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3/14/2010: Today I visited The First Presbyterian Church of Destin, Florida.                     

It was a beautiful "Blue Skies" early spring day in the Florida Panhandle, with just a hint of summer in the air after an exceedingly cold winter with temperatures down in the twenties and even teens (no doubt a stinging refutation of the "Global Warming" alarmists) when I rounded a gentle curve in the road just South-East of Choctawhatchee bay and there it was: The cutest, most perfect, almost "Doll's House", classical little church!

One just knew that it would contain at least one stained glass window, a traditional altar and an organ!  

Well, actually I'm 'cheating' just a little here ~ because I had been invited by my good friend Neil Godfriaux, himself the organist!

But I was not disappointed in confirming just the right traditional interior motif to match the exterior of this little gem. There were two lecterns at the altar, a choir backdrop just below the blue stained-glass window in back; and the roof 'steepled' up on rampart-like white walls to enclose the soaring cross behind the choir. And there was the organ just off to the right with my friend Neil at the keyboard! Eight choristers remained (many "Snowbirds" had already left for their northern summer-homes), one of whom also played the piano. There were about 65 persons present including the Pastor, staff members & myself. But the church was so cozy that it seemed almost full. I noted a number of elderly and older parishioners, a couple with walkers or canes. Many of the men wore jackets and there were scattered neckties throughout the congregation.

This was certainly the 'Old-School' of religion. But alas, about the only youth in attendance were the Pastor's own kids! Sadly from my perspective as an 'Old-Timer', this traditional religion appears to be withering in the face of modernity. But at least today I could enjoy it ~ if only for an hour!

After the service in this "AH-men" environment (no kneelers nor communion; but collection baskets, candles with snuffers, and rousing hymns from the Presbyterian Hymnal; also a Hymnal Board at the Altar) ~ I was warmly welcomed to an informal fellowship luncheon with many of the parishioners.

There I met businessmen, attorneys, retired 'Pensioners'; and charming, well-dressed & intelligent ladies like Ms. Linda Morton with whom I enjoyed an uplifting conversation on spiritual issues. My friend Neil was solicitous, invited me back for a Lenten supper on the First of April and I was able to chat with Pastor, The Rev. Stephen G. Yates briefly before reluctantly bidding adieu to this delightful congregation and their lovely little church. I'll give you a summary of the sermon below: 

"A STANDING INVITATION":

Pastor Yates delivered his Homily on the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32).

After introducing the topic by reference to some of the "Biggest Losers On TV" (such as Seinfeld's George Costanza whom he called "Lord of The Idiots") ~ Pastor noted that probably the biggest literary loser of all time would have to be The Prodigal Son. With one bad decision after another this boy reveals his selfish and vain behavior.

In demanding his inheritance early, The Prodigal Son is essentially saying: "Dear Dad, would you please drop dead right now? Let me have whatever is coming to me. Put your will into effect immediately."

And his father, instead of disowning him, consents to the request. Then, in a tip-off to his loser's status, the Prodigal does not invest the wealth, but immediately sets out for the biblical equivalent of Las Vegas! There he blows all his dough on "dissolute living." But let's not dress the young man up. He is a hopeless mess. As the older brother later says: "Gone to prostitutes." 

Well, when The Prodigal Son finally wakes up, he realizes that -- for survival -- he needs to return home. But he also understands that it will be impossible for him to come back as a "son." Therefore he plans to rent himself out as a farm hand upon his return. Even that would be better than his present existence.

So he heads for home.

His immediate reception is shocking! What in the world was his father thinking? It would have been more appropriate to greet him with something like: "Buster, you're grounded for a whole month!" But instead, Dad dishes out only "Hugs and Kisses." Note too, that father is silent, overcome with emotion. He just stands there and loves his son. Before the lad can even complete his confession, Dad waves off the admission so as to command the immediate killing of the Fatted Calf for a celebration!

Therefore, though we too must live with confessing our sins, it is not a pre-condition for forgiveness. It is what you do later to celebrate forgiveness which is freely given by a good and gracious God.

(Here Pastor told a story about a jilted bride-to-be who, rather than lose her financial deposit, decided to go forward with an expensive wedding feast to which she finally invited vagrants, addicts and people from homeless shelters. Pastor made the point that the party was a gift. The attendees did not not do anything to qualify).

And so too with the Prodigal Son. He didn't deserve it, but Dad threw the party anyhow; dressed him up, killed The Fatted Calf, and celebrated! It's the same with us. For no-one can earn forgiveness. It just comes as a gift from God.

We're not off the hook for confession and repentance. We do those as recompense. But first there's a party to attend for sinners like you and me. And we have A STANDING INVITATION. Just show up!

Amen.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

God Bless you all (AND Shalom!),                                                                                                   

Bill.



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