“Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real,” I Kings 19:1-15

I have a few moments in life that are free of fear and worry – I call them moments of sheer panic. But with God’s help, there’s another name for such moments – we call them “peace.”

Travelers insurance ran a series of TV commercials a few years ago about fear. One of my favorites showed a bunch of cute bunnies who are confronted by a very large menacing rattle snake. We see the panic in their little rabbit eyes. But then something strange happens. The rabbits all start laughing hysterically, and as the camera pans around to show a full view of the snake, we see why. Instead of a real rattle, this snake has a pink baby rattle duct taped to his tail. And the announcer says, “Let Travelers take the scary out of life.”

With all due respect to any of you who are in the insurance industry – we can’t really take the scary out of life thru any kind of financial instruments. We even call our investments “securities.” But as we know from the recent roller coaster recession, they aren’t always. I hasten to add that we all need insurance because insurance can take some of the pain out of accidents and life events. When Hurricane Ike took half the roof off our house a couple of years ago we were very glad to have coverage that paid most of the cost of putting a roof back over our heads. But any time we get high winds and ominous skies and the tornado sirens are wailing, it’s still scary.

I even read in the Columbus Dispatch recently that you can now buy divorce insurance. Honest, I’m not making that up. What a great wedding gift for the couple that has everything? Sort of seems like betting against your own team, doesn’t it? I’ll check with Pete Rose about that next time I see him.

The problem is that it’s not insurance we need, its assurance. We all know money can’t buy happiness (even though we keep trying). Well, you can’t buy peace of mind either. That’s putting trust in things that “thieves can steal and rust and moths can consume,” – to quote Jesus in Matthew 6. Nothing that’s finite and material can give us peace because none of that stuff will last forever.

I mentioned the prophet Elijah in my Ash Wednesday post on “Transfiguration” a few weeks ago, and his story is worth a deeper look for what it can teach us. I Kings 19 tells how Elijah learned up close and personal how scary and uncertain life can be. Remember the job description for a ‘prophet’ in the Bible is not a fortune teller, but someone who speaks God’s truth to powerful people who need to hear it, and who usually don’t want to. It’s not a job for sissies. To understand Elijah’s fear, we need the back story that precedes chapter 19. In those chapters Elijah gets engaged in a super bowl contest with the prophets of Baal, one of the pagan gods in Israel. The odds are not good in this contest. 450 prophets of Baal vs. only 1 prophet for Yahweh, and that prophet is Elijah. The contest is pretty simple. Each team calls upon their god to send fire down from heaven and ignite a big bonfire they have built around an altar. The 450 prophets of Baal go first and try everything they can think of to implore Baal to show his power. Nothing happens.

When it’s Elijah’s turn, he decides to up the ante. He pours gallons and gallons of water on the wood piled around the altar. If any of you have ever been camping and tried to build a fire with wet wood, you know how difficult that is. But Elijah calls on Yahweh, and the altar is consumed in flames. And then the story takes an ugly turn. Elijah gets a little carried away with himself and his victory. It’s sort of like football players celebrating too much after a touchdown, only much, much worse. Elijah killed all of the prophets of Baal. I’m guessing he was still a little afraid of a rematch in a BCS bowl game; so he wasn’t taking any chances. But very seriously, we need a footnote and reminder that whenever we read these kinds of Hebrew scriptures that seem to glorify vengeance we need to read them thru the filter of Jesus’ commands that we love our enemies and turn the other cheek. Violence and revenge only perpetuate more of the same until someone says “enough, this is just not working.”

And speaking of vengeance – that’s exactly where we pick up the story in I Kings 19. Verse one says, “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done.” Oops – now, Elijah is in deep do do. Ahab and Jezebel were king and queen of Israel and big fans of the false god Baal and his prophets. And Jezebel hasn’t heard Jesus’ message about loving enemies. She’s from the eye for an eye school, and when she threatens to kill Elijah he knows she means business. Let’s just say Jezebel was never in the running for Miss Congeniality.

So Elijah, quite understandably, is afraid. His flight or fight mechanism kicks in, and knowing he has no chance to win a power struggle with the wicked queen, he gets out of Dodge post haste. He goes a day’s journey into the wilderness and leaves his servant behind so he can be as alone as he feels. He is so scared and discouraged that he simply plops himself down under a solitary broom tree and asks that he might just die and get it over with.

Ever had times in your life when you are just ready to give up – when all hope is lost? Elijah is overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty. Life is coming at him fast in the form of Jezebel’s hit men, and he sees no way out. He has forgotten about the God of Moses and Ruth and Abraham and Sarah who can make a way out of no way.

There are several lessons we can learn from Elijah about coping with uncertainty in our lives:

Lesson 1: God provides for our needs.

Elijah has forgotten God, but God hasn’t forgotten Elijah. God sends room service – an angel touches him, not once but twice, and says “get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you.” And that angel is not just talking about Elijah’s trip from point A to B. He’s talking about the journey of life. When we are lost and lonely and grieving, we frequently lose our appetite or literally forget to eat. But God provides for our needs—both physical and spiritual– when we’re ready to receive them–and frequently in most unexpected ways.

Elijah eats the food provided by God, and it must have been really good food. The text tells us that “on the strength of that food Elijah went on for 40 days and nights,” Why 40? The same reason Lent is a 40-day period of preparation for Easter. 40 is a Biblical number that is used often to show us how long God provides for us; and the answer is for as long as it takes. Noah’s flood lasted 40 days and nights. The Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. And Elijah travels for 40 days. All of that means God is with us for the long haul. The 40’s are not necessarily literal numbers but a way to remind us that God provides for us for as long as it takes, no matter how long that is.

And please note where Elijah’s journey takes him – to Mt. Horeb, the mount of God. Horeb is another Hebrew name for a mountain we know better as Mt. Sinai, the very place that Moses ascends during the Exodus to receive the 10 commandments. Just as we call that big mountain in Alaska “Denali” or “McKinley” because it was named by different tribes of people at different times, so the Hebrews had two names for this Holy place where God’s presence was found.

Elijah thought he was running away from evil, but he was really running to God. He doesn’t know it, apparently, just as we are often surprised when we stumble into God when we least expect to, because there is no place we can go that God is not already there.

Lesson 2: We are never separated from God.

And that’s another important lesson for us to learn from this story – we can run, but we can’t hide from God. God comes to Elijah in the cave where he is hiding and asks a haunting question that we all need to hear. God says, “what are you doing here Elijah?’ And Elijah takes the question, as we often do, too literally. He goes into this long sob story about how awful his life is and why he needs to hide, and how he’s the only faithful person left on the face of the earth. But the question for Elijah and for us is not so literal – it’s a life purpose and mission question – what are we doing here? What is our life purpose as individual Christians, as a church, as citizens of a troubled nation and world? What are we doing to make a difference? Hiding because we’re afraid, because life is coming at us too fast? Saving up for a rainy day instead of trusting God’s abundance and providence to meet our needs? Snarfing up all the manna from heaven we can find in case God reneges on his promise and fails to provide daily bread for us tomorrow or next week? Because we trust God to provide for us every day, the Lord’s prayer doesn’t ask for food to last us until spring or until the economy recovers – we simply pray “give us this day our DAILY bread.”

What are we doing here? Shaking in our boots, making excuses, complaining about how awful those politicians or CEO’s or terrorists, relatives, bosses, kids, spouses, teachers, coaches, preachers… are making our lives? Or are we drawing on the resources of our faith and our mighty God and living lives of faithfulness–confronting our fears and turning them over to the only one who can ever really take the scary out of life.

Lesson 3: Most Fear = False Evidence Appearing Real

Most fears are false evidence appearing real, but the only way to know that is to face them. You can’t defeat an imaginary foe. Our granddaughter once told her little brother that there were vampires living in the closet in his room. For weeks he was afraid to go into his room alone because he believed his sister’s false evidence was real. Elijah was afraid because he believed he was totally alone, doomed, abandoned by God and everyone else. He believed that he was dead meat, and as we will see, he was dead wrong on all counts. His fear was fed by false evidence appearing real.

Lesson 4: We all need time alone with God ….

The next lesson here is that Elijah needs rest – time alone with God. And we all need that. Turn off the “smart” phone and computer and Ipod and tv and telephone, and take time, regularly to relax, re-create our bodies, minds and souls. We all need vacations, sabbaticals, retreats – even Jesus did, and if he did, what makes us think we don’t? We need time to listen for God’s still small voice. As Elijah learns, God doesn’t always speak to us in earthquakes or wind or fire, but in what one translation calls “the sound of sheer silence.” In other words, if we want to hear what God is telling us, we need to shut up and listen. And that includes when we pray. Don’t just spend all your prayer time telling God things God already knows! Take time to listen.

Lesson 5: We need time alone with God… But, we can’t stay there permanently.

Next lesson, yes, we do regularly need retreats – time alone, but we can’t stay there permanently. In the Gospel accounts, when Jesus takes Peter and James and John with him for a mountain top experience and Elijah and Moses appear to them, the disciples first reaction is to homestead there. They want to build houses for Jesus and Moses and Elijah, but Jesus says, no. He knows they have much work to do down in Jerusalem and can’t stay on the mountain forever.

My church’s mission statement says “We share God’s love by words and action.” We need to walk our talk. God’s question is what are we doing here? The letter of James says “faith without works is dead.” We can’t work our way into heaven, but we also know that faith inspires lives that bear good fruit. Of course it is important to be assured of our personal and individual salvation – but that’s only half the gospel. Remember that when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus didn’t stop with one. He said we need to love God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind, but then he says the second is equally important — love your neighbor as yourself.

OK, I can hear what many of you are thinking. It’s the “yes, but” moment in the sermon. You’re thinking, “that’s good, Steve. We believe it, but we’ve got too much to do. There are too many problems in the world. We can’t possibly fix them all. We’d like to help and we do what we can, but we feel so alone.” When the “yes, buts” raise their ugly heads, we need to get off our buts and trust God—because …

Lesson 6: We are NEVER in this Alone!

Perhaps the most important lesson of this Elijah story is that we are never alone, even though it often feels like we are. Elijah is never alone. He is suffering, but we all suffer. It’s part of the human condition. There are two parts to this lesson – we are obviously never away from God (see point #1 above). But sometimes we feel like little Johnny who was afraid of a storm and unable to go to sleep one night. His mother went in to comfort him and reminded him that he had learned in Sunday School that God and Jesus were always with him, that he wasn’t alone. And Johnny said, “Yes, Mommy, I know, but sometimes I need somebody with skin on them.”

We all do, and the Elijah story reminds us that we never without human partners if we’re willing to see them and accept the fact that our partners in mission don’t always look the way we expect them to look. God says to Elijah later chapter 19 – “Go on your way and as you go anoint Elisha to be a prophet in your place and anoint Jehu as new king of Israel, and by the way, there are still 700 faithful people out there who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” We are never alone if we are doing God’s work.

It is so important to face our fears because fear motivates retreat. Fear shrink wraps the Gospel when it makes us afraid of being prophetic, of challenging bigotry and judgmental thinking. That kind of fear is the spark for burning flags and Korans instead of promoting dialogue and tolerance for different perspectives. Fear is what wants to throw the baby out with the bath instead of finding the good in any situation or relationship or failure or political system. Living in assurance means building on those 700 faithful ones instead of letting one evil queen or king silence the truth. Fear keeps us from getting to know others who appear so different from a distance but have the same needs for love and grace all humans have. It is so much easier to judge or fear a stereotype than someone we know as a fellow human being.

Faith is the only antidote to fear that works – it allows us to laugh at our own foolishness, just as the rabbits crack up in the Travelers’ commercial. We love and laugh at our fears because we know that God alone can take the scary out of life. How do we know that? We know the cross of Calvary and the tomb on Easter are empty. We know that in the game of life, the powers of evil and hatred and fear have a big goose egg on the scoreboard, and God’s eternal, life-giving love is off the charts. It’s a worse mismatch than OSU vs. Eastern Michigan. No contest.

Paul says it best in Romans 8 – “If God is for us, who is against us. For we know that nothing – hear that, nothing in all creation, not fear, worry, death, powers or principalities, nothing in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I leave you with a great question: If you knew you could accomplish anything God wants you to do and were guaranteed that you could not fail – what would you do with your life? Well guess what? The good news of the resurrected living Christ that we model our lives after is that we can’t fail if we have God on our side. In Christ, God has already taken the scary out of life and death once and for all.

That means we have no excuse to run and hide when life comes at us fast. God says, hey Steve, hey church, I have already conquered the world – so what are you doing here?

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Stop Kicking the Can or Perish

I was reminded the other day of how strong denial can be in getting humans to face obvious but difficult realities. An obituary in a local newspaper reported that a person who was under hospice care had died “unexpectedly.” Seeing others in denial is worth a chuckle, but it’s also a reminder to check the mirror for any logs in our own eyes.

When I played “kick the can” as a child I never could have imagined what a dangerous political game it would become in the 21st century. The most recent federal fiscal fiasco has me reflecting on what the Judeo-Christian heritage has to say that can help save my grandchildren and their children from paying for the short-sightedness of my generation. This is not a new problem. Several times in the Hebrew Scriptures we are warned that the sins of one generation are visited upon their off-spring “to the 3rd and 4th generation” (Exodus 20:5, 34:6-7, Deuteronomy 5:9). Even though it’s bad theology to blame bad consequences on a vengeful God punishing children and grandchildren for their ancestors’ disobedience and foolishness, the simple wisdom that actions have consequences is indisputable and needs to be applied across the board to liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike, to complex problems like balancing the budget and global warming.

My first thought about political short-sightedness is often about climate change and the refusal of many conservatives to take seriously the mountain of scientific evidence that indicates we are damaging mother earth’s eco-system in a multitude of ways that will have irreversible long-term effects for much longer than 3 or 4 generations. When well-meaning politicians and business leaders say we can’t afford environmental regulations on businesses because of the short-term impact those laws have on employment and economic development, the Scripture that comes to mind is Proverbs 29:18. The King James translation of that verse I learned as a youth says, “Without vision the people perish.” More recent and better translations of the Hebrew text say, “When there is no prophesy (or prophetic vision) the people cast off restraint.” Modifying “vision” with “prophetic” is a critical distinction because short-sighted goals that favor the bottom line at all costs are still visions, but they lead to long-term disaster. Faithful, prophetic visions however take into consideration both the short-term and long-term consequences of our decisions for the well-being of all God’s children, even those yet to be born.

Two word-study comments are in order: “Prophesy” in biblical terms is often confused with simply foretelling the future, but that key theological concept is far more complicated that simple crystal-ball gazing. The Hebrew prophets were not psychics but those anointed by God to speak God’s word of truth to those who need to but usually do not want to hear it. A common phrase in the Hebrew Scriptures is “the law and the prophets” indicating both the need to know God’s laws and codes of behavior represented by such passages as the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20), but also the practical interpretation and application of those general rules for living to specific circumstances. The latter critical thinking is what prophets do. The second phrase in Proverbs 29:18 that is worthy of comment is “the people cast off restraint.” The other use of that phrase in the Hebrew Scriptures occurs in Exodus 32:25 where the Hebrew people make and worship a golden calf even while Moses is on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. The Hebrew words there are translated as describing the Hebrew condition as “total loss of social order,” “out of control,” or “laughingstock.” It seems to me those terms could easily be applied to the polarized political situation in the U.S. today.

Here’s my latest take on the common problem on both sides of the political debate, i.e. short-sightedness or lack of prophetic vision. On one side we have the simple mathematical facts that (1) spending billions more than we have is a sure-fire formula for disaster and (2) our current system of providing resources for our increasingly older population, i.e. Social Security and Medicare, is not sustainable unless it is reformed. Everyone acknowledges those elephants are in the room and getting bigger every day, but no one so far is willing to pay the political price of picking up that hot potato and making the painful decisions necessary to address the problems. “Kicking the can down the road” has become the catch phrase for passing the buck, which means visiting the consequences of our short-sighted denial of these problems onto the 3rd or 4th generation.

Another major issue demanding solution is the environmental survival vs. economic growth impasse. This issue is so critical for humankind that it cannot be an either/or partisan debate that results in stubborn refusal on both sides to do anything or we will indeed perish as Proverbs predicts. Prophetic vision demands courage on both sides of the political spectrum to lead us out of denial to a willingness to make whatever political and economic sacrifices must be made that will not be popular with anyone but are necessary for the long-term survival of our nation and our planet.

For Christians this season of Lent is a perfect time to reflect upon the necessity of sacrificial living. None of our current societal problems can be solved with a competitive win-lose mind set. Every citizen and political faction must be willing to compromise and find common ground instead of the perpetual electioneering we now have. The Hebrew prophets can serve as models for that kind of servant leadership. Biblical prophets never won any popularity contests or elections because they spoke truth instead of party platitudes or ideology. They put integrity and facing uncomfortable truths ahead of personal goals and comfort. Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah were willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, and we need leaders today who are willing to do the same today before it’s too late.

Jesus followed in the footsteps of those Hebrew prophets. He took upon himself the role of suffering servant and prophet described centuries earlier by the anonymous prophet known as Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55). Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem in the final months of his life and nothing could deter or detour him from his destiny on the cross. His disciples repeatedly urged him to bail and take an easier path, but Jesus knew what was required of him and put God’s truth and justice above all thoughts of personal comfort or glory. My prayer is that God will raise up leaders again today with that kind of courage and that all of us will have ears to hear and courage to follow instead of just kicking the can down the road to some other generation.

For this Lent 2013 with sequestration, budget cuts, climate change and a host of other challenges, I find inspiration and guidance in the words of a great hymn by S. Ralph Barlow, “O Young and Fearless Prophet.”

“O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee,
Thy life is still a summons to serve humanity;
To make our thoughts and actions less prone to please the crowd,
To stand with humble courage for truth with hearts uncowed.

We marvel at the purpose that held Thee to Thy course
While ever on the hilltop before Thee loomed the cross;
Thy steadfast face set forward where love and duty shone,
While we betray so quickly and leave Thee there alone.

O help us stand unswerving against war’s bloody way,
Where hate and lust and falsehood hold back Christ’s holy sway;
Forbid false love of country that blinds us to His call,
Who lifts above the nations the unity of all.

Stir up in us a protest against our greed for wealth,
While others starve and hunger and plead for work and health;
Where homes with little children cry out for lack of bread,
Who live their years sore burdened beneath a gloomy dread.

Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind,
That knows not race nor station as boundaries of the mind;
That learns to value beauty, in heart, or brain, or soul,
And longs to bind God’s children into one perfect whole.

O young and fearless Prophet, we need Thy presence here,
Amid our pride and glory to see Thy face appear;
Once more to hear Thy challenge above our noisy day,
Again to lead us forward along God’s holy way.”

At Home in the Universe, II Corinthians 5:6-6:2

Do you remember what it was like to be at summer camp or some other foreign place and be so miserably homesick that you thought, and perhaps wished, that you would die? The gospel song that says, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” describes that horrible feeling for me. And homesickness is not merely a childhood disease. Adolescence, mid-life crises, old age are all life interruptions that are ways of describing recurring outbreaks of homesickness—of feeling broken, alienated and alone in a strange world where we often wonder what we’re doing here?
We try to cure our homesickness with a host of home remedies—large doses of education, exercise—be it running marathons or climbing corporate ladders, accumulating friends and/or lovers who fill our time and the lack of peace we feel. Power, money, prestige, new cars, new clothes, new houses, new jobs, new spouses, booze, beauty treatments, Grecian Formula. We try it all don’t we? And for the most part it is all a huge waste of time and money. Because when we let our defenses down and find ourselves alone with nothing to do—remember those were the times the homesickness got you at camp too? When we’re not too busy to think and feel, then the old feeling sneaks up on us and we start feeling like that motherless child again.
The sad part is that we all feel that lack of peace frequently. But we rarely let anyone know. The world is full of homesick, motherless and fatherless children, and Paul tells us in Corinthians that our job as ambassadors or instruments of peace is to comfort the homesick and assure them they can always come home again—to God, the only reliable true source of peace. The homesick need to hear that word of reconciliation now—to know that peace is not off in the distant future. It didn’t help to have some well-intentioned camp counselor tell me that my parents would pick me up at the end of summer camp on Saturday when it was only Tuesday. I wanted someone to comfort me and hold me right then. I wasn’t sure I would even live till Saturday! That’s why Paul says we are already new creatures in Christ. The day of deliverance has already come in the Prince of Peace from Nazareth.
That’s the good news we need we are to give one another. But as you well know, one homesick kid cannot cure another one. The disease will spread like an epidemic once the tears start to flow. So, if we are to be reconcilers, we need first to be reconciled to God. We need to be at peace ourselves if we have any hope of being peacemakers. We need to be made whole, cured of our own homesickness before we can help others who are lost and afraid.
We need to hear and know that there is only one cure for deep, ontological homesickness, and that cure is faith–faith that is deeper and distinguished from mere belief. Belief is holding certain ideas about something, or about life. Faith, on the other hand, is a more total and deeper response of inner peace and trust. For example, it is one thing to believe a parachute will open properly, to understand the physics of why and how parachutes work. But it is quite another thing to have enough faith or trust in a parachute to strap one on your back and jump out of a plane at 5000 feet.
Faith, according to theologian Wilfred Cantwell Smith, is “a quality of human living. At its best it has taken the form of serenity and courage and loyalty and service: a quiet confidence and joy which enable one to feel at home in the universe, and to find meaning in the world and in one’s own life, a meaning that is profound and ultimate, and is stable no matter what may happen.”
To be at peace means to “feel at home in the universe,” to know as the “Desiderata” says, that “You are a child of the universe, no less than the rocks the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be….and keep peace with your soul.” To be at peace at home in the universe is to be at peace with oneself and God.
I have cherished a very powerful and concrete image of what it means to be at home in the universe since shortly after the space shuttle Challenger explosion in early 1986. Part of being at peace is an ability to find meaning and truth in unexpected and even tragic circumstances. For me, the final words from Commander Dick Scobee before the explosion have become a mantra for me of peaceful living. About sixty seconds after blast off Mission Control informed the Challenger crew that they were going back to full power, and Commander Scobee’s confident reply was, “Roger, Go With Full Throttle Up.”
When we are at peace we dare to live life with full throttle up, knowing as those astronauts did that there are serious risks in living. We know also that there are far more serious risks in refusing to face life’s challenges honestly and courageously. Chuck Yeager, a test pilot famous for his description of those early space pioneers who had “All the Right Stuff,” said after the Challenger explosion that “every astronaut and test pilot knows that such a tragedy can happen anytime you go up. But you can’t dwell on the danger or you would not be able to do your job.” Then he added, “There’s not much you can do about it anyway.”
Life is like that. We are all travelers on spaceship Earth, and like the Challenger 7, we are all sitting on enough firepower to blow us all to kingdom come several times over. That’s enough in itself to make us a little queasy, a little homesick, isn’t it? Even if we didn’t have to cope with the routine hassles of living—the doubts, the fears, the guilt, and the disappointments. But we all do have to cope with those things every day. And we all need a faith that will help us feel more at home and at peace in the midst of our hectic and often chaotic lives.
When I was 6 or 7 years old I discovered one sneaky cure for homesickness. I remember coming home with my family from a visit to my grandparents’ farm or my aunt and uncle’s house late in the evening. I would often fall asleep in the back seat of the car after a hard day of playing with my cousins, but I would wake up when the car pulled into our driveway. Sometimes I would pretend I was still asleep because I knew that if I did, one of my parents would carry me into the house and tuck me into my bed. It felt so good to be held in those strong, l loving arms. I felt so secure, the direct opposite of homesick. Don’t’ we all long for that kind of security and closeness at every age?
Then we grow up. We lose that peace in our necessary attempts to establish our independence. We move away, physically and intellectually from the simple belief structures that once made sense of life for us. We become, for better or worse, independent, responsible adults. And with that independence often comes the feeling of homesickness.
How do we get in that situation? It’s like a conversation I overheard between my in-laws several years ago. They were talking about how my mother-in-law used to sit right next to Dad in the car before they were married. This was in the days before bucket seats, of course. My mother-in-law was asking why that changed after they got married. My father-in-law finally just smiled and said, “Well, I’m not the one who moved.”
So it is with our human and heavenly parents. We are the ones who think we want distance and freedom. And that’s OK. We are the ones who get embarrassed when our parents want to hug and kiss us in public, and we’re much too grown up for that kid stuff. And that’s OK too. It’s all part of growing up. And we’re the ones who think God’s rules for living are too confining, too old-fashioned, and certainly our parents are. We are very sure we can do much better on our own. And that’s OK too. So we go out on our own and we blow it, not once, but several times, and that’s also OK. We learn from those experiences. But what isn’t OK is when we are too proud or guilty to admit that we were wrong or that we really do need help.
It’s hard to admit we’re wrong. People just love to say, “I told you so,” don’t they? So we don’t even try to be reconciled with family or friends or even with God because we’re afraid we’ll be rejected or ridiculed. Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians and us that just isn’t so in this passage from II Corinthians 5. “God does not hold our misdeeds against us.” We are forgiven and loved by the essence of Being itself. “The day of deliverance has already dawned.” Peace is here, now, for those who humbly accept it.
Jesus told a story once about a very homesick young man. You know the story from Luke’s Gospel (15:11-32), but you haven’t heard the letter I found recently from that young man to his father. Strangely enough, it was postmarked in Chicago. Listen:

Dear Dad,
I’m sorry it’s been so long. You’ve probably been worried sick about me, haven’t you? Well, I’ve been meaning to write, but I didn’t have any good news, and I didn’t want to worry you. I was in Florida for a year after I left home. I lost the money you gave me on some bad investments. I got mixed up in some drug dealing and spent some time in jail. Please don’t tell Mom. I’ve been bumming around the country doing odd jobs and stuff since I got out of the joint. I was living in a half-way house here in Chicago for several months till I got into a fight with one of the supervisors last week. They kicked me out.
Things are bad here, no jobs, no money. I’ve been living on the streets, eating at soup kitchens or anywhere I can find a meal. It’s a lousy way to live. But I guess I don’t deserve any better. I know now that you were right about staying in school. I’d sure do things different if I had it to do over.
I’m real sorry I hurt you and Mom. I’m embarrassed to ask this. I’ll understand if you don’t ever want to see me again. But I’m sick and cold and would appreciate it if I could come home, for just a little while. Just till I can find a job. I’ll pay you back for my room and board as soon as I can, I promise.
Your son, John

By overnight special delivery, John got a plane ticket and a letter from his father that simply said:

Dear John,
You can always come home, anytime.
I love you,
Dad

(This sermon is included in my book, “Building Peace from the Inside Out: Stories for Peacemakers and Peace Seekers,” chapter 12)