desired a relationship with his father, this happened:

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

But the father wasn’t listening.”

The point of the parable being that the father (God) only cared that his son (the sinner) wanted a relationship with him. Nothing else mattered – least of all, past behavior. “The father wasn’t listening” to his son’s attempt at a confession, because all the father cared about was that his son had turned back to him.

As far as you and your girlfriend are concerned, your love for each other is what is important to God. The love you share with her, having God at the center, has no possibility of “hell” ever being part of your life’s picture.

God desires to be in relationship with us, and who we fall in love with has zero to do with hell. Celebrate your love for your girlfriend and your relationship with God – and, my dear sister, you will be just fine!

God Bless,
Pastor Paul

The Road to Freedom: Free To Believe God Loves Me

A Lenten Bible Study

Part 2 of 6

Readings:

By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story. (Luke 15:1-3)

Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

“So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

(Luke 15:11-32)

Growl, Grumble and Complain

First Sunday after Epiphany
Sermon: Rev. Paul M. Turner, Senior Pastor
Reading: Luke 15:25-32

The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, “Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!” (Verses 28-30)

Inventory Time in the Pig Pen

Second Sunday after Christmas
Sermon: Rev. Paul M. Turner, Senior Pastor
Reading: Luke 15:11-24

When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: “Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.” (Verses 20-21)

Finding Oneself at the Wrong End of a Gospel Story

I have got to say there is nothing worse than finding one’s self on the wrong end of a gospel story. A few days ago, when the news of Bishop Jim Swilley the founding pastor of “The Church in the Now” got out that he had come out, I was not particularly kind.

One my Face book page I made the following comment: “is thinking Rev. Swilley is NO gay hero. He finally comes out after he has fathered 4 kids, was in a sham of a marriage…and how many young folks took his hypocritical teachings to heart and ended their life? I am sorry there are those of us who have stood in the line of fire for a long time and took the hits while he was…Thank you Rev. for getting a conscience, lets see what you do now that you are out.”

Then as I am preparing to write this blog I re-read the story of the Prodigal Son. One can find the complete story at Luke 15:11-32. Needless to say I found myself on the wrong end of this Gospel story.

For as many times as I have told this story over the years and how it is a wonderful affirming story for the LGBTQ community, I found myself convicted tonight by the end of the story.

All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast — barbecued beef! — Because he has him home safe and sound.’
“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

I found myself standing in the place of the older son. For a guy who has been preaching an inclusive gospel for 25 years this is an embarrassing and humbling place to find one’s self.

Of course when one reads this story from Jesus, it is easy to see and understand the Father’s response. However, the more difficult part of this story is we never get the interaction between the older son and the younger. Did they ever work things out?

When the party was over did the older and younger brother reconcile? Did the younger brother ever know the older one was unhappy and why?

Did the older brother ever stop and listen to the younger brother’s story and how he came to do what he did and make the choices he made?

I have never met the Bishop and only know of the Church he founded by driving by it on I-20 several times and thinking each time… there is another one of “those” places.

It was a mega church; an evangelical church and we all know how they feel about the LGBTQ community right?

So of course I sat and listen to the Bishop’s coming out sermon to his congregation tonight from beginning to end.

I then found his blog and read what he had to say. In his latest writing, “Making it Plain,” he said:

I at least have not had to work through any credibility issues, or do any damage control concerning my message. I have never one time in nearly 39 years of preaching said a derogatory or condemning word about people with same-sex attraction. An in-depth search can be made through my books, or through decades-worth of tapes, CDs, DVDs, or manuscripts of my sermons, and there will be no evidence of the preaching of condemnation found.

Further, just before that he said:

I think it’s important to point out that my main message is and always has been one of love, grace, and tolerance. Church In The Now has been a multicultural/multi ethnic/ecumenical community since its inception, and, as such, has established a long-standing reputation as being a bridge builder among belief systems and people groups. It is neither a white church, nor a black church – it is a church for all people – so it will not become, now or ever, a “gay” church. CITN is inclusive because we believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, demands that we be…and that Gospel is simply the Good News that GOD IS LOVE, demonstrated through the Christ, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the lifestyle demands made by the Gospel are summed up in two basic and proactive commandments: (1) Love God (2) Love people. That’s all. Church In The Now will always be a place that embraces the truth of the real Gospel, and the simplicity that is in Christ.

I had done what I have so long preached against… I made lots of judgments and offered my friends and family a knee jerk reaction.

I, like the older brother in the story felt like all the attention the Bishop was getting for coming out at 52 when I was out at 13 was a little much. One can read my previous blog to get the full story on that.

I felt like as an openly gay pastor and progressive person of faith I had taken the heat, buried our people, held the hand of the oppressed, fought the fight, stood on the front lines and taken the bullets of hate, ridicule and disrespect. In fact I could think of many of us pastor’s who have for long time been barley able to make ends meet because we took the opportunity to be out, proud and free.

Of course so has the Bishop:

Concerning any negative things written about me online, which are mostly done by conservative Christian or Evangelical groups or watchdog organizations, I can only say that it comes with the territory, and I’m used to it. I have no desire to defend myself, or to argue the Scriptures with those who would not be open to anything I would have to say. Integrity can’t be proven, it must be discerned.

I’ve been discussed on blogs and websites for years because of my inclusive theology, and because of the spotlight being on my family for some time because of my uncle, Bishop Earl Paulk, who died nearly two years ago. Usually, any negative article about me begins by making the connection with him, and, even though I don’t understand why that connection is germane to my story, I guess it makes it more interesting to some.

In the last few days I’ve been called both a hero and heretic. I don’t believe that I am either. At the end of the day, all that really matters to me is what God thinks and says about me, and that is between Him and me.”

So why write this? Why admit to the community I was a jerk in the way I responded to the story, that I was childish and immature?

First, because words have power and as we have seen with the bullying issue words can have a devastating impact both in the short term and the long term. My open and public words were no better than any bully. For this I am deeply embarrassed and sorry…May God have mercy on me.

Second, two words, being authentic! At Gentle Spirit Christian Church it has been taught for years that we “walk the talk”. So not to admit publicly I was wrong after public words of judgment would hypocritical at minimum and anti-gospel at the worst.

Finally but not least, each one of us travel this life and for the most part do the best we can with the cards that are given to us. The Bishop is right on the mark when he says there are only two things that really matter: (1) Love God (2) Love people.

I know tonight, my face book words did neither of those things…God have mercy on me a sinner.

Bishop Swilley, welcome home and may God bless, protect and encourage you in the days ahead.