March 6, 2016 – Home

Lent 4   March 6, 2016   (Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21) Luke 15   Home

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Community leaders are grumbling about Jesus eating and drinking with sinners.

So Jesus tells a parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and one gets lost. Won’t you leave the 99 and seek the one that’s missing? And when you find it, won’t you call your friends to join in celebrating? And I tell you – there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who never went missing.’

‘And suppose a woman is missing a whole day’s pay. Won’t she turn on the lights and search and sweep til she finds it? When she does, won’t she celebrate? And there’s joy among the angels in heaven over one sinner who repents.’

And Jesus says, ‘There was a man with two sons. The younger asked his father for his share of the inheritance, then he left for a far-off land where he lived it up… Till the money was all gone. Then a famine came, and the boy hired himself out, feeding pigs. He’s broke and hungry, and no one lifts a hand to help.

The boy says to himself, “Here I am starving, while dad’s hired men have plenty to eat. I’ll go home and say ‘father, I’ve sinned against God and you, I’m not worthy to be called your son; take me back as a hired man…’”

And the boy heads home. As he gets closer, maybe he’s imagining how people will be staring…Talking about ‘what a nice family he came from, what a disgrace he’s been, and doesn’t he look just awful?’

But… even before anyone else sees him…Here comes his father, whose been watching and waiting…. Running to meet him. Throwing arms around him, hugging, kissing him as if he was a little lost boy… And the son begins his speech… But the father won’t even let him finish the sentence. He doesn’t seem to even be concerned about whether the boy’s really sorry. He tells the hired men, ‘Go to the store, make him a set of keys to the house and truck. Get him the best clothes you can find. For this son of mine was dead, now he’s alive. He was lost, but now he’s found.’

This story’s been called the parable of the prodigal son. Prodigal meaning wastefully or lavishly extravagant. And…

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I’m familiar with the title role in this prodigal child story. I’ve played the part, actually, many times…I’m the oldest of four kids in my family… but recognizing a good part when I saw one, I began auditioning for the younger son’s role in the family drama at an early age…

Running away from home once while in high school, hitchhiking from Boston to New York…spending my money quickly. (Fortunately it was just a week’s wages from my after-school job, not a share of the family’s assets.) Hitchhiking home again, I was picked up by police somewhere in Connecticut. My dad drove several hours each way, down and back, to get me home. There was not exactly a big welcome home party with a fatted calf. But I was spared the punishment I richly deserved. I did get a generous taste of amazing grace.

Unfortunately, this was not the only time I came home as a prodigal. Yet my dad and mom, God bless them, always welcomed me back from all my prodigal wanderings…

As of course many, many parents have welcomed back many, many prodigal sons and daughters, many, many times. Parents must be wired by divine design to forgive… and forgive some more…And welcome back even the most wayward of children… (And…of course… )

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There is also the other brother in the story… The older brother, who refuses to join the party. Who reminds his father he’s always been an obedient son, yet ‘you’ve never given any parties for me. Now (the older son says) this son of yours has returned, after spending your money on wild living – and you throw a big party for him. (Meat was a luxury item that people didn’t eat often in those days. Killing a fatted calf was usually reserved for wedding feasts and other great occasions.) And the older brother says, ‘No way will I be coming into any party with that son of yours.’ Notice he won’t even say ‘my brother.’ Only ‘that son of yours.’

And it’s not hard to empathize with the older brother. There is something unfair here. The older son has been working hard. Obeying dad. Doing things by the book. But nobody’s throwing a party for him.

And about now… I start to see… how the religious leaders grumbling about Jesus today… might actually have a point. I mean I don’t think they (or I) would probably have a problem with Jesus hanging with sinners… If the sinners would just act more repentant…

But here’s Jesus, eating, drinking, partying with sinners who haven’t shown any obvious signs of repenting. Isn’t he just encouraging more bad behavior?

And I can be persuaded by even a little change of perspective. When I leave one crowd and join another, I find myself caught up in a different kind of crowd behavior. A different way of thinking… and doing…

And not long after I became a Christian (in my early ‘20’s), my younger sister and brothers began to notice – this once-upon-a-time prodigal brother – was now sometimes looking and sounding more like the older brother in the parable… My sister, who was only two years behind me in school, knew my past. But now here I was – me of all people – nagging and lecturing her and the brothers about proper behavior. (There was even an infamous incident in which I destroyed a batch of my sister’s rock and roll records in a fit of neo-puritanical zeal.)

It’s only by amazing grace they’ve forgiven me… And Martin Luther talked about the gospel path as the narrow way, with sin enticing on both sides of the road… On one side of the road (Luther said) are the sins of the flesh – sex, drugs, rock and roll; greed, power, fame…. On the other side are the “spiritual” sins – spiritual pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness. And Luther, who’d been a monk in a monastery for a long time before he married and got the Protestant reformation rolling, was certain, from his own experience – its just as easy to sin in a monastery as in a bar-room…And…

The older son does bear some passing resemblance to the Pharisees Jesus is speaking with today. And perhaps a little resemblance… to other good church folk through the ages, who’ve either never strayed (as if that were possible) – or who, like me, have somehow cleaned up our acts just enough so that now we get a little impatient…. Waiting for everyone else to clean up their act…

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I may not be the only one whose had experience playing the parts of both the younger and older sons in this parable…Which makes applying the gospel lessons a bit more difficult. And indeed, all the people I know are works in progress… with some of the spiritual DNA of each sibling in the story in us… And…

The bible also talks about boundaries and tough love. And even the most loving parents sometimes have to say ‘no.’ Even ‘never again.’ Though when our last word seems to be ‘never again’…We’re often hoping for that never again to be transformed into ‘together again…’ The more we know the need for tough love… The more we yearn for gentle love…

And even when things are at their worst… Most of us would love nothing better than to have all our family, and all the family of God, together again forever in peace and blessed harmony… Jesus has prayed we’d all be one… Older and younger… Lost and found from both sides of the road of life… Together again, with God, the one true Center in life.

And as parents and siblings we learn… As Jesus teaches today – prodigal sons and daughters seldom come home because of scolding or guilt-tripping…

And the word of God also tells us today – God is not nearly as interested in fairness – as in seeking and finding the lost.

God isn’t nearly as interested in what’s right and reasonable by human standards – as in reconciling this whole lost world to God.

That’s why the story’s always about… two beloved children…

Of one heavenly Father…

Lost sheep. Lost coins. Lost children. And…

The lost sheep is found…and the lost coin is found… and…

A lost child is found….and there’s great joy in heaven…

But… as our scene fades in this weeks’ episode of As The Church Turns...

We still have somebody lost on the outside… who won’t come home yet…

And… We still don’t know how the story ends…

Because…this story’s still for us to continue…

And the only sure way to give this story a happy ending…

Is to realize there’s no heroes in the story…

Except our Father…

Our prodigal…extravagantly grace-giving Father….

Whose love is far more lavish than we can understand…

Who’s watching and waiting for us always, still…

To welcome us home with outstretched arms… with feasting, singing, rejoicing…. Till at long last…Finally…

All God’s children come home to join God’s banquet.

May it be, according to our Father’s will.

Amen.