9-17-17 Forgiveness Stimulates Forgiveness

Forgiveness Stimulates Forgiveness

Indianapolis First Friends

Pastor Bob Henry

September 17, 2017


Matthew 18:21-35 (NRSV)


21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church[a] sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven[b] times.


23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[c] was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;[d] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[e] from your heart.”


The concept of forgiveness is extremely important in our world today.  Some consider forgiveness the business of the church, and if that is true, I would ask, how well are we doing? 


David Zenon Starlyte in an article on Beliefnet titled, “Why Radical Forgiveness” says this,


“It seems that in today’s world, selfishness, lust for power, hatred, violence and other unwanted dramas are still very much at play. The despair and separation seems to be reaching saturation point. It is an invitation to consider what historian Charles Beard said when asked what he had learnt from history, “when it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”


It is similar to several conversations I have had over the last couple weeks, where I find myself sharing an illustration from a Brian McLaren conference I attended 8 or so years ago at Goshen College. It was when gas prices had sky-rocketted to $4 a gallon and people were grumbling about the high cost of driving. A heckler had come to question Brian and before he even stepped on the stage to speak the heckler asked out loud and in a sarcastic tone for everyone to hear, “Hey Brian, what did you drive here today!”  Now, Brian was talking about making a major shift in thinking about ecological issues and their relationship to theology and the church. He knew this heckler was trying to back him into a corner and make a point. Calmly, Brian said, “I drove a Prius. But there is two ways I can answer your further questions, we can talk about my carbon footprint or we can talk about what needs to happen right now in our world.” Brian didn’t miss a beat - he looked at the man and said, “Do you know what high gas prices should do?...(without giving the man a chance to respond, Brian continued…) “They should cause people who think differently and creatively to make better cars.” 


Looking back, it is interesting, that in the past 10 years, we have seen the largest production of high efficient, eco-friendly, battery-powered cars. This shows us that it matters how we individually respond to our times, because the change is going to first come from within you and me.


When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.”

When the gas prices are high enough, you can make better cars.

And when we are so divided as people groups, religions, cultures, and nations, you can be better people - and I believe that starts with forgiveness.


Currently, we are in one of those times in our nation and world. And the question is what are we going to do? Whether it is time for reformation, whether it is time to return to our roots as Quakers, whether it is time to make changes in our seemingly dying faith, one thing that is clear is that our world is crying out for help and we are called to respond. 


Sadly, we have learned well to draw lines. Actually, our country was founded on drawing lines and living out an “us vs them” reality. To much of the world lives in polarities and has lost any sense of coming together for a greater good.    


If we are people of peace and we are seeking peace, we must heed the words of Jesus in our text for today.  Peace is not resolved through hatred and division, but by first humbling ourselves and changing our own hearts and finding ways to reconcile and forgive. 


Starlyte says


“If the past taught us anything, it is that conflict stimulates more conflict. So, too, forgiveness stimulates more forgiveness.”


Let me say that again - “Forgiveness stimulates more forgiveness.” 


Where on the news are we hearing stories of radical forgiveness? It is very limited even rare these days.


I believe the reason is that forgiveness is very personal. It takes commitment and a personal wrestling in our own hearts and souls.  Some would say we have to count the cost of forgiveness and know if we truly want to reconcile and forgive those that have hurt, abused, or treated us wrongly.  




Most likely you have heard our text at some time in your life. It probably has been conveyed in many different ways depending on your upbringing and church affiliation, but the more I consider what Jesus was doing, I see it as a window into what I will label “the mind of Christ.” Something we are going to be exploring throughout this fall from the pulpit.


What we have in our text this morning is a picture of a severely merciless king who takes pity on a simple servant who owes him a huge debt. And we have a picture of a common person who has been shown tremendous mercy unwilling to extend it to someone else.


We can get caught up with trying to make this about certain people and making God the merciless king, but I think we would be totally missing the point spending time trying to make that connection.


Jesus has just made a major point to Peter - when you forgive, (and let me put it in the Pixar translation) forgive to infinity and beyond.  Not 7 times but seventy seven (or as some translations say seventy times seven) all another way in Jesus’ day of saying “beyond count.” - or to infinity and beyond - either way Jesus was meaning never stop forgiving.  


Then Jesus does what he does on numerous occasions he has those gathered sit down for a story or lesson to illustrate his point. What Jesus gives us is an example of what this looks like lived out in the Kingdom of God. When Jesus does this he is literally saying,


Let’s get into the larger mind.

This is what it looks like.

This is how you do it.

Let me help you see.


In Greek its call metanoia.  Meta means beyond and noia means mind - so Jesus is trying to take us beyond our own minds. It is interesting because metanoia is actually the word we often translate “repent” - to make a change or turning from sin.”  But what Jesus is really calling us to do is see beyond our own minds into God’s mind.   


We are such literalists that we look so hard at the characters to represent certain people and even try to apply it to others to make us feel better - but the point is for us as individuals to learn the struggles of our own hearts and minds and to transcend our own thoughts and align ourselves with the “Mind of Christ.”


In the story Jesus tells, we are presented a double standard of sorts regarding radical forgiveness and mercy.  If forgiveness is to stimulate more this example it does not happen. Actually, the one who is forgiven, does just the opposite to the next person he comes across.


Often Jesus gives us “negative example parables” to learn from and to prompt our minds to get us out of our ruts and thinking.  When we begin to realize that we so desire forgiveness and reconciliation with our neighbors, but often don’t take the opportunities afforded us to give forgiveness and mercy to others, we then seem to have an inner crisis.


It is when we are presented this that God wants us to have a moment of metanoia - a moment of going beyond our mind into how God thinks about forgiveness and its possible impact.


David Zenon Starlyte sheds some light on this process as it relates to our personal struggles with forgiveness. He says, 


“When you liberate yourself, you automatically liberate others. Choosing goodness crosses the barrier of ego limitation, and invites others to walk with us, as our light is shared amongst others. Radical forgiveness is a broader gift – an act of grace and service to humanity. It’s a process of final resolution, release and healing. Radical forgiveness is not sensible, rational, logical or “right” – it’s an invitation to open the heart to acting completely and unconditionally loving without a selfish motivation. Not that one doesn’t get something out of forgiving. Forgiveness is an act of self-love – it gives a double gift, rewarding both the giver and the receiver. That’s why forgiving and letting go is the most powerful choice one can make for oneself and for humanity.”


In the mind of Christ, forgiveness is a radical, liberating, life changing, releasing, healing, and the most powerful act we can engage. 


The whirlwind of crazy we find our world in is crying out for people to embrace a position of radical forgiveness.  To break down barriers of hate, fear, privilege, and selfish motivations, God calls us to transcend our own thoughts of revenge, retaliation, and division and find ways to extend radical forgiveness. It may take time, some personal metanoia, and lots and lots of humility. Yet when we attempt to live out the mind of Christ in our world, we will see change. 


Forgiveness stimulates Forgiveness. 


So, as we go into waiting worship, let’s take a moment to look at the queries in the bulletin.


Who do I have a hard time forgiving? Why?

What metanoia needs to take place in my heart to be able to forgive?

How might forgiveness lead to peace in my world?



9-10-17 Patronus of Love

Patronus of Love

Indianapolis First Friends

September 10, 2017

Pastor Bob Henry


Romans 13:8-14

8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.


11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.




Our text for this morning is a major shift in thinking for early followers of Christ and for the average citizen in the Roman world. Often I find the Roman world not much different than our own - in this case, I can’t read the text for this morning without first getting an understanding of the backstory. 


Why would Paul be talking about running up debts?


It seems like it would be similar to someone saying today, Stop using your credit cards or going shopping and pour it all into your love for one another. But there is more to this discourse than we first glean because we see with 21st century eyes. 


Morgon Guyton in his commentary on this text gives great insight to exactly what Paul was addressing.  Just listen to what he says,


“In the ancient Roman times when the apostle Paul was writing, social debt was a lot more overtly recognized. Roman society was organized according to what is called a patronage system. The way to gain political power was to do favors for powerful people so they would be indebted to you. You could throw parties for them if you had the money, or if you couldn’t afford to throw parties, you could at least throw rotten fruit at the chariots of their enemies [It sounds familiar doesn’t it...not much is different in our political system still today in America, just our “rotten fruit” comes in the form of Tweets]. Some “debts” were acknowledged and compensated; others weren’t. The art to moving up the social ladder was to figure out how to make your generosity stick to somebody more powerful...Roman civilization very openly acknowledged that everyone except the emperor was indebted to somebody. Debt didn’t mean fiscal irresponsibility; it was inherent to every relationship. So when Paul writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another” in a letter to first-century Romans, he is making a radically counter-cultural statement that repudiates the basic building block of the entire Roman social pyramid.


This really sheds some light on how politically infused the message of early Christianity was and why it cost the early Christians often their livelihood or even lives. Paul, as much as Jesus, pushed back on the political system in not so subtle ways. Just the idea of Paul - most likely a fairly well-off religious leader of his time - fighting the system of patronage was a radical and activist-like approach. 


As an artist, I have had a positive spin on patronage most of my life.  You may have heard in the history of art the term “arts patronage” which by definition refers to the support that kings, popes, and the wealthy have provided to artists such as musicians, painters, and sculptors. If it wasn’t for “arts patronage” we would not have the beautiful museums, architectural sites, and natural areas of beauty in this country and the world. 


The problem is that Patronage has been closely linked to status in our world, today.  It is the wealthy that are patrons. When wealth and power and money combine we can have two different outcomes - it can be either extremely beneficial - or it can become abuse of privilege.   


What Paul is addressing in his day [and very appropriately in our day] is patronage that has taken the wrong turn - that has gone from support, encouragement, and financial aid bestowed on others - to a system that has become about power, privilege, and upward mobility. 


It is still evident in the church today, it is what we call having a “prosperity gospel.”  Benjamin Corey describes it this way. 


●     It associates the rich with being “blessed” instead of the poor. The very opposite of what Jesus taught.    

●     It claims the idea that obeying God results in a “good life” by worldly standards.

●     It can’t explain why bad things happen to faithful people - because that messes with the premise of it all.  [For example: A megachurchpastor in Houston (which most people know) told hurricane victims that they should “take it (the hurricane) as a compliment” as if losing your house is somehow a sign of coming favor of God.]

●     It creates people and religious ministers who are detached from their neighbors - who live in religious bubbles and do not know the needs of their neighbors.

●     It teaches people to put their hopes in the wrong place.


This is almost exactly what Paul is addressing in our text for today. 


So how do we not get sucked in by this religious and social culture prevalent in Paul’s day and in our world today? 


I will phrase it this way, we need to become patrons of your neighbors


Instead of creating a patronage system that is focused on us and our gain - Paul as well as Jesus taught that we need to be patrons of our neighbors -- that means the poor, the downcast, the widows, the orphans, the people imprisoned, addicted, less fortunate - those different than us, and those who have been minimized, marginalized, abused, unwanted and forgotten.  I believe every person in this meetinghouse today can relate to one or more of these. 


What does it mean to be a patron of our neighbors.  Let’s start with the word “patron”...


Wikipedia says the word "patron" derives from the Latin: 'patronus' ("patron"), one who gives benefits to his clients.


To be a patron of our neighbors we will need to give benefits of LOVE to our neighbors. 


Now, if you are a Harry Potter fan, like me, you might have heard something else - You may have just thought, “Did Bob just say that “patron” derives from the latin “patronus”?” And that may lead you to wonder as I did about that famous charm that those young wizards and witches of Hogwarts learned from Professor Lupin - the Patronus Charm.   


I have thought often that JK Rowling was a literary marvel to get children and adults back into books (and not little books, but big-ol-books 500-700 pages long) with the draw of technology and social media being so strong.


And at times I have found the Harry Potter books prophetic metaphors for culture, religion, and even political and societal constructs. In this moment, I went to the JK Rowling’s Pottermore website to look into the Patronus Charm - or what we remember the characters holding out their wands and yelling “EXPECTO PATRONUM.”  On her sight it says this...

The Patronus Charm (Expecto Patronum) is the most famous and one of the most powerful defensive charms known to wizardkind. It is an immensely complicated and extremely difficult spell that evokes a partially-tangible positive energy force known as a Patronus (pl. Patronuses) or spirit guardian. It is the primary protection against Dementors and Lethifolds, against which there are no other defence.

If you remember the scene where Harry and Hermione have used the Time-Turner and went back to save Sirus Black from being taken by the dementors, Harry and Hermione are watching the scene from across the lake awaiting what Harry thinks is his father’s patronus coming to bring protection. All of a sudden, Harry realizes that what he saw was not his father’s patronus but rather his own. It is a moment of personal insight for Harry.  He realizes in that moment he must evoke his own positive energy - the stag of inner light - the spirit guardian within himself.  And with those words, “Expecto Patronum” Harry conjures up a light that wipes out all the dementors and darkness and saves the life of his godfather Sirus Black. 


What a beautiful metaphor for us as Quakers. We all have a “Patronus” - a powerful inner light. That positive-energy-light needs to be lived out, activated, evoked out of us to be “Spirit Guardians” for our neighbors, our family, and our loved ones.   


The patronage is not for our own personal gain, but for the sake of our neighbors. Just listen one more time to what Paul wrote to the a more modern translation.

Romans 13:8-10 (MSG)

8-10 Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.


That is our call from last week’s Labor of Love gathering and that is our call as Quakers as we say, “Our guiding principle is LOVE.”  Will you join me in evoking our inner Patronuses and living out that positive energy and light as spiritual guardians of our neighbors?  Instead of Amen - I think it is more appropriate to conclude this sermon with…





9-3-17 - Labor of Love Morning Message by Malkah Bird

First Friends Meeting Labor of Love Meeting for Worship


Morning Message by Malkah Bird, American Friends Service Committee


Malkah Bird works for AFSC-Peacebuilding Indiana, is one of the chapter leaders for Jewish Voice for Peace-Indiana and is also a kindergarten teacher at Meridian Hills Co-Op.  She has a deep commitment to anti-racist work here in the United States and in Palestine and Israel. Malkah is inspired by the Jewish traditions and values of her upbringing to actively work and organize within her community to help build peace, justice and equality. Originally from Detroit, Malkah and her family moved to Indianapolis five years ago.  As a family, they love caring for chickens, cats and dogs and making time to explore outdoors. 


If you had told me, a couple of years ago, that today- I would be here speaking about racial justice, white supremacy, and Jewish resistance movements at a Quaker meeting- I would definitely not have believed you.  I am a kindergarten teacher.  And a mom, and I am not someone who ever thought of myself as an activist or an organizer.  But…some days we are called to be kindergarten teachers, and moms, and some days we are called to organize.  I am humbled and honored to be here with you all today. 


A few years ago, when my daughter was very young, she started asking us questions about faith and religion and Judaism.  I didn’t have a lot of answers for her and I started thinking back to when I was little and was learning about our faith from my family.   I remember asking my mom, “Who are Jews?” and she said, “Jews are The Chosen People.” and I said, “Chosen for what?” and she said, “Chosen to be Democrats.”


Now that I am older, I have come to realize that it is a bit more nuanced than that, but I think, at the time, she had made her point.  What she meant was, because of our history, our traditions, our beliefs, our faith, our values- we, as Jewish people, must always find ourselves standing on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor.  I grew up understanding that we must commit to the idea of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, to stand against injustice- even when it is uncomfortable or unpopular- actually, especially when it is uncomfortable and unpopular


In May of 1939, the ship the M.S. St Louis set sail from Germany with over 900 Jewish refugees aboard. They traveled across the Atlantic, fleeing persecution from Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. Upon arriving in Cuba, the US and Canada, they were not permitted to disembark, systematically turned away from each county on the basis of their religion. Ultimately, with no other option, the ship returned to Europe, where it is now known that a great number of the passengers lost their lives in the Holocaust.


I am part of one of the generations of Jewish people who was raised in the shadow of the Holocaust. Six million Jews, five million Roma, LGBTQ, disabled, communists, unionists and others murdered by the Nazis. After these horrors, Jewish people around the world made a promise that is etched into our beings. We said never again.


Never again will we allow the world to shrug at genocide.

Never again will we allow scapegoating of the most vulnerable.

Never again will we miss the warning signs of approaching madness.


But as people of conscience, we know that Never Again is not limited to Jews, it means Never Again for any one. From Gaza to Ferguson, Charlottesville to Indiana and everywhere in between.


A few weeks ago, The American Friends Service Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace, and all of us, watched in horror as white terrorist neo-nazis marched in the streets of Charlottesville.  The problem is, though: these acts of anti-black racism, anti-Muslim racism, anti-Semitism and nativism are neither new nor isolated.  


As we know, the news out of Charlottesville gained a lot of national attention, but we have to be clear on its nature.  It is really only the latest chapter in a book that must be named, again and again: White supremacy.  White supremacy that pervades our society.  White supremacy that devalues black and brown lives.  White supremacy that has been given official voice in several facets of our government.


And it is white supremacy that we must resist:  We cannot afford to condemn it as a fringe phenomenon.  


Instead, we — white people especially — must actively work to dismantle it in our streets and schools; our police departments and statehouses, our synagogues and our churches, and in our homes and our hearts.  


And we are heartbroken for the victims in Charlottesville, and for the daily victims of police brutality, systemic racism and marginalization.  But I am  also hopeful.  I am deeply moved and inspired by the tireless work and leadership of the people of color who are, and have always been, on the frontlines of the resistance movement. 


This weekend, with the looming uncertainty of DACA, we are reminded again of the humanity behind the talking points.  Of the 800,000 DACA recipients, children and families who are afraid, and yet continue to move forward, to show up, speak up and advocate for a more just and peaceful nation.  One in which black and brown lives matter as much as any other. 


A few years ago, when we had only been in Indianapolis a short time, Jewish Voice for Peace hosted an interfaith Passover Seder.  It was one of the first events that I did with the organization and it was attended by a widely diverse group of people- Jews, Muslims, Christians, Quakers.  We called it a Liberation Seder and focused much of the discussion on the on-going Occupation of Palestine and the need for peace and Justice in Palestine and Israel.  Part of the Seder was an opportunity for people to stand up and share their current justice work.  The overwhelming majority of those who stood to share were Quakers.  They had long lists of beautiful, non-glamorous justice work that seemed to be integral to their lives.


It was a powerful moment and a big part of the reason that I feel so lucky to now be working for the American Friends Service Committee, an organization that has been building peace and humanizing instead of militarizing for over 100 years.  I realized then that we are not all going to do everything, but we do have to do something.   Find some way to be in the world that helps amplify the voices of those in our society who are marginalized.  To stand behind those who are in the daily struggle for a more just, equitable and peaceful world.  Allow ourselves to be challenged and transformed by the struggle of solidarity and justice.


Last Spring I had the opportunity to hear the minister and Black Lives Matter activist Nyle Fort speak. He told us that, yes, we need resistance but we also need radical imagination- for, while the resistance tells us what we are working against, it is our collective imaginations tell us what we kind of world we are working for.  


So today- I thank you again for having me here in this beautiful space and I invite you to continue imagining and building peace and sharing your work as we transform together. 





8-27-17 Are You Listening?

Are You Listening?

Indianapolis First Friend

August 27, 2017

Bob Henry


Isaiah 51:1-11 (NRSV)

51 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. 3For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.


4Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. 5I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope. 6Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.



This week, I read through the text chosen for this day several times. I often read it in Lectio Divina style and read it over and over and allow specific words or phrases to speak to me to focus on.  This week, as I was listeningI heard God speaking these words in a more personal way and almost as though it was being re-written for us as we gather. So this morning, I will read the text we just heard again, but this time in a more personalized translation for our gathering this morning. You may want to close your eyes, if it helps you focus...


Listen, people of First Friends, you that seek God.

You are chips off the old blocks, Remember the names carved on those foundation blocks, George Fox, Elizabeth Fry, John Woolman, Susan B. Anthony, William Penn, Mary Dyer, Margaret Fell, and the list could go on, They make a quarry of great blocks from which we have been hewn. In the same way you are chips off the blocks of the greats. All the way back to Abraham and Sarah who were called and blessed and made many. God has always been wanting to comfort, nurture, and bless you. Yes, even you, who are living in difficult situations and unsafe times. God is comforting and renewing, bringing back to life, you and your community. There will again be laughter and smiles seen on your faces - and a song of thanks will play from your car radios and iPhones.


Listen, people of First Friends, and pay attention everyone in the entire United States and throughout the world. God’s words of hope have been delivered and have been sent out. God’s justice has become a beacon of light which now dwells within each of you.

God desires to swiftly deliver you from all that ails and destroys your world. A deliverance which saves you from wars, natural disasters, the evil of humankind, and your own mind. How will this be done, you ask? Instead of lifting up arms in war and wrath against you, God wants to embrace you with his arms of peace and give you hope.

Look up, and down, and all around for God is enveloping you in the midst of your pain, your struggles, your hurt. Don’t be crushed and die by the effects of those around you - those who discriminate, are greedy, who hate, rage war and live in anger. Instead, be embraced by the hope, peace, and joy of the saving grace of God. And in turn embrace neighbors, friends - even enemies - until they all experience God’s love and live in peace for ever.



I don’t know about you, but I think that is the message we need to hear in our world today.  Don’t you? 


This passage from Isaiah is filled with strong images of encouragement for people who have been through tough times.  I used to think that “tough times” were what other people went through - but as I have grown and matured, and experienced life, I have realized “tough times” can take on a variety of disguises - from difficult transitions, to depression, to loss of abilities, to technology challenges, to neighborhood and societal challenges, and yes, to the big things like death, sickness, unemployment and bankruptcy.


On my way home a couple nights ago, I was stuck in rush hour traffic on 69 listening to NPR.  The conversation revolved around the fastest growing killer in America [Pause] - social isolation.  Yes, you heard me right. Social isolation has surpassed some of the biggest killers in America. The study showed that,


“...people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die regardless of income or health status,”  (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)


It’s alarming - but it makes sense. We have become so busy, so obsessed with technology, so focused on societal issues and living the American dream, that we have missed the fact that people are isolated, lonely, neglected, and forgotten. 


A few years ago now, I was studying geriatrics and came across a study that talked about elderly people moving into nursing homes. It said that on the average, the last time an elderly person sees their family is on the day they are dropped off at the nursing home.


“Grandma and Grandpa (or mom and dad) are taken care of - so I now have more time to do what I need to do. I will get back to visit soon…” but that actually doesn’t happen. 


The elderly are not the most isolated though. Are you ready for this....Middle aged men are. Yes, you heard that correctly - middle aged men.


I could not believe at what an alarming rate middle aged men are becoming socially isolated. It has become rampant in the last 20 years.  Men wrap themselves in work, family, and technology and soon friends disappear...and quickly social isolation has enveloped them. This was a wake up call for me - as a middle aged man. 


But maybe this is a wake up call for all of us and our busy lives. Just maybe our “tough times” are because we are not engaging our friends, neighbors, our families, even our enemies.


●     We no longer know how to talk to each other.

●     We no longer spend time together - without our clocks ticking or phones dinging.

●     We no longer have time to relax, enjoy, and LISTEN. Media has our attention, our ears, our eyes, our lives. 


That is why our text for today is so relevant to our times - in both statements from our text this morning it begins with the word: LISTEN!


We are supposed to be good at this - we are Quakers.  We are all about expectant waiting and listening.  We have processes for listening and gaining clearness. This is considered one of our distinctives anddisciplines.


Looking a little deeper, listening actually means we have to stop, take a moment to evaluate and become aware again, and then respond.


Frederick Buechner, in his book, “Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation) describes it this way...


“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”


Listening to our lives will have us looking back to our origins, just like in our text for today - maybe we will need to explore our personal or family history, maybe our spiritual ancestors, maybe the people who have inspired us.  Doing that helps us remember who we are and reminds us of the promise that God has not abandoned us.  


When I was at Huntington University I had my students create a Spiritual Biography timeline. They were to mark where they recognized God active in their lives.  As they would present their timelines, many would share horrific struggles and difficult times that they had endured in such a short life span.  What amazed me was it was in those “tough times” that they would say they recognized God’s presence the most. Whether it was a parent, friend, relative, pastor, etc...they recognized it as God’s presence in their lives. God never abandoned them - even though they thought they were going through hell. And looking back, and listening to their lives they recognized it. 


We often have to look to our past to find hope for the future. With all that is going on in our world, I have been reading a lot of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, and John Woolman lately. I even picked up a copy of Cornel West’s National Bestseller “Race Matters” from 1993 and could not believe how helpful it was for our current day.


The past can help us to see a way forward and remind us of what not to repeat.  And it most definitely shows us how God has used people to make a difference.     


The question is...are we listening? 


●      Are we listening to God?

●      Are we listening to each other?

●      Are we listening to our own lives?

●      Are we listening to history?

●      Are we listening?


Let me close as I opened this sermon with my personalized version of Isaiah 51:1-6 - let it be a call upon our lives to first listen and then respond. 


Listen, people of First Friends, you that seek God.

You are chips off the old blocks, Remember the names carved on those foundation blocks, George Fox, Elizabeth Fry, John Woolman, Susan B. Anthony, William Penn, Mary Dyer, Margaret Fell, and the list could go on, They make a quarry of great blocks from which we have been hewn. In the same way you are chips off the blocks of the greats. All the way back to Abraham and Sarah who were called and blessed and made many. God has always been wanting to comfort, nurture, and bless you. Yes, even you, who are living in difficult situations and unsafe times. God is comforting and renewing, bringing back to life, you and your community. There will again be laughter and smiles seen on your faces - and a song of thanks will play from your car radios and iPhones.


Listen, people of First Friends, and pay attention everyone in the entire United States and throughout the world. God’s words of hope have been delivered and have been sent out. God’s justice has become a beacon of light which now dwells within each of you.

God desires to swiftly deliver you from all that ails and destroys your world. A deliverance which saves you from wars, natural disasters, the evil of humankind, and your own mind. How will this be done, you ask? Instead of lifting up arms in war and wrath against you, God wants to embrace you with his arms of peace and give you hope.

Look up, and down, and all around for God is enveloping you in the midst of your pain, your struggles, your hurt. Don’t be crushed and die by the effects of those around you - those who discriminate, are greedy, who hate, rage war and live in anger. Instead, be embraced by the hope, peace, and joy of the saving grace of God. And in turn embrace neighbors, friends - even enemies - until they all experience God’s love and live in peace for ever.





8-20-17 Forget the Hand Sanitizer

“There is a God force inside of you that gives you a will to live.” 

Dick Gregory (Comedian of the Civil Rights Movement)


Forget the Hand-Sanitizer

August 20, 2017

Indianapolis First Friends

Bob Henry

Matthew 15:10-20 (NRSV)

10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”



The text for today is a parent’s nightmare.  Actually, what Jesus is teaching may cause my Kindergarten-teacher-wife a bit of alarm or anyone who considers themselves a germ-o-phobe. 


Let me explain...


Sue has hand sanitizer wherever we go. It is in our car, in her purse, she finds random dispensers on counters, outside bathrooms, at hospitals...she even collects ones with specific scents and in a variety of sizes for her purse, the driver door in our van, and throughout the home. The boys and I are always being asked to “hold out our hands” as though we are going to be handcuffed by the handwashing police only to be lathered with a squirt of cold and quickly evaporating solution. 


During VBS, this year, I found myself channeling my wife’s persistence to utilize the hand sanitizer before our snack time each night. Not one kid could have a snack without first lining up and taking care of this ever important ritual.


Now, my boys and I often give Sue a hard time, especially when we are in a hurry, or just getting in the car from a shopping excursion, or I am trying to drive with Germ-X dripping all over the steering wheel. But I understand her desire to not let sickness get transferred - actually during flu season, it has probably saved our lives - literally!  


So to have Jesus in the text this morning say, “to eat with unwashed hands does not defile” is almost words of heresy in our household and to good parents everywhere!


Now, I know there are studies that show both good and bad aspects of washing our hands and using hand sanitizer all the time, but that is not really the point that Jesus is addressing this morning.  Actually, this was more about defilement and law-keeping that kept those the Pharisees or Religious Leaders of Jesus’ day considered unfit to associate or fellowship with away from their contact.


Yes, you heard that correctly - washing hands and eating the proper food kept at distance the people the Pharisees did not want to associate with.  This was what we call today - discrimination.  And Jesus begins to break down the barriers...just listen to what he says…


“Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”


In one of the commentaries I read this week it said that in Jesus’ day “defilement meant being unfit for fellowship with God and his people.”


True “evil” defiles a person - not the food they eat.


Boy...I think that had the disciples kinda freakin’ out.  So much so, they thought it was time to pull Jesus aside and let him know that he was offending the religious leaders.  I am sure they thought they were doing the right thing.  Maybe it sounded like this.


Peter under his breath says, “Oh goodness, we better warn Jesus” because...well, I don’t want to be in trouble by association.” (an issue I believe Peter struggled with).  Peter then leans over to James and says, “Jesus has to know that he needs to soften his message, right? or maybe we need to help “spin” his words to make them say more of what the Pharisees want to hear. At this rate he is gonna get crucified. We better tell him.”  


So they proceed to interrupt his message and warn him, but Jesus continued explaining...


Now, Yes, the pharisees were probably just a bit taken aback by Jesus’ words. They would have known exactly what Jesus was implying by speaking of removing these unnecessary laws and prohibitions.


The food laws were actually in the Torah - the scriptures. So already this Jesus has committed theological suicide. He just told them that something in their Bible didn’t apply anymore - that’s a no-no. Thus the reason the disciples were so concerned.


But Jesus’ response is kind of multi-layered - and remember the crowd was still gathered around and most likely included the religious leaders, followers and naysayers, and also the disciples.


First Jesus, quickly dismissed the religious leaders and says their work is not God’s work - actually he goes even further and says that they are “blind leading the blind.”  What you talking about Jesus? He just slammed the religious leaders at the core of their being. In one text it is translated that Jesus said, “Just forget them - or let them go.” 


And he didn’t stop there, he implies that they should let them go and FORGIVE THEM, because really “they are just the blind leading the blind.”


I believe by this point Jesus has offended everyone in the room with his words.


No longer can Peter stay quiet and proceeds to ask, “Jesus you have some explainin’ to do.”


So Jesus addresses Peter by talking specifically about the mouth (something I believe Peter could again understand). Jesus says,


“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.””  


One commentary says that Jesus appears to anticipate Freud's formulation of the id by about 1800 years in this one statement.


What Jesus was doing was actually summarizing the Ten Commandments in that list of words which can brew down deep in our hearts and come out and break our fellowship with God and our neighbor.  Get it?...this is why later Jesus will summarize the Ten Commandments into Two - Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.


All these other silly laws are simply keeping one from fellowship and acceptance of their neighbors. Jesus is saying...Eat what you want and if you don’t want to wash your hands - then so be it, but don’t use it to discriminate against your neighbor - know what is in your heart and share it through loving one another.


Now, let’s be honest.  The Church has been notorious for creating hoops to jump through to be accepted. As I have been hearing your stories, many of you gave up on the those hoops.  Many of you saw the way the church discriminated in history and said enough is enough. 


Discrimination is not simply a “black and white” issue. In 22 years of ministry I have encountered, and sadly participated many times unaware, in all kinds of isolation in the church.


James Watkins put together a “Top Ten” list of discriminations in the church - here is what he found:

10 - Age

9 - Tastes (especially musical)

8 - Physical and/or Mental Challenges

7 - Levels of education

6 - Denominational affiliation and/or doctrinal beliefs

5 - Gender and Sexuality

4 - Married, Divorced, Single, or Celibate

3 - Politics and Ideology

2 - Economics as well as what we often first think about…

1 - Race and Nationality


If we are going to stand up to discrimination in our world - we must start by looking at ourselves and also our own meeting. This will take some I will simply leave us with two queries to ponder this morning:


●     Explore what ways you discriminate in our daily lives, families, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods.

●     In what ways do we at First Friends’ (spoken or unspoken) discriminate to keep ourselves comfortable as a meeting? 



8-13-17 The Storms They Are a Brewin'

The Storms They Are A Brewin’

Bob Henry

Indianapolis First Friends

August 13, 2017

Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[a] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”


28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”



As a kid, I always loved this story of Jesus walking on the water. I often hoped that one day I too would step into a pool, lake, or ocean and somehow be able to walk on water, sadly it hasn’t happened yet, and honestly, I am no longer trying.  Probably because if I only focus on that part of this story, I am most likely missing the importance of it all together. 


I had a professor who once said that we too easily get wrapped up in the miracles and divine instances of Jesus and skip right over the human aspects. Yet, it is often those human aspects that give us something to understand, relate to, and ultimately learn from. 


So this morning, I want to focus on what I think this text has been teaching us for quite some time about our daily lives. 


First, getting in a boat for the disciples was as ordinary as us getting in our cars to drive to work.  They knew the seas like we know the roads around our homes.  I am sure their boats often seemed to travel in the direction they wanted to go without a thought - much like the way we talk about our cars knowing how to get us home. 


The disciples...

●     were comfortable. 

●     knew the weather patterns. 

●     knew the warning signs.

●     were prepared, because...

●     were skilled fishermen.    


Yet, at the same time, Jesus was finishing the night’s lecture on the side of the hill and dismissing the crowds. I visualize an author’s book talk at Barnes and Noble where people are still mingling and wanting to get their book signed, yet Jesus has been on tour for some time and he is tired.  He just needs his space and some down time. I can relate to this Jesus.  He just wanted to put his feet up on a big rock, lean up on a tree and meditate to the sound of the evening bugs.  


Do you have this picture? 


Jesus is up on the mountain, most likely looking over the sea in which the disciples have just ventured out on. He most likely was aware of the storm that was a brewin’ because from his vantage point he could literally see it coming.  


I kind of assume that Jesus, as many of us, laid back, watched the storm come in, but in his exhaustion fell asleep.  Like I said, this is the Jesus I can relate to.


Yet, throughout the night as Jesus rested his eyes, the disciples fought for their lives.  This was not the usual storm.  Different texts scribe the storm’s impact in different ways.  Some say it battered the boat, others say it tossed the boat, one even says it buffeted the boat.  Stephen Tinkner says those aren’t strong enough words. He says,


“Actually, the original Greek goes further. The word used in the Matthean text is actually basinizo, meaning to torture. It conveys a sense of human suffering because it is used in some ancient Greek texts to express the application of torture to someone. So it is the middle of the night, the disciples are surrounded by a darkness we modern day light polluted people can’t understand, they are likely on a small boat, and a violent storm has surrounded and engulfed them. We can only imagine the fear pulsing through these disciple’s veins as the storm engulfs their lives.”


This was intense, folks.  


So maybe it was thunder or a bolt of lightening that jolted Jesus from his much deserved rest and meditation.  But the text says that Jesus went to them early in the morning. Many people immediately think it is dawn or as the sun is coming up, but I sense it was probably more like two or three in the morning and still pitch black (remember there were no lights on the boat, or lighthouses on land).


When people are under such stress and torture with very little sleep.  Well, you know...they don’t see things right. They had probably been fighting for their lives for hours in complete darkness, their internal clocks, their internal navigation, their nerves all had left them.  They had been battered, tossed, buffeted, and tortured - this was not what they were used to.  


Actually, it was custom that fisherman crossed a sea by staying in sight of land and traveling around the perimeter of the sea - instead of going straight across.  The text says that by the time Jesus realizes what is going on their boat was far from the land.  They were probably a bit discombobulated, but from Jesus’ vantage point, he could have seen their exact location through the lightening strikes or possible moonlight. 


Did Jesus walk on water to get to them - or did he appear to walk on water? Maybe he was on the shore and to them he appeared to walk on the water.  This is beside the point. 


The important thing is that he knew where they were and met them in their distress and urged them through their fear.


Let’s just pause at this point and turn this story on ourselves.  


Have you ever encountered a storm in your life that you were not expecting?  Not the ones that arise on occasion that we know how to get through or maybe even have taken precautions or made preparations for, but that unexpected storm that batters, and tosses, and buffets our lives leaving us feeling tortured and helpless?


The storm that…

●     knocks you off your feet. 

●     distorts your vision and abilities. 

●     has you crying out, SAVE ME!


❏    Maybe it was a marriage or relationship that took a bad turn.

❏    Maybe it was a deep depression or even suicidal thoughts that took over your mind.

❏    Maybe it was trouble or a struggle with a child or parent that was out of your control.

❏    Maybe it was a work situation that turned people against you.


And not all of these unexpected storms have to be personal.  


Societal storms surround us as well.

❏    Like the storm of impending nuclear war which has arisen in our world just recently.

❏    Or how about more recently - just yesterday - the storms of racism in Charlotteville,

❏    Or how about misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, that are gripping our world.

❏    Or storms of financial collapse, police brutality, economic inequality, human trafficking, lack of educational opportunities, impending pipelines on sacred ground…


And the list of storms could go on. 


We seem surrounded all the time by impending new storms that we are not expecting. Storms that when they arise debilitate us, consume us, and have us and our neighborhoods, and even faith communities incapacitated and crying out to be saved!


What Jesus asked of the disciples was rather risky.  He asked the disciples in this moment of utter unraveling to be bold, to step out, to not doubt their potential?


Fear often grips us, leaving us paralized. We default to survival. But God wants more of us than mere survival.  He wants us to step out and be bold and believe that we can make a difference in the midst of the storm.


I like how Stephen Tickner in a blog post described this boldness, he said,


“You see boldness isn’t arrogance, boldness isn’t bravado, boldness is what Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] called “creative maladjustment.” It’s having the courage to say and do the unbelievable, the counter-cultural, because we are strengthened in the fact that we are following in the path of, and trying to live like, Jesus.”


Peter was having a moment of creative maladjustment on and outside that boat.


Maybe Jesus is asking of us the same.  Maybe we need a “creative malajustment” to overcome the storms of our lives. 


❏    We need to say, we can make a difference in our marriages or family situations.

❏    We need to say, we are going to get help for our depression or suicidal thoughts.

❏    We need to say, we will make our workplaces better. 


And just maybe we as Quakers need some creative maladjustments.


It has been far too long…


❏    We need to say NO to racism in this country - that white supremacy is NOT accepted and hate is not the way to a better world.

❏      We need to say, we will stand against nuclear weapons and war and fight for peace.

❏    We need to say, we will speak up against misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia, police brutality, economic inequality, human trafficking, the lack of educational opportunities, impending pipelines on sacred ground…and the list could go on.


And just maybe we need to say, we believe we can take all this hatred in the world and transform it with love.


This is what Spiritual Guide Wayne Dyer often speaks about. He says,


“Transformation literally means going beyond your form.” 


This is what Jesus was asking of Peter and the rest of the disciples, and what God is asking of us.  Through the storms we must boldly go beyond our form to be transformed and to help transform this world.


One who went beyond his form and through many unexpected storms to transform this world was Martin Luther King Jr. and I would like to conclude this morning with his words:


“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality...I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”  



8-6-17 Garden Chaos

Garden Chaos

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

Pastor Bob Henry

August 6, 2017


This morning, you may have noticed we changed up the order of worship putting our time of silence and meditation at this point in the service just before the scripture reading.  At my previous church I labeled this time “Centering Down.”  To “center down” simply means becoming quiet, still and silent as the Meeting moves into a time of listening to the Spirit through scripture, spoken word, and waiting worship. After a brief time of silence we will read the scriptures and I will proceed to the message.


Let us take this time to center ourselves and enter into a time of expectant waiting and listening.    




Matthew 13:31-32 (NRSV) (Pew Bible p. 795)


31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”




A couple of weeks ago now, I mentioned the tag line “Making Visible the Kingdom of God.” And I said, First Friends is making visible the Kingdom of God in what I would call “Greater Indianapolis.” But this morning, I want to take a moment to discuss a little more about what that Kingdom really looks like through the eyes of Jesus. I think too often it gets confused or misrepresented - and that is usually because of how we interpret Jesus’ words.    


Jesus was asked on numerous occasions to explain the Kingdom of God. And his answers came in the form of short stories - which religious folk have often labeled parables.  Sometimes the stories were rather cryptic and took explanation in Jesus’ day (and even more in ours, since most of us don’t live in a rural agrarian society). Also, I must mention that many people throughout history utilized the parables to promote their own theologies and I believe some explanations have taken away the impact of Jesus’ example. 


So Jesus is posed the question, “What is the Kingdom of God [or Heaven]” and he answers with several different stories about a sower, weeds, and then to our text for today where he compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. The first couple of parables may have passed the ears of the disciples and followers of Jesus, but not the Mustard Seed. Actually, they probably would have laughed, chuckled, or even whispered to a friend, “Did Jesus just say Mustard seed?


For Jesus to compare the Kingdom of God to a mighty cedar [which he had done] was fine, but to compare it to what in Jesus’ day was a noxious, invasive, common weed, quickly got their attention. For us today, it would be like Jesus saying the Kingdom of God is like the climbing, coiling, and trailing perennial Kudzu vines that are ruining landscapes across America. Jesus’ audience would have been either in shock, think that he was being irreverent, or that he had somehow misspoke.  


I don’t know about you, but I grew up with this parable in Sunday School, someone once even gave me a necklace with a little mustard seed in it to wear to remind me that something very small could grow into something big - which often they implied meant the church.  It is true that mustard seeds are very tiny and grow rapidly into a bush - some as tall as 10-12 feet high. 


But I need to be honest at this point...I think there is a much more important meaning to this parable than church growth...and I believe it has a lot to do with quality not quantity.    


First, allow me to give us some information that may help us understand the radicalness of Jesus’ comparison of the Kingdom to the mustard seed. Some of these thoughts come from Quaker Daniel Coleman’s commentary of this parable:


You may not have realized this, but right off the bat Jesus is talking about breaking the purity codes of his day. In Jesus’ culture, people were not allowed to plant a mustard seed in one’s garden, as the gardener in the parable does. It was Levitical Law, one of many prohibitions about mixing things, such as, “Don’t wear clothing made from two kinds of fabric; don’t plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together; and yes even, don’t plant different kinds of seeds together.” Yet Jesus says this gardener sowed it directly into his field.


The ancient Jewish understanding of holiness, what they called kedosh, had to do with separating. It is understandable that this view developed when you consider that throughout ancient history Israel was a tiny nation sandwiched between great empires who wanted to swallow up and assimilate them.  To survive they needed their own separate identity.


You are probably familiar with what that kind of holiness resulted in... “purity codes.” Coleman described it this way,


If someone was deemed ritually impure (which PLEASE NOTE often had nothing to do with sin or immorality), such as a woman during her monthly cycle or a person who had touched a corpse or someone with a skin disease, they had to be excluded from the community and from worshiping God until they were purified.


By the time of Jesus, there were so many purity codes regulated by Pharisees that it was hard not to break the rules every moment of the day. All you had to do was eat the wrong thing or associate with the wrong person. Or like most of us gathered here today, we are breaking purity codes by dressing in mixed fabrics - I am sure there is someone in this meetinghouse this morning wearing a cotton-polyester blend .


But let’s stick with gardening. The gardener also had to keep her/his garden kedosh - holy and separated.  This meant each type of plant had to be kept separate from the others in neat, tidy rows.


So I think you might be getting the picture of why Jesus using the Mustard seed would be rather shocking.  If you planted a mustard seed in your well kept garden - gardening chaos would ensue.  Quickly the Mustard seed would take over the garden. Since the Mustard seed had lots of seeds, fast growing shoots would be coming up all the time all over your plot of ground - a gardener’s nightmare. The holy garden would quickly become less than holy - more like a holy mess.  


And did you notice what Jesus said at the end of the parable. Birds would be attracted to the seeds and come and make nests.  No…..Not birds!  That is the last thing a gardener wants in their garden. This is why we have scarecrows and pinwheels and moving distractions to get rid of the birds. 


Jesus, what in the world are you talking about?!  


The followers of Jesus must have been absolutely confused or otherwise laughing at Jesus’ comparison as if it were a joke or something.  Yet in reality Jesus wasn’t making a joke, instead he was painting us a picture of what God’s kingdom looked like and what following God’s example would accomplish. 


At first glance it doesn’t make sense, but Daniel Coleman helped give me some insights to why this is such a radical and important parable for us. Listen to what he says.


“When you look at what Jesus did throughout the Gospels (and remember, Jesus is the revelation of God), he kept breaking down barriers and disregarding taboos. He disregarded the taboos concerning fellowship with sinners. He surrounded Himself with low-lives and outcasts and those who, socially, were on the margins.

●     Jesus disregarded the taboos concerning fellowship with despised tax-collectors.

●     Jesus disregarded the taboos concerning Samaritans and even made a Samaritan the hero of His parable about loving one’s neighbor—another absurdity, which would have been highly offensive to many.

●     Jesus disregarded the taboos concerning the place of women in society and the segregation/marginalization of women… [and the list could go on, because]

●     Jesus disregarded many other cultural/religious taboos.”


So much so, Jesus, himself, would have been considered unclean most of the time by the Pharisee’s standards.


So here comes the kicker….What if Jesus saw kedosh, or what we have termed holiness, from a different perspective? [consider that for a moment]


Daniel Coleman turned to a quote from If Grace Is True, a book that several years ago opened my eyes to new ways of seeing. In the book, fellow Quakers Philip Gulley and James Mulholland talk about holiness in this way. I remember underlining this definition of holiness and reading it over and over to let it sink in. 

Holiness is God’s ability to confront evil without being defiled. God’s holiness does not require him to keep evil at arm’s length. God’s holiness enables Him to take the wicked in His arms and transform them. God is never in danger of being defiled. No evil can alter His love, for His gracious character is beyond corruption. This is what it means to say God is holy—God’s love is incorruptible. Holiness and love are not competing commitments. God is love. His love endures forever. This enduring love is what makes God holy. No manner of evil done to us or by us can separate us from this love. God transforms His morally imperfect children through the power of His perfect love. It is our experience of this love that inspires us to such perfection. Jesus said, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48). If this verse was a command for moral perfection, our cause is hopeless. Fortunately, this admonition follows a command to ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt. 5:44). Perfection is demonstrated not by moral purity, but by extravagant love. We are like God not when we are pure, but when we are loving and gracious.



Too often good-meaning religious people get obsessed by rules, laws, purity codes, and often take it to the limits by categorizing, labeling, and finally excluding people. Instead of being like the Pharisees of his day, Jesus put people first.


Instead of growing the church bigger as many have taught, the parable of the mustard seed is, at its heart, a teaching about radical inclusion.


I love how Daniel Coleman said it: 


“Jesus is saying, in effect, ‘If you allow the Kingdom of God into your midst, it is going to make a mess of your neat, tidy garden. It is going to break down your barriers of separation. It is going to attract and shelter the ones that everyone else tries to keep out. It is not going to look majestic and lofty and impressive, but rather, common and unremarkable and initially very small. But…, it will spread like crazy.”


So, First Friends what do we do with this parable of Jesus?


As Quakers we are known as common, unremarkable and smaller than other churches out there - but I believe as we continue to break down those walls of separations and open our doors to the Kingdom of God, great things are going to happen. Sure, outsiders will consider us absurd, taboo, even risky - but isn’t that part of our Quaker history? 


All I know is that God loves to take his people out of their comfort zones.  God likes to plant a mustard seed in our garden and make things a little messy, because then we have the wonderful opportunity of learning to include and love as God does.


First Friends, let us plant the seeds and prepare to welcome the birds!




7-16-17 Members of One Another

Members of One Another

Pastor Bob Henry

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

July 16, 2017


Last week was such a wonderful way to begin my ministry among you, our family wanted to thank each of you for such a beautiful morning and the “Oh Henry” reception. I haven’t had a an Oh Henry candy bar for years and forgot how good they are.  Thanks also to everyone who introduced themselves, I am diligently memorizing the church directory, but don’t have it quite memorized yet. So please give lots of grace - especially if I call you by someone else’s name or no name at all. (It might take a while - I still don’t get my own boy’s names right half of the time).  


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Last week in my first sermon, I talked about the “Business of our Lives” and how we are to share the universal love of God. This morning, I want to give you a picture of what I see as a framework of our ministry priorities together here at First Friends.  It is not so much my vision or a mission, because honestly I haven’t been here long enough to know exactly who we are together and our unique contributions to our surrounding neighbors, communities, and workplaces. Yet, I believe the elements, which I will get to in a few minutes, transcend those pieces helping to keep us balanced and knowing ourselves as a meeting. 


Much like our children will discover this week in Vacation Bible School, God has created us just the way we are...and for a purpose.  And in this same way, I believe God has formed or created us as a meeting. God has drawn together each and everyone of us in this place for a purpose.


Author and activist Margaret Wheatley has said,

“Our twenty-first-century world is descending into aggression, fear, and separation. War, genocide, violence, slavery, pandemics, poverty, natural disasters – all these are commonplace in this new century, despite most people’s deep longing to live together in peace.”


The answer Margaret poses to our condition is simple... we need to “turn to one another” and realize that we need each other more than ever. It sounds simple, but we often take for granted those that are closest to us.


Do you realize that this meeting is not complete without each and everyone of you?  Just take a moment and look around you and notice the people in this room that you need in your life, or that have made a difference in your or someone else’s life, or that care, love, and befriend people that you may have a hard time reaching out to. I haven’t been here that long and I already sense your importance in my life and family.    


The truth is that we need each other here at First Friends. All of our gifts, talents, abilities, experiences, quirks and particularities are key to our identity and yes, ultimately our unique purpose. 


The Apostle Paul echoes these same thoughts in his letter to the Corinthians. He said,


1 Corinthians 12:14-18 (MSG)

14-18 I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.


You are here at First Friends for a reason. We need each other.

I will never forget last year, when I was leading a book study on Phil Gulley’s book “Living the Quaker Way” at one of our local coffee houses in Silverton. There were about 8-10 of us discussing the chapter on community, when I read Phil’s alternate view to what many consider church in our day. Here is what he said:


“...there is another church....It is found wherever and whenever peace, joy, and compassion carry the day...It labors not for its own glory, but for the well-being of all people everywhere. It rejoices when the marginalized are included. It sees in its fellow beings not sin and separation from God but potential, promise, and connection. Wherever people love, it is there. Whenever people include, it is present. Whenever people join together in spirit of compassion and inclusion this church feels at home, for those virtues have been its priority from its earliest days. This church existed since the time of Jesus, but it’s benevolent spirit predates the Nazarene. It is not the province of any one denomination; its adherents can be found in every movement and every faith.  While others bluster and rant, its members go quietly and cheerfully about their ministries, determined to bring heaven to earth. This church seeks to learn, understand, and include. It is of the world, loves the world, and welcomes all people as its brothers and sisters.  Where borders separate, this community straddles the partition, refusing to let arbitrary lines rule their conscience and conduct. They are, in every sense of the word, members of one another.  Community and compassion are their bywords.”      


As I read those words aloud many of us were choked up, even tears flowed from some...and one of the members of that study said aloud boldly, “Now, that’s the church I want to be part of.”  Everyone at that study agreed.


That’s the church I want people to see right here at First Friends. Right here on our property, in our communities, in our parks, our workplaces, the restaurants we frequent, wherever we (the Church) find ourselves. 


In one of my former ministries we had a slogan that we took rather seriously, “Making visible the Kingdom of God in    fill in the city  .  We at First Friends are making visible the Kingdom of God in Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Noblesville, Avon, Zionsville, or name your town….We are making visible the Kingdom of God in Indiana.


Now, I have to be honest, it is not always that easy. It does take some awareness, some education, and often reflection and action together. And this is where those “elements” I spoke of at the beginning of my sermon come into play.  


Several years ago, I attended a conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It was not your normal conference.  It was put on by three gifted visionaries - Rob Bell, Peter Rollins, and Shane Hipps.  The conference was titled “Poets, Preachers, and Prophets”. (I am still trying to figure out which one I am).  Over a lunch break, the friend I was staying with shared with me how Quaker principles and values had been instrumental in developing his church’s direction. His church happen to be Mars Hill Bible Church - the host of the conference. Since this was before I became a convinced Quaker, it was the first time I had heard about clearness committees and what he labeled consensus government (and remember - this was not a Quaker Meeting or conference). 


I was even more fascinated when he succinctly shared the following six words to describe his church’s main commitments.  He said, we at Mars Hill are committed to:




Roots                            (Looking Backward)

Journey                        (Looking Forward)

Wholeness                  (Looking Inward)

Community                  (Looking Withward)

Serving                         (Looking Outward)

Celebration                  (Looking Upward)


But he wasn’t done.  He then gave each of the six commitments directions. (Read above).


I found these 6 commitments extremely holistic in nature while helpful in developing foundations for a ministry’s purpose.


He went on to describe each of those in great detail, but in writing them down that day, they became solidified for me as a framework for priorities in ministry and I began to utilize them to bring a sense of balance to ministry.  Every meeting or church I have served has had different ways of expressing each of these 6 categories, but I believe they encompass the main elements of that church Phil Gulley described...and also gives us a foundation for our purpose together here at First Friends. 


Now, I could easily go through each of these and say where I see First Friends living into these 6 elements, but they are “fluid” elements.  They are always changing and developing and creating new opportunities and possibilities. 


My hope is that in the coming weeks, months, and years, we will utilize these elements to help balance out our ministry and Kingdom work at First Friends. My hope is that we will ask some deeper queries about how we see those 6 elements in our ministry and work at First Friends. Here are just a few queries I have written to get us thinking: 


What roots are important to look back on and embrace for the benefit of our world, today? What do we need to be reminded of and what do we need to learn from in our past? 


What journey does First Friends need to go on together?  In moving forward what might we have to leave behind or what might we have to take along?  Where might we need to get out of our boxes?


When looking inward, where is First Friends not whole? What or who are we missing? What would make us a more healthy, vibrant, and whole meeting?


What communities at First Friends are we creating and how are they helping us dwell better with those around us? Is community being developed in our ministries and are we becoming a faithful presence to the communities in which we participate, currently?


Who is First Friends really serving? How much of our serving is self-serving? In looking outside ourselves and our meeting, who truly needs to be served?


How are we celebrating our life together at First Friends? Are we able to see the reasons for giving thanks, remembering, and appreciating who we are and where we have been?



These are the queries I am pondering as I begin my journey with you. I hope you will join me in taking some time right now to ponder them in our waiting worship.





The following poem was used as the benediction during our meeting for worship.


The Journey Worth Taking

Sarah Katreen Hoggatt

From “Spirit Rising: Young Quaker Voices”


We come from far-off lands,

cultures apart, struggling to

understand a foreign tongue,

another viewpoint, another way to live,

to see, to hear God in different words.

We listen, opening to new sights, perspectives,

ways to love as we discover

we are unique parts of a greater circle,

distinctive expressions of the Divine Life.

Yet our voices together lift up the mountains.

Our chorus pulses the river down the outward

flow into a world needing to hear the rushing tide.

We are on a journey and it may not even

matter so much where we end up,

but that we rise up to take the voyage.

We speak the truth of our lives,

hear each other and are changed.

We can love without complete understanding,

Walking the light together while miles apart.

If in the tension we can find

the one light we are birthed from,

the thread through our stories,

we may discover we are brothers, sisters all

of one skin, one laughter, music, lilting, free,

if we can just find the courage to come together

And take the journey.




7-9-17 The Business of our Lives


The Business of Our Lives

Pastor Bob Henry

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

July 9, 2017


Sue the boys and I have spent a lot of time crossing the country over the last several years.  We have taken several different routes, stopped on numerous occasions to see odd road-side sights (everything from Wall Drugs in South Dakota to a giant Van Gogh painting in Goodland, Kansas), and then all the memorials, historical sites, and literal wonders of our beautiful country.  Two of those times we were crossing the country to start new ventures, one was for a funeral, and another was to take our oldest son to Huntington University (just up the road). 


What I have come to realize is that journeys are always filled with learning experiences, growth, and yes, occasionally some surprises. 


We are so glad our move back to Indiana was less eventful than our move to Oregon - where our moving truck broke down three times and then finally had to be changed out somewhere in Minnesota. The most eventful thing this trip was simply trying to get all of what we needed to live for the next two months into our van.  We packed and repacked it several times before departure. Every night as we stopped at the hotel, we slowly opened the back of our van in preparation for the explosion of items that had shifted on the move.


I believe one of the valuable lessons of traveling across the United States is taking in our nation’s history first hand.  It makes our history books and nation’s stories come alive. There is nothing like actually walking in the house and farm in St. Louis where future general and president Ulysses S. Grant worked alongside 35 slaves in his youth, or standing on the grave littered fields at Little Bighorn in Montana where the white man learned a horrific lesson, or taking a moment to pause on the porch of the home in Atlanta where Martin Luther King Jr. began to formulate his dream. Or as Sam and I did on Friday, crawling into the garret of Quaker’s Levi and Catherine Coffin’s home to experience where slaves were hidden on their way to freedom. 


If we are willing for a moment to look past the shiny monuments and beautifully manicured parks and sites of our nation, we just might begin to see a deeper story emerging. What I have learned over the many journeys we have taken is that the stories behind our monuments, protected sites, and historic markers are often not all that we have been taught. They don’t always speak of “amber waves of grain” or “where the deer and antelope play” but rather of pain, war, discrimination, injustice and failure.  A foundation that I believe still haunts us as Americans. 


Whenever I come to a new place, I try and learn a little about it’s history.  Since I was born and raised just up the road in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area, I had Indiana history in 4th grade. I took a field trip to the replica of Fort Wayne and even walked down and saw Chief Little Turtle’s burial sight.  No one really explained to me then that Fort Wayne (or even the land right here this morning) was located on Miami Indian territory or how the Treaty of St. Mary removed the Native American’s from Indiana (especially right in this area of Indianapolis) and put them on the Trail of Tears. There is always more to our stories, isn’t there? 


Somewhat ironic, I found it interesting that the three meetings for worship that I attended at First Friends before becoming your pastor all had similar focuses to what I am talking about today. My first Sunday, your former pastor, Ruthie spoke of adventure and starting out with Lewis and Clark across America. My second visit, when we were here buying a home, was a presentation about Mary Bateman Clark’s fight to make sure slavery would not exist in Indiana by Ethel McCane and Eunice Trotter.  And just last week, we heard from Friend Jon Berry about the importance of “becoming a guest” to our Muslim sisters and brothers.   


I don’t think these experiences and teachings are a coincidence. 


Just last year, a church in Portland, Oregon, was worshipping as usual on a normal Sunday when a disgruntled person broke their silence, yelling at the pastor and the people causing him to be escorted out of the worship space - and what was he all upset about?  Well, the church was dedicated to loving ALL people.  His outbreak happened after the congregation shared these words of welcome together as they did each week: (You may read them in your bulletin in the reflections section.)


We are glad you are here this morning.  We offer our respect to the ancestors and descendents of the original people of this land, we invoke their presence with us.  And as well we say to everyone - members, visitors, friends…whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. 


Let’s admit it, we live in a hurting world.  Yet I believe I hear a prophetic call rising from the deepest places in our souls, from the crevices of our history, in the news stories on our TV’s, and from the depths of our Quaker heritage.


Do you feel it? Do you sense it?


I believe, and have believed for quite some time now, that it is our time as Quakers to answer that call.  Folks, we have so much to offer our ailing world.  It’s time we live out our uniqueness.


I think you would agree that our world needs some SPICE (that would be some Quaker SPICE) - we need to live more simply, more peacefully, with more integrity, as a community, and with equality.


Our world is crying out for the Quaker Way!

Quaker John Woolman, who heard the call of his day, referred to this as the “business of our lives.”  He said it this way,


“Our gracious Creator cares and provides for all his creatures. His tender mercies are over all his works, and so far as his love influences our minds, so far we become interested in his workmanship and feel a desire to take hold of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted and increase the happiness of the creation. Here we have a prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable - that to turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives.”  - John Woolman.


It was Jesus himself who in answering one of the teachers of the law of his day who had asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” spoke of this universal love...Jesus said:


29-31“The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” - Mark 12:30-31 (MSG)


As a pastor who has ministered for over 20 plus years, I have found those seemingly simple words to roll off our tongues, “Love God and Love Others.”   Yet as our own history shows, it just isn’t that easy. 


My hope is that over the coming years at First Friends, we will answer that call of universal love to all those we meet. That with passion, prayer, intelligence and energy we would LOVE well! Or as Quaker John Woolman said, 


To allow God’s universal love to influence our minds.

To take hold of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted,

To increase the happiness of the creation.


We at First Friends can and will change the world we live in if we are willing to answer this call of universal love!  I am excited to see all the ways that we will do just that as I serve along side each of you in the coming days, months, and years!  I hope you are as excited as I am! 


Now, let’s take a moment this morning to join together in Waiting Worship and ponder our call and the queries provided for you in the bulletin. 



6-18-17 The Prodigal Son - The Prodigal Father

The Prodigal Son – The Prodigal Father


Beth Henricks


June 18th, 2017


Luke 15:11-32


The Parable of the Prodigal Father by Trevor Burke


What’s So Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancey



Today is Father’s Day, a day where we reflect on the men in our lives that have made an impact on who we are today.  As I was writing this message, I kept thinking about my own dad that I lost 12 years ago and snippets of his life kept popping up.  His love of sports, how he built an ice rink in our back yard every year, how he could eat 20 ears of corn in one setting, how good he was at playing the card game Rook, how much he loved my mom and me and my brothers.  I am sure that each of you today can recall some great memories of special moments with important men in your life.  I am thankful for the presence of not only my dad, but my late husband Jerry, my brothers and other men that have been and are important to me.

We often associate certain characteristics and attributes to fathers – strength, protection, provision, justice, fairness, loving and we often use this language and these characteristics of Father to describe God.  God as Father is probably the most common image we have of God and we regularly refer to God in a masculine pronoun.  Of course, God is neither male nor female, God transcends a role such as Father and is far beyond the characteristics we use to describe God.  And yet, our limited human minds must try to bring God into a place where we can grasp some reflection of God’s essence within our known relationships and the idea of Father is one place for this. 

Pope Francis recently said to a large crowd at the Vatican that calling God "Father" rather than simply "God" can deepen our spirituality and nourish our Christian hope.

"The entire mystery of Christian prayer is summed up here, in this word: to have the courage to call God by the name of Father," the pontiff said.

"Calling God by the name 'Father' is not something that can be taken for granted,"  "We are tempted to use the highest titles, which are respectful of his transcendence. But calling him 'Father' puts us in his confidence, like a child talking to his dad, knowing that he is loved and cared for by him" the pope said.

Of course, it can also be dangerous to focus on God as Father because some human fatherly relationships are destructive, are not intimate and not loving.  Having talked with several folks over the years that have deeply struggled with the idea of God as Father, I have become much more sensitive to avoid using masculine pronouns in how I speak about God.

But I still believe there is much for us to gain in our understanding of God to think about the best and most loving examples of this role of Father.  And this role of Father in the story that Dan read for us today is an insight into God’s essence that is really astounding.  This parable of Jesus is probably the best-known parable within Christian and secular circles.  It is a story that is rich and complex and helps us grasp some idea of the magnitude of God.  And it defies the traditional roles of Father that were customary of the first century.  

I have heard many messages on this parable before and usually they focus on one of the sons. The prodigal son asks for and takes his portion of his inheritance and wants to get away from his family and live the life he wants to live.  Of course, things don’t turn out so well for him and when he returns, the elder son shows no mercy, no forgiveness and becomes angry with his father.  While this story is usually called the parable of the Prodigal Son, I believe the heart of this story is about a Prodigal Father.  I looked up the word prodigal and I found words like reckless, extravagant, lavish and wasteful.  And certainly, the young son’s decisions do seem to fit these adjectives.  And yet, the Father’s love and grace in this story seem to be extravagant, reckless, lavish and wasteful.  The generosity of the father does not seem wise, just or fair.  Who gives half of their child’s inheritance just because they asked for it?  Didn’t the father in his heart know that his son would likely waste all this money?  And the father had to face the fact that this son didn’t want to be with him and chose to move far away.  What heartbreak the father experienced to have his son reject their life together. In the ancient world, the father-son (even adult son’s) relationship was a hierarchical one so it is even more shocking that the son would demand his inheritance by challenging his father’s authority and the father would give him his share of the property without saying one word or requiring certain things in exchange for his share.  How many times have I given something but expect certain activities, behaviors or outcomes in return?  Shouldn’t the father have disciplined his son instead of giving into his demands?  Whether we think this wise or not, the generosity of the father to the son is quite breathtaking and seems almost reckless.

 When the son returns home penniless, hungry and broken, the father not only welcomes him back to the home, the scripture says that he saw him a long way off and ran to his son and threw his arms around him and kissed him.  In the ancient world at the time, grown men did not run as it seemed undignified and a sign of a man out of control.  It would also mean having to bring public humiliation on himself by raising his cloak and exposing his legs to run and embrace the son.  Another example of reckless emotion and a break from the social norms.  When they embrace, the son can’t even get the words out that he planned to say asking his father to become a hired servant.  The father immediately calls his servants to bring the best robe, put a ring on his finger and offer a lavish dinner to celebrate the return of this son. 

The father’s extravagant grace continues toward the older son.  When the older son sees the return of his brother and this joyous celebration he becomes full of anger and refuses to go into the house which was a sign of great disrespect to his father.  He berates his father in a public way for his reaction to the younger son’s return.  The older son is full of bitterness and resentment and again the custom of the time would be for the father to discipline this son.  But the father’s reaction is one of grace as he says to the eldest son what joy to have been together for these years and certainly you know that all that is mine is yours.  He was hoping the older son could rejoice with him in the return of a lost brother.  The story ends there and we don’t know what the ultimate response was from his brother.

I think Jesus is giving us a window into the depth and breadth of God’s love and grace to us in the actions of the father in this story.  It is the father who takes the initiative to restore the relationship.  The son can only come within reach while the father is the one to offer complete acceptance back into the home.  The father is extravagant in his generosity to both sons.  He places no conditions in the restoration of their relationship.

Most of Jesus parables give us a glimpse into the transcendence and uncontrollable nature of God.  A nature that changes everything and turns our normal view upside down. These parables seem to want to correct our notions about who God is and who God loves.   No one gets what they deserve for God’s mercy is not contingent upon the actions of others.  God’s love surpasses all typical expressions known to humanity.  A prodigal love for a prodigal people.  God is always waiting for us to return.

I have been reading Phillip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing about Grace this week.  He shares a story about a British conference a number of years ago on comparative religions where experts from around the world were debating about what belief is unique to Christianity.  They began eliminating possibilities – the Incarnation?  Other religions had different versions of gods showing up in human form.  Resurrection?  Other religions had accounts of return from death.  C.S. Lewis came into the room and when he heard what scholars were discussing, he said that it is easy to identify the unique contribution of Christianity to other religions.  It’s grace.  The idea that God’s love comes to us with no strings attached seems to go against every instinct of humanity.  The Buddhist path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant and the Muslim code of law all offer ways to earn God’s approval.  Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.   

Doesn’t the world condition us to find a catch in every promise – we must read the fine print to know the conditions of our contract.  Yet here is Jesus describing an unconditional love that disqualifies no one.

Sometimes our vision of a father is one that demands our love through fear.  But the God that is the prodigal father demands nothing and is unbelievable in the generosity of grace and love. 

Henri Nouwen says “God rejoices.  Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness.  No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found.”

 Phillip Yancey describes the gospel as nothing that we humans would come up with on our own.  Isn’t it just and fair to give more to the good people and give less to the bad people?  Shouldn’t there be some merit to our salvation?  Grace does not depend on what we have done for God but what God has done for us. 

The great theologian Karl Barth arrives at one definition of God after thousands of pages of writing – the One Who Loves.


As we enter our time of unprogrammed worship may we reflect on this concept of a prodigal father that offers grace that is lavish, extravagant.  How do we understand this grace in our lives?  And how do we show this grace to others?   I pray that your heart is open to the Sprit this morning.  If the Spirit is speaking just to you today, hold this in your heart and listen to the Spirit.  If the Spirit is calling you to share a message with all of us please be obedient to the Spirit.