Author: AJ Langston


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Open House

Our congregation is part of Duet – a nonprofit that offers a wide range of free-of-charge help for homebound adults, family caregivers, faith communities and grandparents raising grandchildren. Duet has recently moved to a brand new office space located at 10000 North 31st Avenue, Suite D200, Phoenix, AZ 85051. An open house and ribbon cutting ceremony at Duet’s new office is being planned for March 1, 2018, at 3:00-6:00 p.m. Duet invites you to stop in to see their new space that showcases all of the collaborative and caring services they offer. Please RSVP by calling (602) 274-5022.

Health and wellness are key in helping congregations flourish. Duet is a resource for faith communities and nurses who want to create health programs that help the “whole person” – in mind, body, and spirit. If you want to explore how to start and maintain a nurse or lay led congregational health program, join Duet at one of these FREE informational sessions:

Tuesday, February 13 10:00-11:30 a.m.
Duet: 10000 N. 31st Avenue, Ste. D200 Phoenix, AZ 85051

Thursday, February 15 4:30-6:00 p.m.

Madison Baptist church: 6202 N. 12th Street Phoenix, AZ 85014

Categories: Newsletter

Preschool News

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February is a special month here at the preschool. It’s a time for the kiddos to learn about love and friendship. We will be talking in chapel time about God’s love for us and how God wants us to be kind to one another. This month we will be talking about pets, friendship, snow, health and nutrition.

Since we are talking about pets this month, we were thinking about a class pet for the preschool. It would help teach responsibility and team work. We’ll keep you posted.

We are also thinking of making a garden for the preschool in the flower box. Any donations for the garden would be great or volunteering to help with the garden would be much appreciated.

The preschool is in NEED of age appropriate books to read and magazines for art and cutting practice.

Thank you all for your continued support and prayers for the preschool.

February Birthdays! Ms. Sunshine ~ 20th

Best Regards,
Sunshine Tinker, Preschool Director

Categories: Newsletter

PW Event

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PW is planning to attend another play by the Sun City Players

Community Theater on Sunday, March 11th at 2pm. Performance is at the Mountain View Center, 9749 N. 107th Avenue, Sun City. (107th Ave. south of Peoria). The cost is $10 and the play is Nunsense. It is a musical comedy about five nuns. More than twenty of us went last year and had a great time. We’re hoping to have a good turnout again this year. If you would like to attend, please have your money to me ASAP! Pam Osgood

Categories: Newsletter

The World Is Charged With the Grandeur of God

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The World Is Charged With the Grandeur of God

(Transfiguration Sunday) Feb. 11, 2018

This is one of the most remarkable and puzzling experiences in all of Jesus’ ministry.  All three of the Synoptic Gospels–Matthew, Mark and Luke–tell this story with a great deal of consistency.

The story begins with the words, “Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter, James and John and went up on the mountain to pray.”

Eight days after these sayings….What does that mean?   Eight days before Jesus had told them that he would undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the leaders of the Jews,  and be killed.

I think Jesus goes up on the mountain top to confirm his decision to make his way on to Jerusalem.  As you study the life of Jesus, you see that there are many turning points, and he has to struggle and pray at each of these defining moments to discern the will of God.  So when we are peering out into the murky future, wondering what’s next, wondering what decision is good for us and our loved ones, wondering what decision would meet with God’s approval, it’s comforting, I think, to know that Jesus also struggled with the same uncertainty.  He wasn’t some pre-programmed robot, destined to follow a certain course his entire life.  He came to many forks in the road, and each time he would go off by himself to meditate and pray about which road to take.

And as he was praying, the appearance of his face changes, Luke tells his, and his clothes became dazzling white.  When Moses went up on Mt. Sinai, and returned with the Ten Commandments, it is written that “he knew not that his face shone.”  To enter, as Moses and Jesus did, into the presence of the Holy One of Israel, to stand in the white, windy, presence of eternity, to hear the Word of God directly and personally, is such an enlightening experience, that a person’s face must reflect a radiance as never seen by human eyes.

The old American preacher, Jonathan Edwards took this as the basis for pastoral care evaluations.  He would assess from someone’s countenance how much they had been impacted by the beauty of God in Jesus Christ.

And Friedrick Nietszshe,  who was a preacher’s kid and knew the church up close, knew precisely that this was clearly not happening.  “Christians,” he said, “ought look more redeemed.”

But before we leave this point,  we ought to note in passing that Christians like Mother Teresa literally brought people back to life and health just by looking at them through the eyes of Jesus.

Back to our story: While Jesus is in prayer, his disciples fall asleep.  The poor disciples.  They are always portrayed in the most unflattering light.  They never get who Jesus is.  They are competitive, selfish, and dull.  Here in one of the most dazzling moments of their life, they are fast asleep.  So take courage, if you are like me, having slept through and missed some of the greatest opportunities to see and know God

But they are awakened by an uncanny voice saying, “This is my son.”  When they looked uphill, there was Jesus dressed in the purest white and standing in the midst of Moses and Elijah, Moses the supreme  lawgiver of Israel, and Elijah, the greatest prophet.  Jesus and Moses and Elijah are in conversation.  James and John, known for their blunt excitements…Peter known for being brash and outspoken, are totally  speechless.

Moses and Elijah began to fade.  And though his clothes and face were still shining unbearable, Jesus walked toward the three.  He was still not himself–not the man they had known, yet each of them privately came to believe what they would tell one another after his death.  When Jesus reached them, he held out his hands, still streaming light and they must have thought,  “We will never be gladder than this.”

And whatever else this mountain top experience means, what it meant to Jesus is clear to see.  It gave him strength to go on to Jerusalem, Gethsemane, the Judgment Hall, and the Via Dolorosa.  

And the disciples were transformed by this mountain top experience as well.  Oh, not immediately.  It came much later for them, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, but they realized–looking back upon this day, that is was one of the most glorious experiences of their lives.  

As a mountaineer, I’m interested in mountain top experiences, both figuratively and literally.  There’s something awesome about standing on top of a mountain.  I have a friend, a mountain climbing buddy named Dick Miller, whom I have climbed with many times.  One day, as we were sitting on the summit of Mt. Hood in Oregon, after a long and grueling climb, this is what Dick said:

“When the mountaineer returns to a low-world occupation on Monday morning, associates often believe they are in company with a lunatic.  Face swollen from sunburn, feet tingling with frostbite or sore with blisters, muscles and mind limp from fatigue, eyelids heavy from lack of sleep, what is the answer to the question, “Did you have a good weekend?”  Says the thick tongue, still dry and swollen, “Very interesting climb!”  ON the following Friday, when the same mountaineer becomes lost in maps and weather forecast, it is no wonder that associates, who are planning a picnic at the beach or an exciting day watching hydroplanes race, look at one another and slowly shake their heads.  The mountaineer is unquestionably insane to those of the low world, but sanity is relative to time and place.

In the high world it is raving madness to talk about sewer taxes, the late movie, and presidential ejections.  Who can think about mowing a lawn and pruning roses while walking through meadows beyond the skill of the massed energies of every garden club in America plus all the Bonsai artists of Japan?  Who can be agitated by the high cost of living while trying to start a fire in a downpour or rig tent in a July blizzard?  Who can lay waters on the world Series while listening to the winds, and the silence, of high altitude?  Once you have been startled by the brightness of stars or even frightened by the realization they are points of fire in a space that extends around and below, as well as above the world; once you have stood in the sunshine on a rock summit above an ocean of moving clouds, you can never again be entirely sane by standards of the low world, nor will you ever want to be.”

What have been your mountain top experiences?  If you would answer, not many, I mainly live in the flat lands, that would be true of most of us.  But, if we think about them, there are many mountain top experiences, experiences of glory and grandeur that we miss because like Peter and James and John, we sleep through them.  The Jesuit priest, Gerard Manly Hopkins contented that the world is charged with the grandeur of God.

And who on this spring morning, with Bradford Pears lining the road way, daffodils asserting their yellow heads above the earth, and forsythia beginning to wear a yellow coat, can deny that?   Who can deny the glory of the world, the glory of human beings, the glory of every moment of every day.  

Whenever we travel to Holland I nearly always visit the Van Gogh museum.  Two hundred and fifty of his seven hundred and fifty paintings are on display there.  Van Gogh began painting at the age of 27, and by the age of 37 he was dead, a suicide.  He battled depression his whole life, and to compound his depression, his art was not well-received.  He tried to hurt himself by cutting off one of his ears.  

And yet this mad genius gave us some of the wildest paintings imaginable.  He lived with a burning desire to “grasp life at its depth.”  One night he looked out his window, and the sky was spinning with glory.  His painting “The Starry Night, is composed of vivid indigoes, yellows, golds, greens, blues and blacks.  A tree of the left ripples up like flames.  Chimney smoke from village houses connects with the stars.  And the sky!  The sky is filled with mammoth stars that whirl across the canvas like living things.  

That kind of glory is around us, if we can open our sleepy eyes to see it.

One last story, told by my friend, Susan Andrews, a Presbyterian pastor.  It happened when she was spending a summer of Clinical Pastoral Education at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.  One of her wards was a medical/surgical ward where the patients were both mentally ill and recovering from life-threatening illnesses.  Most of the patients were poor, black, and victims of addictive behavior.

It was not a pleasant place to behold, for a young woman, young in years, young in ministry.  One morning there was a new patient in her ward–a man in isolation–all alone in his room–suspended between life and death.  Both legs amputated, but gangrene still creeping through his body . She could smell the stench of decay even before she entered the room.  The man moaned and sweated in miserable delirium.  For an hour she wandered up and down the hall, seeing other patients, resisting going in to see him, nauseated by his disease and at a total loss as to what to do.  What could she, a 25 year-old white woman, possibly do or so to ease this man’s situation.

Finally, she walked into the room, took the man’s hand, and prayed the Lord’s prayer.  And that’s when it happened, when the holy broke into the human, when God took over and grace flowed through her.  The man stopped moaning, his eyes stopped rolling, his body stopped shaking.  He looked at Susan and began repeating the Lord’s Prayer with her.  For a moment, all was still, and a peace that passes all understanding filled the room.  A few minutes later, after Susan left the rom, the man’s suffering ended.  He died, finding peace at last.  

I can’t  explain moments like that any more than I can explain the transfiguration.  I can’t explain why Moses’ face shone every time he was in the presence of God.  

But I do believe those experiences happen, even though I don’t fully understand them.  They happen on the mountain top and down on the plain.  They happen in high moments of our lives and in moments of deep sadness.  If we stay awake, if we pay attention, we will find that grandeur of God, which electrifies the entire world.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Plaques and Memorials Policy

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Plaques for memorials and / or gifts will be placed on the wood wall just inside the Sanctuary from the Narthex. The plaques will be 2” high, 4” wide, polished brass, with black lettering that is 1/4” tall.

Memorials for the Johnson Memorial garden will be bricks that have the names, dates etc. water jetted into them.

Requests to place ashes into the Johnson Memorial Garden will follow the following rules:

1. Ashes will be limited to no more than a tablespoon full
2. Ashes will be placed into one of the large potted plants with the soil being lifted / pulled back for the deposit of ashes and then covered back up.

Categories: Newsletter

January Session News and Views

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The best news so far is that Donna Davis, the Church Treasurer, reported income for 2017. Black ink looks better than red ink. Thank you Donna, Lisa O’Kelly, and Carol Spiegelhoff for taking care of the finances and counting the money after worship.

Communion dates were approved for 2018; January 14th; February 11th; March11th, & 25th; (Maundy Thursday) 29th, (Easter); May 13th; June 10th; September 9th; October 7th, (World Wide Communion); November 11th; December 9th, 24th, 5PM only one service Christmas Eve.

The budget for 2018 was approved. Session approves of the budget. The congregation may ask questions and discuss the issue but Sessions makes the decision.

The plaques and memorials policy was approved. (Details on next page)

Tom & Nancy Butler presented an item for a proposed outreach ministry through music. To organize a choir to sing Christmas music to groups such as shut-ins, nursing homes, service organizations etc. This would be of no expense to the church and the group would perform in November and December. Thank you Butlers for a plan to reach out to others. It is good to get new bodies into our congregation with new ideas. Tom & Nancy, with Jim and Renee Petrausch, Lex and Cheryl Sheets are our newest members and all are in the Chancel Choir. Renee fills in on the organ and piano when needed. With these six and with Jonnie Crawford, Betty Lang, Dale Lunde, Sandy Lunde, Bob and June Marvel, Rita McElwain, Keith Spiegelhoff, Rory and Shella McKeowin, that joined P.P.C. earlier in the year, WE ARE BLESSED AND WE ARE GLAD YOU ARE HERE. June also sings in the Chancel Choir.

The church treasurer is authorized to use her discretion on solving the Servant Keeper software problem.

Word was received of the death of Stanly Fowler on February 11, 2017, in Illinois. Stanley was a winter visitor for several years and his smiling face is missed.

Categories: Newsletter

Lent 2018

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For over 2000 years Christians have begun their walk toward Easter with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday occurs 46 days before Easter (40 days and 6 Sundays) and is patterned upon Jesus being in the wilderness 40 days, fasting and praying before launching his public ministry.

We will observe Ash Wednesday on February 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary. Ash Wednesday is a penitential service. The priest or pastor places the sign of the cross on worshipers foreheads with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Traditionally Christians commemorate the Lenten season with prayer, fasting, and study. We are blessed this year to have a renowned Biblical scholar, Dr. Michael Hegeman, lead us in a Lenten study called, “The Meaning of the Death of Jesus.” Information on that study is included in this newsletter.

“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. ”Dr. Samuel Johnson once quipped, “The thought that a man will be executed at sunrise concentrates his attention wonderfully.”

Although we know we will not live forever, we live as though we will avoid this certainty. To ponder our mortality aright is to repent of our sins and to live holy and godly lives.

See you in church!

Categories: Newsletter

Super Bowl Theology

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Super Bowl Theology
Philippians 2: 5-11 Feb 4, 2018

I don’t know if it’s divine coincidence or not, but the lectionary reading for today is from Isaiah chapter 40: “They shall mount up with wings as Eagles.”
This afternoon at 4:30 pm 6 pm the Philadelphia Eagles play the New England Patriots for the championship of the entire universe. Well, not exactly the entire universe but pretty close.
The Super Bowl is the single biggest event in America in any given year. No other sporting event, political event, or cultural event compares to the size of the audience that will watch this game today, at least 110 million people. The game will be broadcast to 225 countries. And it will be held in Minneapolis where 1 million people have flocked this week to take in the Super Bowl parties, events, and for a fortune few, the game itself.
Alas, even though the Super Bowl will be held in Minnesota, the woeful Minnesota Vikings failed yet again to make the big game.
The Super Bowl is the high holy day of American sports, the most sacred sporting event of a nation obsessed with sports, and all that sports represents: competition, money, and winning….at all costs.
Now I know that not all of you are football fans. But football fans or not, I contend that there is something about Super Bowl mania that deserves our reflection. I call it Super Bowl Theology. Let me tell you what I’m getting at.
Two years ago the Seahawks snatched an improbable victory from the Packers in the NFC championship. The Seattle quarterback, Russell Wilson, was just awful for nearly all of the game. But in the last five minutes he came to life, and led his team to two touchdowns. He was in tears when he was interviewed just as the final whistle blew. “God is so good, man,” he cried, “God is so good all the time.”
A few years ago in a playoff game the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback informed a sideline reporter that God was responsible for the Jags victory. Not coaches, player, recruiters, trainers or owners. No, God was responsible. And how does the QB account for his team’s success? “Thanks be to God,” he says. “There’s a bunch of guys on this team who really love the Lord.” (I take it that the other team didn’t love the Lord as much as the Jags.)
Now, all this would be mildly amusing were it not for the fact that a lot of people take this stuff seriously, and swallow a big dose of Super Bowl theology. Children and young people, in particular, are influenced by the set of rules that goes along with it.
I personally don’t think God cares very much about who wins the Super Bowl today–or any game for that matter. With car bombings in Afghanistan and a civil war going in Syria, God has more important business than the point spread of today’s game.
I like what Coach Bill Parcels had to say before a big game between his team and the Pittsburgh Steelers. When asked whether God would favor one side or another, he said, “No disrespect to anyone, but it usually works better when the players are good and fast.”
That makes sense. You could take eleven of the finest, most dedicated Christian pastors in this country, and pit them against eleven nail spitting, big, fast, tough, heathen atheist football players, and the Christians would get smeared.
If you think all this is a little ridiculous I agree, but I have to tell you this kind of thinking slips over into ordinary life. A man doesn’t get a promotion, and he feels that God didn’t want him to have it. A woman fails in her marriage, and feels like God’s hand was somehow in that defeat. A young mother miscarries, and feels like she didn’t do something right.
Let me just say that God is never in the sending of misfortune and suffering, only in the ending of it. Misfortune and suffering first pass through God’s hands before coming to rest in our hands. Super Bowl theology promotes a distorted view of God and promotes bad religion.
Another aspect of Super Bowl theology is how we have distorted the competitive aspect of sports. In every sport, someone wins, someone loses. Winners get an ego-boost. Losers crawl away on their belly. Thus, we have a society of winners and losers. Look at it this way: “Do you want to be called “A winner” or “A loser.”
It’s rare when we think of sports in a non-competitive way. You go out on the field. You give it your best. You may win, or you may lose, but your satisfaction comes from the joy of the sport itself, and the opportunity of pitting all that you have against all that someone else has.
The reason I’ve enjoyed climbing as an adult is that it is a non-competitive sport. Some climbers compete with others for the most peaks climbed, but I have found joy and satisfaction by being with a group of climbing buddies and cooperating with each other, with helping each other. It doesn’t matter who makes the summit first….what does matter is that everyone makes it, that we’ve been together, that we’ve been tested by the mountain, and have managed, on this day, to climb to the top.
When I first climbed the Grand Teton my buddy who was in the lead waited for the other three of us, and we joined hands and stepped on the rocky summit together. In climbing, we all win together, or if we don’t make it, in a sense we lose together, but we come back to climb another day.
And there is one other matter we should note as we sit down today at 4:30 pm with our popcorn and sodas to watch the big game. And that is something we never see in this spectacle. What we never see and are only beginning to realize is what happens to these players after their careers come to an end.
`According to the NFL Players Association the average career length is about 3.3 years. — 3.3 years, a very short career followed by a life-time of devastating consequences.
Why do they do it.Well, certainly the love of the game and a chance to make some big bucks. The average career earning of an NFL player is 6.1 million dollars. It’s very hard not to be tempted by such a staggering pay-out– especially if you are good.
In 2015 there were 271 concussions in practices, preseason games and regular games.
And as regards other injuries–knees blown out, Achilles tendons ruptured, bones broken and other injuries too numerous to mention. Our AZ cardinals at the end of this past e season had only 25 players left on its roster from the 53 who made the club opening day.
96 per cent of ex NFL players have some form of brain disease. They used to call it getting your bell rung. If you want to see a chilling movie rent “Concussion” starring Denzel Washington as the doctor who brought the concussion cover up by the NFL to light.
John Unitas
Jim McMahon
Ken Stabler. …
Tyler Sash. …
Frank Gifford. …
Mike Webster. …
Dave Duerson. …
Chris Henry. …
Jr Seau
Now in interest of full disclosure I’m going to watch the Super Bowl today in hopes that the evil empire headed by Bill Bellichek and Tom Brady get humiliated by the high flying Eagles. But I watch with mixed feelings because I know that some of the players on the field today whose names are unknown by the public, have a frightening prognosis 20 or 30 years down the road. It’s no wonder that more and more parents are saying, “I will never let my son play football.”
Think for a moment about Super Bowl theology and contrast that with the spirit of Jesus. What was he like? Paul says that though he was in the form of God, he did not grasp equality with God as something to be grasped. Instead he was humble, obedient, and accepted death on the Cross.
Jesus never once tore anybody down, never once said a mean thing against another human being. He said hard things, spoke hard truths against the hypocrisy of his day, but he was never mean. He lived life lightly. All he ever owned could have been carried in a little backpack. He was easy on the earth, and not a conspicuous consumer. He never cared whether his clothes were in fashion, or whether he associated with the right people. Instead he associated with all the wrong people. He was particularly drawn to the outcasts and the losers of the world–to women, and children, and lepers, tax collectors and sinners. He never competed with anybody for anything, and he if had anything at all to give, he gave it, without reservation. He never claimed that God was on his side. He said that God was on the side of all who knew what it was like to kneel in the dust and beg God for mercy and cleansing. And at the end of his life, he did something that we ponder in awe and to this day do not fully understand: he chose to go to the Cross.
Consider Jesus. Consider the fact that we worship a loser, a failure, a disgrace, one who died the death of a shameful criminal.
Have this mind among you, Paul says. Have this mind. All of us are a million miles away from that kind of life, but to that kind of life the whole future belongs.

“The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.”

Rev. Dr. Terry V. Swicegood
485 E Campina Drive
Litchfield Park, AZ 85340
623 521 1711
Categories: Weekly Sermon

Good To Have You Back, Son

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Good To Have You Back, Son
Luke 15: 11-31

​You could outline the experience of the younger son with this succinct description: sick of home, homesick, home!
​We don’t know if harsh words were said between the boy and his father when the boy demanded his share of the inheritance. But we do that the younger boy was so hungry to be free from home and responsibility that he wished his father dead–at least symbolically–by asking for him to settle his estate early and give both brothers their share. ​So the younger brother takes off to a far country, and spends his substance in loose living, or as the KJV so deliciously puts it, “in riotous living”. And he began to be in want. And Jesus says, “He came to himself.” He came to himself.
​I know a man who likes to swim in the ocean. One winter he Florida he was swimming in the Gulf, and was caught by a strong current. He suddenly realized he might not be able to get back to shore.
​The younger son in this story had gone so far out that he might not ever been able to get back. It was a moment of crisis and a moment of awakening. There are two great days in our life–the day we are born and the day we discover why we were born. SO HE CAME TO HIMSELF. He began to realize who he was. He began to realize where he belonged. He began to realize where he had gone wrong. ​
​So the prodigal makes the journey home. He comes with a carefully prepared speech, not so much expecting get back in the good graces with his father, for he knows that will never happen again. But at the very least he figures that he can have what his father’s hired hands have; three square meals a day and a roof over his head. But his father will have nothing of the speech making. He shushes him; he kisses and embraces him, and throws the party of all parties for him.
​Now he comes home, you must remember, having spent all of his inheritance in loose living. He comes home–and remember this: now he has to live off his brother’s inheritance, what rightfully belongs to his older brother.
​No wonder his brother was seething. You and I would be, too.
​He has been out in the fields, hoeing corn. He’s dirty, the he’s hot, he’s tired, and he comes in from the fields to hear music and merrymaking inside.
​”What’s going on?” he asks a servant.
​When he gets the story, he refuses to go inside. He draws a line in the sand which he will not cross. So his father has to come outside to meet him, and he spews out his indictment:

“Here, all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed you command; yet you never pitched a party for me so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back…” (Note what he says–not, “My brother,” but “This son of yours” meaning “I want no part of him. He isn’t my brother.” “When this son of yours came back, you killed the fatted calf.” ​

​So here he stands seething. He is angry because his own behavior has not been rewarded. He is a typical first-born: trustworthy, loyal, brave, and true. He is what family systems therapist call the “hero” child, the good boy, who is always praised for being responsible.
​Those of us who are first borns know a little how he felt. It’s a heavy burden to carry being the first born in a family– always having to be the good little boy, the good little girl. There are times we hate that role. And part of the anger the elder brother felt, I am sure, is that his younger brother went off and did what he had often thought about, but never had the courage to do: to throw responsibility to the wind, to play, to be carefree, to have fun day and night.
​And so when his younger brother comes back, all he can do is to hide behind a barricade of self-righteousness. All he can do is to point out to his father how dutiful he has been; how hard he has worked.
​What a good boy am I–and now what does he have to show for it.
​We know that Jesus chooses the elder brother in the story to challenge the Scribes and Pharisees who couldn’t understand why Jesus would rub shoulders with the riffraff of society, tax collectors and sinners. Theirs was a religion of loveless piety, loveless morality and loveless respectability. So Jesus takes pains to say that such an attitude is not only suffocating; it is downright dangerous. For when we, like the Scribes and Pharisees, feel that we are good little boys and girls, that we keep all the rule, that we lead respectable lives, then it is very hard to see ourselves as sinners in need of God’s grace and mercy. In fact, there is a correlation I have noticed in my ministry: the more decent and upright we are, the harder it is to understand and receive grace. The two verses in the Bible that every respectable person needs to carry in his heart are these: “There is none righteous; no not one;” “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
​And then there is the main character of the story, the father. Jesus does not begin his tale by saying, “There once was a man who had a father and an elder brother” but “There was a man who had two sons,” letting us know whom the story is about–a father who loved two children and wanted them to love each other, as well.
​The father in the story is transparently a figure of God. And notice what the father does. He goes out to meet both sons. In the case of the first boy, “While he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”
​In the case of the second son, who was sulking outside the house, “His father came out and began to plead with him.”
​Here is the picture of the God who takes the initiative with us. In the first case, when we feel broken, sinful and ashamed of what we have done, the father has compassion. He runs and puts his arms around us and kisses us. He doesn’t expect us to come crawling on our belly.
​In the second case, when we are feeling self-righteous and proud, God comes to us pleading with us, trying to melt our hearts of ice.
​In thinking again about this parable I was wondering what happened a month or six months after the younger son came home. Was he so grateful for his father’s love that he had a change of heart? Did he have a conversion experience? Was he a finer and nobler human being because of his father’s forbearing love? Or was he the same ungrateful idiot that he was when the story opens?
​ Last week I talked about a search mission I was a part of on Mt. Hood in December, 1984. Our team from Portland Mountain Rescue headed out into a fierce storm to look for Hal Coghill Jr. Who had been missing for two nights. I got caught in a small avalanche while we were scouring the mountain in search of him. I felt lucky to be alive.
​After a long day’s search we returned to the ski patrol hut at Timberline Lodge, all agreeing that we probably find his body when the spring thaw came.
​Later that night, he was able to make his way down the mountain to safety. He had been holed up in a snow cave for two days. From his vantage point high on the mountain, he was able to see the lights of timberline Lodge when the storm broke, and he made his way back to safety.
​When he was interviewed by the sheriffs’s department, he was unrepentant for climbing alone during the winter, a cardinal sin. And about those of us who were searching for us, he said, “They didn’t have to come to look for me. They knew the risks they were taking.”
​At that point if I had been present, he would have had an ice exe permanently embedded in a prominent place in his body.
​Well, that was it. We did go a nice letter of thanks from his parents , but nothing from him. But a few months later a cassette tape was mailed to our unit, and I listened to it. It was the missing climber, Hal Coghill, speadking before his home church in Burnt Hills, NY. He talked about his experience on the mountain, and he promised God, while holed up his snow cave, that if God would spare his life, he would make some many changes in his life. He told the congregating that he had accepted Christ in that snow cave, and was thinking about going to seminary to become a Methodist pastor.
​I listened to that cassette tape in February or March, 1985. And then I told you all that story two weeks ago. But then I wondered. What really happened to Hal Coghill , Jr. Did he remain the same incurable jerk that he was in December, 1984, or did he follow through on his promise? So, a few years ago, I did what we all do when we want to know something. I googled “Hal Coghill, Jr.” and came up with a name of a man who is in the IT Department at Cornell University. I emailed him asking if he were the young climber lost on Mt. Hood in December 1984. He emailed back, “Yes.” I told him I was one of those searching for him.
​Here was his email to me:
​“As you know that frozen meeting with God was life changing! Exactly one year later, I was married to my wife (we met at church and are working on our 29th year) on 12/28/84 in my parents Methodist Church. And two years later the birth of our second daughter also occurred on that same day 12/28/86, so obviously that day is packed with significance in our family!​​
​“God has blessed us with four kids in birth order: Serenity, Keren, Elizabeth, and Daniel (in USAF). I have been very active in every church I have attended. We moved from southern California to upstate NY in 1990 to be close to our NY based families. I currently lead the Men’s Sunday school class at the Owego Nazarene church I attend ( and sing in their choir. Before moving to Owego almost 10 years ago, I was involved with Prison Fellowship prison ministry for many years (great blessing and ministry). I attended Talbot Theological Seminary (Biola University) for a couple years part time while we lived in California, but with a growing family, had to side-line that pursuit. My wife and I are currently members of our local fire department, she is an EMT and I am a firefighter and first responder, we have only been fire department members for a couple years, but enjoy helping others in their time of need. We live on a farm here in what is called NY’s southern tier which my wife inherited from her father. I work at Cornell University as an IT professional. Now that we are somewhat empty nest parents we are looking for ways to serve God, and are thinking about spending some time in Haiti next year.”
​Well, not every story has such a satisfying ending as this one. But some do.
​I’d like to think the prodigal turned out all right. As did Hal Coghill. As has lots of many of us here today who have known what it’s like to dead and then alive again, to be lost and then found.

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